Words are extremely powerful. Words act as symbols. These symbols mean different things to different people. For most cultures, most words have a collective meaning; either way, their impact depends on the individual. Which is why using the right words when dealing with performance reviews is crucial. The right words may motivate an employee, and the wrong ones may totally crush him.
Key Strength Words
Key strengths are an employee's most valuable assets, what she excels at and does the best. Some positive words to describe key strengths are: exceptional, amazing, great, terrific, fantastic, high-level, effective, efficient, splendid, remarkable and inspiring.
For example, if an employee is great with people, a positive performance review may be: "Jane's interpersonal skills are remarkable. She is great with her co-workers and her communication is always high-level, professional and efficient. It is inspiring to work with someone who has such an exceptional communication style."
An important part of performance reviews is cultivating positive traits and encouraging key strengths in employees. This type of wording allows the worker to see what strengths he will need to succeed. For example using words and phrases like excelling, leadership potential, managerial, senior, promotion, confident, innovative, differentiate and proactive all can imply a future success. This type of performance review might be: "John's proactive confident leadership style helps him excel and differentiates him from his peers. If he continues to innovate, a promotion to a more senior position would be advised."
Areas of Improvement
No matter how good an employee is, there is always room for improvement. Many employees respond well to constructive criticism. Always avoid any wording that ties the behaviour or offending action to the individual. Always keep personality/ego out of it. For example, saying, "Jane, you can be annoying and really get on people's nerves because you ask too many questions," is a personal attack on Jane as she is labelled as annoying, not her behaviour. A better way to phrase the statement would be: "Jane, we appreciate your inquisitiveness, but it might be more efficient to wait before asking a question as the answer usually comes up during the course of a project, and figuring it out yourself can also be very rewarding."
Play on strengths to soften the blow of a critical comment by highlighting specific behaviours or examples of good performance. For example, if an employee is too aggressive and does not listen when spoken to: "John, you have tons of energy and enthusiasm, like when you were able to get that client work done quickly last week. It's just that not everyone is as fired up as you, and I think they really appreciate it when someone slows down and listens to them. Can you do that?"