Appraisals – difficult conversation? Or a solution in disguise?

Robert Welling, Communications Trainer at The Method shares his insights on how to handle difficult conversations in appraisals.

In our last blog we looked at how preparation can be key to a successful appraisal, and that approaching it with a positive mindset can make all the difference.

From my experience in previous managerial roles, I’ve felt more than comfortable creating a safe environment for appraisals. Small touches like booking a room that felt private and considering how that individual would best like to receive feedback.

But approaching these conversations virtually feels like it has taken on a whole new level of difficulty. Signals that we once took for granted such as reading non-verbal behaviour to gauge a reaction are now often lost behind a blank screen. Verbal cues are often talked over or misread, and suddenly it can feel like the important messages you have to deliver are lost, misinterpreted, or received with little impact.

So, what are the key things that we can do or say to create engagement, intimacy and ultimately deliver messages that both inspire and resonate in an appraisal?

Create a safe space

Choose your platform carefully. What would be best for the appraisee? A phone call? A video call? Even the type of platform you choose can help to create the right kind of atmosphere. Zoom with its emoji options and more informal flexibility, or the more formal set up of MS Teams? Will you be sharing images, graphs or documents? Do you feel comfortable doing that? If not, explore the platform to make sure you have a grip on the tech, which will in turn help to make your appraisee feel at ease. Any option will work so long as it is considered and aligned with the atmosphere and temperature you are trying to create.

Consider your behaviours

We are all experts at interpreting verbal and non-verbal behaviours so it’s particularly important that you consciously consider these and make sure they are aligned with your message. An appraisal can be a nerve-racking affair and so failing to consider your behaviours and their impact could be calamitous.

Whether you are on camera or not, your body directly affects the impact of your voice so be sure that you are engaged, with good open posture. This is vital whether you are delivering your message or listening to their response, showing you are alive and present will make your audience feel truly valued and appreciated and increase their engagement with you and your feedback.

Engage your voice

Driving energy and passion through your vocal delivery is key, and even more so if your meeting is camera off! Use this as an opportunity to express your feedback in an exhilarating way by working your vocal delivery much harder than you normally would. Your audience will read this as passion and authenticity, thus again making them connect to your message.


One of the key errors when delivering appraisal feedback is that many people don’t do that. Don’t just deliver, but actively encourage and seek responses. This will help to keep a balance to the conversation and as such keep both parties alive and interested in the content.

One of the biggest challenges with delivering appraisals remotely is that meaning is misinterpreted. By sense checking and asking whether your message has landed, or if it was clear, can be a few extra seconds very well spent. We are all missing out on the signals which we used to read instantly, so leave nothing to chance and sense check more than you normally would.

By considering all these factors you will highlight your emotional intelligence and hopefully make the appraisee feel at ease, engaged and ultimately inspired. With the positive mindset that an appraisal is all about pushing them forwards and fulfilling their potential it should start to look much more like an exciting solution, than a difficult conversation.

Need more help?

If you’d like to find out more about how to handle difficult conversations better, in any situation our Resilience and Grit performance area has two excellent modules you might be interested in.

If you have a specific challenge in mind please get in touch here. Or call one of our Client Services Managers who can discuss which programme would be best suited to you. We’d love to help!