How Can I Use Questions During The Annual Performance Review Discussion?

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Managers should aim to help employees be active participants in performance review discussions. There's a bad tendency for managers to end up doing most of the talking in such meetings, and that doesn't work very well. Well phrased questions can be used to guide employees to look at their own performance and work behavior to start self-evaluating.

However, if you use questions in performance reviews (and you should), it's important that you do so properly. If you ask questions, and then appear to be uninterested in the employee's responses, you end up damaging the entire process. Here are a few guidelines regarding the use of questions.

Don't ask questions when you're not prepared to hear the answers: Sometimes people ask questions but are willing to accept only a specific answer. For example, if you really have no interest in hearing that you're a poor manager, don't ask, "Do you think I'm a good or poor pamanger?" When you ask a question, you have to be willling to consider whatever responses you get, and not overreact.

Questions that start with "Why" tend to make people feel defensive: It's just a quirk of our language. You can replace "why" questions with phrasing that tends not to cause that reaction. For example, rather than asking "Why are you late so often?", try "Are there any particular things that are getting in the way of arriving at work on time?" Notice the difference in feel?

Don't use questions to say things indirectly: This is a technique commonly used by parents on children, so it's interpreted as manipulative and patronizing. For example, "Dont' you think you should be more diligent in completing your work?" isn't really a legitimate question. It's a rhetorical question -- a statement dressed up as a questions. It will be heard as "I want you to be more diligent in completing your work." Questions used to mask statements or requests create mistrust.

Avoid compound questions: A compound question consists of several parts: it's actually several questions in one. Compound questions are confusing and tend to result in low-quality responses. Here's an example: "Is there some reason why you have been late on many Fridays and why you tend to leave early on Wednesdays?" Thats two questions and you're not likely to get good answers to both. Separate the issues and make your questions simpler and more specific.

The above is adapted from from The Manager's Guide To Performance Reviews (McGraw-Hill), by Robert Bacal.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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