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Effective Negotiation Skills: A Practical Application To Performance Review Disagreements By Dori Kelsey

Editor's Summary: Negotiating skills can be exceedingly useful, and in a very practical way. This article outlines how one person used negotiating skills to deal with a performance review with which he did not agree. References on negotiation included at the end. What to do when you disagree with your manager's performance appraisal

Negotiations are often associated with labor union contract, with strongly held positions, or with conflicting situations. However, looking at negotiating from a better perspective, we are surprised to find that it is much a part of our daily life. Daily, we bring negotiations into our relationships, our businesses, and our employment practices.

In recalling the different negotiations in which I have been involved, one stands clearly in my mind. It was a performance appraisal meeting at a former place of employment. I can recall how the meeting took place and its unproductive results. Later I learned effective negotiation skills that would have produced a winning outcome for all parties involved.

Performance appraisals were conducted once a year in my former organization. I dreaded that review because a new manager that had not observed the employees' job performance would conduct it. Rumor had it that she would evaluate every one as merely competent employees, and contrary to my expectations, the rumor turned out to be true.

My performance appraisal meeting became no more than a full review of all the dimensions in my job description. To each dimension she attached an equal sign to signify that I had performed as expected. There were no instances in which she thought that I had performed above expectations, and with that, I firmly disagreed. Not only did I disagree, but also I sensed I was becoming angry and resentful.

In that meeting, I took the position approach described in Fisher and Ury (1991) in their book Getting to Yes . I let my supervisor know that I was not in agreement with her and began to explain my view of my own performance, which I carefully backed with facts and figures. I made sure she understood that I deserved a much better rating. She took the position approach as well. She reinstated that all of my facts showed that my performance was as expected, and no more. I tried with examples to convince her, but she had taken a stand and would not back down. I did likewise. We were locked in our positions and did not reach a satisfactory agreement.

That performance review caused me to feel as if I had been in a battlefield and lost. I began to see my supervisor as my adversary and our work relationship suffered. I learned that the position approach does not produce a wise or beneficial outcome for either party. If the situation were to occur again, I could handle that negotiation in a much better way.

The circumstances would be the same. My new supervisor would have little knowledge of the employees' performance for the previous months and would opt for a competent evaluation across the board. I would be rated as a competent employee also. But here is where I would differ from my real experience. My new negotiation approach would be principle negotiation, negotiation on the merits.

I would begin by separating the people from the problem, as outlined by Fisher & Ury (1991) in the book Influence. In this case, separating the people from the problem meant to understand why she felt compelled to evaluate me in such way. Perhaps she was told to do so by her own supervisor, or may be she understood this to be a fair way of evaluating a performance that she had not observed. Regardless of the reasons, my new approach would be not to take it as a personal criticism, and I would remind myself that the ongoing relationship is more important than the outcome of that review.

My next step would be to focus on our common interests. I have learned that the aim of an appraisal system is to improve the employee?s performance. It should be goal oriented and it should point out an employee's specific needs for training and development. So rather than taking positions over my work in the previous twelve months, the content of the new meeting would be to identify a specific performance goal and to develop a plan of action to achieve the goal during the next performance period.

If I were given a chance to go through that performance evaluation meeting again, this is what I would say: "I really appreciate that you consider me a competent employee. That is what I strive for, and yet I would like to be more than competent. If you would agree with me, I would like for the two of us to focus on the future and on how I can improve my performance. It has been our organization's practice to measure performance by the objective set the previous performance period. I would like to work with you and to set goals for my development for the next twelve months."

Tow principles should work in the proposal made above, reciprocity and precedence. The principle of reciprocity says that we should repay what another person has provided for us. One of the consequences of this principle according to Cialdini (1993) is that we would feel obligated to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us. In ignoring an average evaluation, I would have made a concession. By referring to our organization's past practice regarding performance, I would be establishing precedence. I would expect that my supervisor would have agreed to focus on a common goal if I had taken this approach.

Developing options for a plan of action for the next performance period would not be a difficult task at that point. A number of options would be listed that would satisfy my supervisor as well as myself. Ownership of the ideas would belong to both, and surely a plan for improved performance would bring about mutual gain.

Once my supervisor has agreed to develop a plan of action for the next performance period and has worked with me on a list of options, a third principle of persuasion should come into play, the principle of commitment and consistency. Commitment according to Cialdini (1993) means that there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are consistent with the stand that we have taken. At this point, I would expect to see the old way of rating employees near the average or middle of the scale should be gone forever. The proposed type of appraisal meeting is based on an objective criteria and it focuses on solving problems rather than finding faults. It looks to the future and it yields to principles, not pressures.

In a real life situation, a performance appraisal meeting, effective negotiation skills can be used for mutual gain. In examining the positions that can be taken, it is clear that a position stand does not produce a satisfactory outcome for either party. Utilizing effective negotiation skills that bring about a winning outcome for all, includes separating the people from the problem, focusing on mutual interest, inventing options for mutual gain, and using objective criteria. Principles of persuasion, reciprocity, precedence, ownership, commitment and consistency are additional valuable tools in negotiations.


Fisher, R. & Ury, W. (1991). Getting to Yes . New York: Penguin Books.
Cialdini, R. (1993). Influence . New York: William Morrow

Dori Kelsey is owner operator of SpainExchange. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Spring Arbor College (Michigan) in Management and Organizational Development, and a Master of Liberal Studies from The University of Toledo (Ohio). Through her 25-year career in the United States she acquired professional experience in the fields of international education, employment and training, and human resources development along with effective skills in the development and coordination of programs and the provision of services to foreign nationals.

As owner operator of SpainExchange, she has developed educational tours of Spain, school exchanges, and customized training programs for various schools, universities and educational services. All programs have successfully met the clients' objectives as they provided relevant learning as well as enjoyable activities for the participants.


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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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