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How to Prepare for a Negative Reaction to an Employee Performance Evaluation

In a well-managed company, most employees are probably performing adequately or better. However, some people simply don’t take criticism well, no matter how minimal or appropriately delivered. In any performance appraisal meeting, an employee whose work is being critiqued may very well become agitated, confrontational, verbally abusive, and, in very rare instances, violent. Managers should be alerted to this possibility and be prepared with a strategy for response.

Here’s some advice to share with them:

  • Within reason, let the employee blow off steam. Don’t respond, comment, or challenge the employee while he’s agitated or angry. In certain situations, a calm, nonthreatening demeanor can defuse a situation. Give the employee adequate time to get past the initial reaction and cool off.

  • Don’t feign agreement. The worst thing you can say in this sort of situation is “I can see why you’re upset.” It can very well set the employee off again.

    Even more important, the supervisor or manager conducting the meeting is the company for all practical purposes; it’s inappropriate, and possibly legally risky, for the supervisor or manager to communicate a personal viewpoint at odds with the substantive content of the review.

  • When the storm passes, continue the meeting. A lack of response usually ends most outbursts, and the employee quickly realizes that he’s made a serious mistake. Accept any apology and move on. If the employee simply cannot or does not move on, take a break or end the meeting and arrange to reconvene later in the day or in the next few days.

  • If there’s any hint that the employee may become violent, leave the room immediately and seek help. Contact an in-house security guard and 911. Also, prior to the meeting, the supervisor or manager conducting the meeting should be familiar with your company’s workplace violence policy, if one exists.

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