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28 performance review phrases to consider using

Figuring out how to phrase something can be tricky. Lean on these 28 performance review phrases to guide your more nuanced one-on-one conversations.

Performance review phrases

As the year begins to wind down (I know, I can’t believe it’s late October already!), a question I often get asked is: “Are there certain, handy performance review phrases that I can lean on, as I offer feedback to my direct report?”

Whether you do formal performance reviews in your company or not, you likely will have some sort of year-in-review, reflective conversation. Perhaps it’s a one-on-one meeting, perhaps it’s over dinner. Regardless, finding the right set up, the right lead-in, the right performance review phrases, to tee up what you’re trying to say makes everything easier.

Through the thousands of conversations had in our online leadership community in Know Your Team, The Watercooler, and working with 15,000+ people through Know Your Team, here are 28 different performance review phrases that you can put into practice at various points during your year-in-review meeting as a manager:

When you want to build trust with your direct report…

The best leaders know they’re fallible – and they openly admit that to their team as a means of getting better, and building trust with their team. Use these performance review phrases when you need to do the same.

  • “Here’s where I think I fell short”
  • “It was my fault when…”
  • “Here’s what I intend to do differently…”
  • “I hate that I let you down when…”
  • “You were right when…”
  • “Thank you. I’m going to process and internalize that feedback as much as I can…”

When you want to encourage confidence in your direct report…

Try these performance review phrases when you want to positively reinforce your team member’s behavior. These phrases are more specific and personal, than just a generic “Good job” or “Well done.”

  • “Here’s why you’re a unique, valued contributor to the team…”
  • “I was most impressed when…”
  • “We hired you because…”
  • “The best work I think you produced this year was when…”
  • “I admire the way you…”
  • “I learn from you when…”

When you need to share critical feedback with your direct report…

We often dread performance reviews because we can’t seem to figure out how to give honest feedback without coming across as demoralizing. These performance review phrases (paired with our framework on giving feedback) can help ensure the feedback you deliver is both honest and kind.

  • “I believe in your ability to improve in these things…”
  • “It’s my job to support you in becoming better in these areas…”
  • “Can we riff together on ways we can better support each other?”
  • “May I offer some ideas for areas of growth?”
  • “Might I suggest a few challenges for you, as you look to accelerate your own growth and learning?”
  • “May I point out a few opportunities that might be useful, as you think about your career progression?”

When you’re looking to create shared understanding between you and your direct report…

Sometimes, you’re eager for a better sense of where your direct report stands. What do they think about the team? Are they engaged? Are they frustrated by anything? Use these performance review phrases – well, questions, in fact – to help reveal more understanding between the two of you.

  • “When have you felt most proud of what you were working on this past year?”
  • “When have you felt most motivated this past year?”
  • “When have you felt most disappointed in the team this past year?”
  • “What was the most energizing project for you to have worked on? Why?”
  • “What was the most frustrating project for you to have worked on? Why?”
  • “Is there anything I tend to do that you find – particularly helpful?”
  • “Is there anything I tend to do that you find particularly burdensome?”
  • “What are you most eager to improve on, for yourself, in the upcoming year?”
  • “What do you think is the greatest way, we as a team, can improve in the upcoming year?”
  • “If you had a wishlist for this team to be your ideal working environment, what would you put on it?”

The hardest part of having a conversation is oftentimes figuring out how to start them. Utilize these 28 performance review phrases during your end-of-the-year 1:1s to make it easier on yourself.

⚡️ Looking for a more nontraditional approach to reviews? Check out Performance Feedback, our performance review alternative.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.