Transparency and Honesty in Performance Reviews: Making Feedback Less Scary

Dec 12, 2021

by Deanna Parkton

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, many companies have instituted bi-annual or quarterly reviews for employees’ performance to be assessed. Once held only on a yearly basis, increased opportunities for reviews do allow for more regular feedback and goal setting, but the anxiety of the review process may still linger for many regardless of how often they do it. Even in cases where you have received positive feedback in between reviews, it is not uncommon to feel anxious and expect the other shoe to drop during a review. 

A lot of the anxiety has to do with not knowing what to expect. In our research on how professionals can make performance reviews easier and a more pleasant experience, the most cited issues by employees were unclear expectations or a lack of knowing what to expect. Reviews can be subjective; even when metrics are put in place, there is room for perceptions and perspectives to be varied. A TechRepublic article compared the review process to a race finish line: “One of the biggest complaints I hear from employees about annual performance reviews is that the criteria and metrics by which they are evaluated were never clearly communicated. Imagine training for months and then running a race as hard as you can, only to be told at the finish line that competitors were scored not by their finish time, but by the color of their socks.”

For managers, providing feedback can feel unnerving and uncomfortable as well. There may be uncertainty of how the employee is going to react, but there is a real need to convey room for improvement or issues that need to be addressed.  The balance of addressing managerial concerns while also reinforcing positive behavior and providing praise can be difficult to strike. Most managers are mindful to find some semblance of balanced feedback, but even when positive feedback is sprinkled in with some constructive or negative feedback, it is not uncommon for the employee to walk away hearing the negative feedback the loudest. This certainly doesn’t mean that managers should avoid providing negative or constructive feedback, but actively working to make the entire experience a comfortable one, and an exercise in reflection and transparency is a great goal. 


Leadership Considerations 

For managers, this insight from a 2019 Government Executive article is an important one to consider: “…Remember that review conversations have a huge impact on your personal leadership effectiveness and establishing the perception of how you lead. What are you trying to accomplish with the review conversation? How do you want your team member to feel at the end of it?” 


When providing feedback: 

  • First, set the scene. Express what your goal of the review is. 

“My goal is to make this review as productive and helpful for you as possible. My hope is that we can both walk away with some action items to move forward with, as well as ideas on how our team and organization can improve.” 

  • Normalize the anxious feeling for both of you. Sometimes just saying it outloud takes all the pressure off, and both of you can relax as you move forward. 

“Reviews can be anxiety producing, for both the manager and employee. It’s okay if you feel a little uncomfortable, I do too – I am here to try to make the experience a comfortable one for both of us.” 

  • Set your intention of being candid. This way, when you are providing constructive feedback, you have set the expectation for your employee. 

“I am going to be candid and transparent, but my goal is to be kind and fair.” 

  • Set ground rules (if applicable) 

This may not be necessary for most employees – but if there is a conversation that you are especially nervous for, based on how previous reviews have gone, or the employee’s tendency to become reactionary – it may be helpful to establish rules. For example, agreeing to be respectful and mindful of any emotional responses. If needed, you can decide to time to step away from the conversation and continue it at another date. 

  • Remind your employee that if there is any constructive feedback, it does not cancel out the positive and complimentary feedback. 

“I may have a few notes on things that we can do to improve, myself and you as a professional. If and when these come up, please know that any constructive feedback does not cancel all the positive and wonderful things that you contribute to our team on a regular basis. I ask that you give just as much credence to your positive contributions as you do to any constructive feedback.” 

Reflecting on what you want the process to look like is an important step in being mindful about the experience. Due to the busy nature of many workplace environments, there may be times where the performance review process is just another task on the list, for both the manager and the employee. Managers may muddle through the review meetings, with a lack of preparation due to an overflowing plate of projects and tasks. As a manager, taking the time to prepare and think about the process can make all the difference in your employee’s takeaways, next steps and future behavior. 


When receiving feedback 

  • Prepare your self-assessment accordingly 

For employees preparing for a performance review, there may be feelings of uncertainty or even dread. Typically there is an opportunity to write out a self-assessment prior to the review meeting. This is an opportunity to reflect on your last year’s performance. What went well? What are you proud of? What big projects did you take on? Ivy Exec’s advice regarding preparing for reviews includes focusing on data when preparing for your review. They recommend taking notes throughout the year on your projects and feedback from one-on-one’s, so that you have content to work with. As they noted in this article, “Bring the data, not the drama.” 

  • Get on the same page 

If you are unclear of the structure or format of your review, you can certainly ask for clarity prior to the meeting. The Muse recommends reaching out to your manager beforehand with the simple ask: “Can you tell me a little bit about the format of the review meeting? Is there anything I should bring or prepare?” In some cases, the meeting will follow the written review format, but if there is not a written review format, it would be very important to get clarity before the meeting. Even in cases where there is a written format to follow, asking your manager for any additional insight or what to expect can provide helpful information so that you walk in feeling comfortable and prepared. 

  • Reflect on how you’re feeling 

If you are feeling especially anxious about your review process, reflect on why you might be feeling this way. Have you had negative experiences with reviews previously? What was your experience? How do things differ this time around? By assessing the situation with an objective perspective, you might be able to think about the experience in a more positive light.

  • Prepare for any constructive criticism 

Think about any constructive feedback you have gotten this past year that might come up in your review. How can you prepare for this feedback with evidence of your working to improve? It is important to approach this with a proactive attitude rather than a defensive one. By being proactive, you are showing initiative to having been receptive to the feedback and have taken steps (even if small steps) to address the concern. 

  • Go into the meeting with a positive attitude 

Give yourself a pep talk before your meeting. “Even if I receive constructive criticism or negative feedback, I will not take this as indicative of my worth as a human or as an employee. I will give as much weight to the positive as I will to any hard-to-hear feedback.” 

Many organizations have implemented processes that allow for performance reviews to be a two-way street, where the employee is also providing feedback to the manager. This feedback could include what the employee needs more support in, what might be needed to do their job more productively, and also feedback to the organization at large. Whether or not your company already has this structure in place, it is a good idea to think about the review process in this regard. While the majority of the time spent during the review will likely be regarding the employee’s performance, there should be time allotted for the employee to express any concerns or provide feedback on what would help them be more successful. This might include changes that the manager should consider, or feedback that should be sent up the ladder to the organization. 

By allowing the conversation to be honest, candid and transparent on both sides, connections can be made between employee and manager for a more productive and positive next year. This empowers the employee to feel comfortable providing their insights and feedback, which allows them to be more receptive to areas of improvement as well. The experience can be an inspiring and insightful conversation for both parties, with great dividends to behold. 


For more ideas on tracking your goals or being an exceptional leader, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.

Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at and she can be reached at