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Performance Review Phrases And Comments: Examples For Writing A Killer Performance Appraisal


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Many of us sometimes feel held back at work. Unable to get the rating we want in our annual reviews. Maybe even passed over for a promotion. Part of this could be that what we’ve been taught by HR on how to write our performance review comments and phrases, is wrong. The cliched comments we’ve been fed could be hurting us. They might make our job performance look good, but rarely outstanding.

Be adventurous this year and try a different approach to your performance review comments and phrases. Use some proven persuasion steps and findings from the field of social psychology. Get your manager and HR to take notice of you. And to favor your performance appraisal over your peers.

How To Write An Effective Annual Performance Review

Step one in this bold approach is to avoid the standard performance review comments and phrases. Instead, you will learn how to persuasively frame your performance write-up. We will use two influencing approaches that work on people subconsciously. One pre-loads your message making it more potent later. The other re-frames your contributions and doubles their effectiveness.

Step two is to use effective business writing techniques to get your message across succinctly and powerfully. Persuasive writing will make you stand out from the rest. It will frame your accomplishments as memorable and compelling. Thus, more deserving of a reward.

Make Your Performance Review Phrases And Comments Rise Above Your Peers

The latest psycholinguistic research shows that human words and speech evolved only to influence others. And not for expressing our thoughts and feelings. Thus, when you use a word or a phrase that is positively linked to an emotion or behavior, it increases the odds that your reader will feel that emotion or undertake that behavior.

Visual Web Story version of this article can be found below:

Pre-Suasion Or The Frontloading of Attention In A Performance Appraisal

This associative method to influence someone is called pre-suasion, a term coined by social psychologist, Robert Cialdini.

You can find a useful summary of how this technique works here.

Create The Right Emotion In The Opening Statement Of Your Performance Review

According to Cialdini, what someone experiences just before encountering a request can have a profound impact on how they react to the message. If the experience is associated closely with how you want them to respond, then they will be more likely to accept your message. And agree with it.

First, identify the key message or accomplishment you want to convey. Subtly, raise in their consciousness related concepts to this message. Then when they encounter your message later in your performance review, they will be subconsciously primed (pre-suasively) to pay more attention to it.

In your performance appraisal, you do this by initially using words and phrases that have positive associations with how you want the reader to be influenced. Doing so will funnel their thinking down the desired path. Here are some performance review example phrases to consider using.

Your Desired Message

Example Pre-Suasive Words To Use

Spark their imagination so they can view you at a higher level

Creativity, envision, visualize, picture, dream

Be seen as deserving of an exceeds rating

Commendable, worth, admirable, worthy

Get promoted

Elevated, raised, advanced

Get rewarded

Prized, payoff, merit

You should use the table above more as a guide for how the technique works. Don’t use all the associative approaches. Pick one or two that align with your situation and pre-suasively tweak your readers in your favor.

Speak To What Your Company Would Stand To Lose Without You

If you need to convince your supervisor or HR about a higher performance rating or a promotion for you, it means they are not quite certain you deserve it. A strong motivator for people who are unsure, is the tendency to avoid losses. This finding, called loss aversion, won Daniel Kahneman the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. Simply put, loss aversion is why people react twice as much to losing money or a resource, than if they had gained an equivalent amount.

Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow is a great read and summarizes almost all of the contributions from this giant in the field of cognitive psychology and decision theory.

Definitely use loss aversion in your performance review phrases and comments. Tweak a few of your key accomplishments in terms of what your company would have lost if it had not been for what you did. Or if you were not working for them. This is a powerful way to influence your audience into giving your contributions a two-fold boost.

Example Performance Review Phrases And Comments To Highlight Loss Aversion

In the table below you will find some suggestions. Think along those same lines for your own work. Let your manager, department, or company know what they will miss if they don’t promote you to the next level.

Phrases Commonly Used

More Persuasive Phrases

Saved $20,000 by completing project under budget

Prevented the company from losing $20,000 by ….

Got many top candidates to accept job offers

Ensured that the company did not lose top talent by ….

Completed projects on or ahead of schedule

Made sure critical time was not lost by completing projects ….

Things You Want To Say In Your Performance Review Comments And Phrases

As far as business writing abilities go, most people probably need a one-day class to get better. The good news is that about 80% of effective writing can be taught through a few important guidelines. Here are the ones that matter.

What To Avoid When Writing A Performance Appraisal

Using complex language neither makes you come across as intelligent, nor is it persuasive. Use simple language that gets your point across. Your past year’s performance should be the star. Not any fancy wording or phrases in your performance summary.

Definitely avoid the cliched performance review comments and phrases. “Always on time for meetings,” “has a cheerful attitude,” “completed all assignments on or ahead of schedule,” are just a few to stay away from.

If you want to write an effective performance review that will make a difference, the standard self-praise has no place in it. You want to document your key contributions in a way that imply to the reader that you demonstrated those attributes. Just claiming that you have them ensures that you end up in the middle of the pack, never at the top.

Use Short Sentences And Drop Unnecessary Words

Use small, clear sentences. Present one point per sentence. Cognitive ease is provided to the reader through simple structuring. Upper management and readers are not as smart as we think. They get confused easily. Particularly when they are reading things they are not so familiar with as you are.

Drop unnecessary words. “My efforts were very much appreciated by the team,” reads better as “My efforts were appreciated by the team.” The extra words, “very much,” add nothing of significance.

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Make It Visual And Use Active Voice For Your Performance Review Comments And Phrases

Use plain talk that visually makes your points. Fifth grader language and imagination are all you need to play with.

Use mostly active voice. Always put the object before the action. “Six customer support tickets were completed in a day” is better than “In a day, completed six customer support tickets.” Phrasing key accomplishments in your performance review this way provides cognitive ease to the reader. Anything that is easy to understand is given added significance.

A more complete persuasive writing guide can be found here.

Give Yourself Your Best Shot In Your Performance Review Comments And Phrases

Many cynics at the office will tell you that what you write in your performance review matters not. Senior management predetermines who they want to promote. And those people get the high ratings that year. While there is some truth to this, there is also no reason not to give anything you do your best shot. If you have to spend a few hours on your performance review comments, why not use some easy influencing and persuasion techniques to stand out?

Also, it is always good to sharpen your business writing skills for all the work you do throughout the year. In this quick guide, we hope you got some good ideas for both these aspects of your performance reviews. Good luck!

Employee And Manager Performance Review Comments And Phrases

This article is written more for employee performance review comments and phrases. But if you are a manager or supervisor and are looking for ways to write the performance appraisal part for your direct reports, this approach can be tweaked by you as well. Either way, the goal here is to make the full package appealing to senior management and HR for a higher performance rating. Or positioning the employee for a promotion.

Some Things You Can Do To Improve Next Year’s Performance Appraisal

Improving your leadership skills will be a powerful way to get ahead in the coming year. To get started, a full reading list of the best leadership books can be found here:

Best Books To Improve Your Business Leadership Skills

Also think about ways to combine many average abilities into a potent talent stack. It is an easy way to stand out from your peers and one that is rarely taught in the modern business world:

How To Build A Talent Stack: Useful Ways To Improve Your Performance Appraisal

A good book that explains how to develop a talent stack is:

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life; By Scott Adams

Driving Change In Yourself And Your Organization

If you are having difficulty in driving big change in yourself or your direct reports, this book by the Heath brothers is one of the best:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard; By Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at smendonsa@master-influencer.com.


Useful performance review tips, Helpful performance review comments and phrases, How to write a performance review, Performance appraisal, Annual review, Personal development, Manager performance review comments and phrases, Career advice, How to get a promotion, Persuasive writing.

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