Certain phrases can kill employee morale, weaken productivity or open up the organization to a discrimination lawsuit.
Your goal is to deliver reviews that help shape employees' performance without becoming sidetracked by anger, emotion or fear of conflict. To do so, avoid the following phrases:
1. "You're wrong." If an employee tries to explain why her job rating should have been higher, don't slap back with a Trump-like, "You're wrong." That will only trigger anger and more confrontation. Instead, turn back to your documented facts of the employee's performance and say, "I know you disagree, but I believe this evaluation accurately reflects your performance."
"What was your problem?" Don't use the question as a way to ask why an employee had difficulty completing a project or task. Employees will bristle at such a statement. Instead say, "What were the conditions from your perspective that made it difficult for you to complete the task?"
2. "I understand." This phrase can excuse unacceptable performance or behavior by conveying empathy. Avoid it when possible.
3. "Your position here is solid as long as you keep up the good work." You may intend such statements to encourage good performance, but they're legally dangerous because they imply an employment contract that a court could find binding. That limits the organization's ability to ever fire the person (see below).
4. "You really did a great job but ... " Whatever comes after the "but" negates the preceding compliment. Don't directly connect praise with constructive criticism. Instead say, "On the other hand, you can do even better by making these improvements." Then, cite them specifically.