The annual performance review can be an intimidating time of year. The formality and process of equating a whole year's worth of performance to a single rating is a nerve-racking concept--for both managers and employees. 

The toughest part of the process, however, is not in distilling the year's theme, but communicating the impact of that performance to employees. As a manager, the idea that an employee could react negatively makes most dodge performance conversations altogether. 

For employees, the last thing that you want to hear is that you're not meeting expectations. Even though we all know we're not perfect, developmental feedback still stings. Constructive criticism may be outweighed by positive feedback 10-to-1, but we always mull over that one piece of bad feedback. 

To alleviate apprehension, managers can employ emotional intelligence tactics to neutralize employees, address the elephant in the room, and ensure no momentum is lost in the process. 

Here's how I would do it.

Disarm employees by demonstrating self-awareness.  

Managers, it's ok if you're a little nervous. We don't have performance conversations every day--they come with a bag of different emotions. 

Don't hide it. Lead with it. 

During some of my worst performance reviews, I remember my boss being cold, brief, and blunt. They delivered feedback like you would rip off a Band-Aid, quick and without looking. The process felt very impersonal, and as a result, it put me on edge. 

During my best reviews, my manager kicked off the session by defusing the tension. I remember them admitting to being nervous, joking about being terrible at these kinda things, and reaffirming that the purpose was to discuss accomplishments and what we could learn after looking back on the year. 

By self-deprecating, they lightened the mood and came across as more authentic. 

Put yourself in your employee's shoes. 

Demonstrate empathy and acknowledge their feelings. Share stories of your former reviews, and recognize that the process can be challenging. 

I had a manager reach out and ask how they could relay negative 360 feedback to one of their employees. This is especially tough because 360s are anonymous and often based on a snapshot in time. 

In this case, I encouraged the manager to set the stage by clarifying the purpose of 360 feedback. It's important to understand that how we do our jobs is just as important as what we do. Our professional brands lead to increased trust and additional opportunities, therefore, this is worth considering.

Then, I encouraged them to share a story of when they were in a similar situation. Disclose the details, your feelings, and the results of being open and accepting of feedback. 

Employees will appreciate the empathy and be more willing to integrate feedback. 

Maintain motivation by being optimistic. 

Get employees past the fear of reviews by kicking off the conversation with affirmation that they are valued, respected, and appreciated. 

A 2008 Harvard Business Review study showed that people who received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals reported feeling worse about their performance than did those who had received good-natured negative feedback.

In other words, how you say something is just as important as what you say. 

Make sure your tone is encouraging, supportive, and constructive. 

By remaining optimistic, employees will be motivated to let down their guards and embrace feedback. 

At the end of the day, performance reviews are an emotional experience. Being aware and sensitive to this fact will strengthen your delivery and ensure employees remain engaged throughout the process. 

Published on: Nov 25, 2019
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