Managers’ guide: Negotiation during performance reviews


A performance review is a systematic and periodic process that allows employers to evaluate employees’ job performance, position and productivity in order to make sure that each member of staff is following the organisational objectives, does its job properly, feels motivated and integrated into the company. At the same time, performance reviews are extremely useful for employees, as they get the chance to negotiate their salary and a possible promotion, supported by evidence of their work and progress.

 As there are times when the interests of the employer and the employee do not coincide, conflict arises during performance reviews. Hence, tactful communication is essential and managers need to be able to handle sensitive situations successfully.

 So, which is the best approach?

performance-review-1The unitarist frame sees conflict as harmful and destructive to interpersonal relationships. In different words, the dimension I’ve discussed about in the previous article, AVOIDING CONFLICT, applies to this case. Could it work? I don’t think so. From a manager’s perspective, avoiding conflict means leaving an issue unsolved, fact that inside a company, can have severe repercussions upon all staff. This scenario could work only in circumstances where management and employee interests coincide.

 The pluralist approach suggests that conflict is inevitable and it totally discards the idea that managers could have the same interests with staff. I find this conflict frame a bit too radical, as during a negotiation flexibility should be essential, but at the same time, theorists claim that two dimensions, “collaboration” and “compromise” work at this stage, as the aim is to reach a mutually convenient outcome, fact that makes it a positive approach for managers.

 The interactionist frame of reference is the one I would recommend during performance imagesreviews. It sees conflict as positive and necessary. In such a context, it should be clear to both sides that conflict and negotiation will be part of the discussion, so acknowledging that is the first step in succeeding. Then, this approach encourages self-criticism, change and innovation, areas that should be explored in any performance review as they generate further development.

At the end of the day, the aim of this discussions, should be to find the best possible to solution in order to keep both the employer and the employee happy, fact that can only be gained by accepting conflict and using it as a tool to achieve progress.

If you want to find out more on this topic, here’s a really useful video :

 What do you think? 


5 thoughts on “Managers’ guide: Negotiation during performance reviews

  1. A very informative post!

    I realize there are negatives and positives about all three approaches and to be honest, I wouldn’t pick a favorite. I believe each approach can be ( rightfully) used in a different situation. Because as useful as conflict can be, it can also just serve to deepen issues and create a tense atmosphere at the work place between colleagues or between employee and manager. And we can’t include misunderstandings like poor word choice.

    In this manner, I think, avoiding conflict is not such a bad approach. That is not to say that one should always avoid conflict but more that one should choose her or his battles. Not every conflict is worth having, in fact, I believe the majority of conflicts stem from people’s pride or insecurity rather than people’s different interests. Here comes my other observation that only mature and well adjusted people see conflict as something productive or positive, whereas many people would turn a conflict into a plain fight.

    It would be very convenient for all if all conflict in the work place was discussed and ended in a win-win for everybody, but I don’t think that is a common outcome. Not even in performance reviews, where I believe the situation is already tense. For the manager, there is the burden to be as objective as possible. For the employee there is the double responsibility to perform extraordinarily well AND to properly ask for what they need. This makes such a situation a very tricky one to handle, and I think many underestimate it. Perhaps a mixture of the approaches you mentioned would be best rather than a single approach?

    • Hello, Skillsofpersuasion! Thanks for your in-depth response, it’s a really interesting point of view and I agree. Performance reviews are, in most cases, tense meetings that often cause stress and anxiety. Nobody likes them but I think they are necessary. The problem is how this whole discussion is framed.. maybe a different context would be less stressful.. can you think of any alternatives that could turn these unpleasant discussions into something less scary that would benefit more both the manager and the employee?

  2. Not sure how many managers will think about Performance Reviews in terms of Unitarist/Pluralist/Interactionist but your basic premise is sound.

    For many the biggest question is actually what the performance review is for

    “A performance review is a systematic and periodic process that allows employers to evaluate employees’ job performance, position and productivity in order to make sure that each member of staff is following the organisational objectives, does its job properly, feels motivated and integrated into the company.”

    Often the first few of those objectives acts directly against the last few. ie using a performance review to ‘assess performance’ in a historical context leads to a let down for the employee in many situations. Many smart people suggest that it is better instead to focus on “what can we do to improve future performance” (ie a coaching framework) rather than “how did you go historically” (ie an assessment framework).

    So if your objectives are too broad no interactional style will work very well…

  3. Hello, Didier Elzinga! Thank you for sharing your opinion!

    So, what you are saying is that performance reviews go wrong because at many times managers focus on the future instead of focusing on the history of the employee and I think that’s right. A performance review should primarily assess an employee and what she/he has done up to that point. According to that, the salary and a possible promotion should be negotiated…

  4. Performance reviews are my least favourite managerial activities.. Why is that? Because of their multiple purposes. They aim to evaluate employee performance but at the same time to look for future improvements and developments, to negotiate position and salary, to analyse employees’ feelings towards the company, to assess examples of work, etc.

    This entire process should be simplified somehow in order to avoid stress and anxiety… as it is perceived as an unpleasant discussion by both managers and employees.

    Regarding the most appropriate frame of conflict, the pluralist and interactionist would certainly work, compared to the unitarist. When it comes to negotiation, it is quite clear that the two parties have a conflict of interest. Denying this fact or trying to pretend that there is no stake in the middle, would only hurt both participants.

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