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Two managers recently shared their semiannual performance appraisals with me. These were self-appraisals, documents in which the managers described how well they had met their performance goals.
Let’s call the first manager “Victoria.” Victoria’s self-appraisal was filled with feeling words: happy, gratified, satisfied, proud, pleased, and privileged. The second manager, “James,” used no feeling words. James used action verbs such as accomplished, achieved, won, earned, increased, and succeeded. Both managers had met their performance goals. However, one of the self-appraisals came across as stronger. Can you guess which one?
The performance appraisal prompt stated something like this: “Describe how well you met your performance goals.” In response to that prompt, the action verbs accomplished, achieved, etc., described James’s performance powerfully. When I read his response, I got an instant impression that he had been very successful in the first half the year.
Victoria’s feeling language bogged down my understanding of how well she had done. Clearly she was pleased. Yet the prompt did not ask for her feelings. It begged for action verbs.
I admit that Victoria did use action verbs such as completed and launched. But those verbs had to compete for attention with her many feeling words and phrases.
Suggestion: When you are answering questions or responding to prompts in a self-appraisal, an application form, or an interview, pay attention to what the audience is seeking. These questions require different answers:
- Describe what you did to meet a difficult challenge. (Briefly describe the challenge. Then tell what you did.)
- Describe a situation in which you went above and beyond what was required. (Tell a story, and tell what you did.)
- How did you contribute to the team’s effort? (Describe what you did, the results achieved, and your feelings about getting results with the team.)
- Would you rather be part of a team or a solo contributor? (Share feelings and accomplishments.)
If you are more of a feeler than an achiever when it comes to communication, it’s fine to include some feeling words. But be careful not to answer accomplishment questions with feelings answers.
At the same time, if you are communicating with someone who is focusing on feelings, do not pile on your accomplishments in your responses. For instance, when a job interviewer asks, “How do you feel about moving to the Southeast?” this is the wrong answer: “This was my sales territory from 2006 to 2010. I exceeded my goals . . . .”
Sometimes people use feeling words when describing accomplishments because they do not want to come across as bragging. Nevertheless, bragging belongs in self-appraisals and similar communications, as long as it is truthful and is sought by the audience.