The Hammer and the Annual Review
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations
Hammer lying on a piece of wood beside bent nails

A man wants to hang a painting. He has the nail, but not the hammer. It occurs to him to go over to the neighbour and borrow his hammer.
But then a little voice whispers in the back of your head: “What if he doesn’t want to lend me the hammer? Yesterday, he barely spoke to me. Maybe he was in a hurry. Or, perhaps, he holds something against me. But why? I didn’t do anything to him!
If he would ask to borrow something from me, I would lend it to him, at once. So how can he refuse to lend me his hammer? People like him make other people’s lives miserable! He probably thinks that I need him, because he has a hammer. This has got to stop!
Suddenly the man runs to the neighbour’s door, rings, and before the neighbour can say a word, he screams: “Keep your hammer, you b*****d!”

Have you ever had that experience as a manager? Think twice before you respond.

You might want to laugh at Paul Watzlawick’s hapless protagonist, but this happens at work, all the time.

We are entering that special time of year known as the “Annual Review Stage” of corporate life. In  all organisations with a year end of 31 December, you are likely getting ready to sit down and conduct end of year reviews with the members of your team.

You review their goals and objectives, peruse the competencies they selected, and then take a brief glance at their training and development plan. All the while, your nervous system is getting triggered by the thought of telling one member of your team that their rating is only “Satisfactory” – the dreaded 3 out of 5!

You become aware of the tension in your body. You start defending your rating, running a mental list of the things that they did to disappoint you. About how they can be a bit prickly and defensive (feel free to substitute whatever behaviour, emotion or energy that you can’t be with). How they always seem to make life hard for you. How you know that behind that smiling facade hides someone who is out to make your life difficult.

But, you catch yourself. You remember the training you received and you commit to thinking only happy thoughts, masking your inner turmoil.

That works well right until you step into the meeting room. Your team member senses your tight, constricted energy, notices the fake bonhomie, and becomes aware of how small your pupils are.

They cross their arms… and there it is: the cue you’ve been waiting for that confirms what you suspected all along. They are about to attack.

You switch to DEFCON 1, draw your metaphorical weapon, and the shooting war starts.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Our human genius is our ability to bring our imagination to life so much that it looks like reality. And that’s the land of reaching for the stars and then grabbing them. It also comes with a downside when we imagine negative things. Your challenge as a manager is to distinguish between the make believe world of your fears and anxieties, and to step into your, confident, curious, and compassionate self.

The best way to do that is to:

Notice what you are feeling

Get clear on the story you are telling yourself about the other person

Notice what data you are paying attention to and how you are interpreting that data to build your story.

Look for how you could interpret the data differently. How could you be wrong?

Why? Because the hammer fable above is analogous to real life. And you can avoid falling into the trap of your fears and imagination.

The key to doing this is to develop an awareness practice and to notice what you are making up about yourself, others and the world. Building this muscle allows you to deal with the emotional aspect of having safe conversations.

To tackle the technical aspect of having safe conversations, use a feedback model (BOF: Behaviour, Outcome, Future).

Remember, people don’t react to your words as much as they react to your energy, and you express that involuntarily and mostly non-verbally. Remember, according to Albert Mehrabian, 55% of our message in face-to-face communication comes from our body language and other visual cues.

Before a review with each member of your team, therefore use your imagination to contribute to the result you want: Set a clear intention – the outcome you want to create, and be clear about the impact you want to have – the feeling you want the other – and yourself – to experience.

When thinking about each person, stick to what is actually happening in the real world, not your imagination. Stick to what you and others can observe, not how you interpret what you see.

Get your story right by asking yourself what you might have overlooked.

Notice your reactions in your body when you think about the person without justifying yourself.

In the conversation, act cleanly in alignment with your intention.

Enjoy having set a foundation for an even more productive 2023!

Contact us on or +353 87 648 0457 to find out how we can help your leaders have successful performance management conversations.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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