Tact is “a keen sense of what to do or say to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense.” It can also be considered an acronym: To Avoid Causing Trouble.

During a performance review, tact should be one of your foremost concerns as a team manager. You want to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each employee and leave the channel of communication open for future dialogue and constructive feedback.

It is important to use carefully worded phrases during the evaluation to accomplish these closely related objectives. The following phrases are just a few examples of what to say (or write) during a performance review, and remember to emphasize positive behaviors.

During evaluation sessions, I recommend using verbiage that captures each employee’s contribution to the company’s overall success. For example:

* “Applies creative thinking to further the company’s vision.”

If your employee is creative and adept at “thinking outside the box,” it would be good to recognize this positive trait during the performance review. Indeed, creativity often must be counterbalanced with adherence to policy; however, when an approach gives employees sufficient latitude to address unique situations, their problem-solving skills often come to light.

* “Is highly adaptable to changing business needs.”

An employee’s adaptability may manifest in several different ways. For instance, the employee may have demonstrated a willingness to adjust their schedule to work during projected times of higher-than-usual stress. Then again, the employee may have shown a cooperative spirit in dealing with abrupt changes to their daily work schedule or even office/cubicle relocations.

Adaptable employees are an asset to any progressive organization in today’s competitive business climate. So it is no wonder that many review processes use adaptability as a critical measure of performance.

* “Is an effective and constructive communicator.”

Miscommunication (or lack of communication) is a root cause of many workplace conflicts and can result in increased stress, reduced productivity, and higher turnover rates. If your employee has demonstrated that they clearly express themselves, but in a tasteful, non-aggressive way, this positive behavior merits recognition during the performance review.

Moreover, employees who are willing and able to provide insightful and constructive feedback, either to their peers or managers, are in short supply. If your employee excels, record that in the assessment notes and commend the employee during your session. Ultimately, good communication is the lubricant that keeps a team, a department, and an entire organization running smoothly.

* “Holds themselves accountable for their actions.”

“Passing the buck” seems to be deeply ingrained in human nature. It is easy to make excuses for arriving late, rationalize failure to follow policy, or justify insubordination to a supervisor.

With that in mind, employees who take ownership of their actions are genuine “diamonds in the rough,” so to speak. When team members demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility and accountability for their successes and failures, it becomes easier for management to trust them with additional duties within the department. In a world where accountability is sadly lacking, you can hardly give an employee much higher praise than saying that they “hold themselves accountable for their actions.”

* “Exceeds expectations in attendance and punctuality.”

Tardiness and absenteeism are more significant problems than any of us realize. Research shows that employees are absent roughly 8.2 days per year, and there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the average absenteeism rate is as high as 10%.

In contrast, team members that are always present and on time make a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of their department. Therefore, when you evaluate an employee with a sterling record of attendance and punctuality, you should note that effect in your paperwork. In addition, it would help if you also commended them on their consistency and diligence.

* “Receptive to coaching and constructive feedback.”

Every employee needs ongoing feedback and training to achieve a higher level of productivity and reach their career goals. Employees who are unreceptive to any form of professional development or constructive criticism do not last very long. On the other hand, employers often attach a high value to those willing to listen to feedback and implement suggestions.

A team member’s “coachability” may play a significant role in receiving a raise, a promotion, or other unique opportunities within the organization. Incorporating phrases into the performance review, such as “willing to be coached to achieve improved results” or “receptive to constructive feedback on their performance,” is a great way to convey your satisfaction with your employee’s “coachability.”

* “Works effectively within a team environment to achieve shared goals.”

The very nature of a successful business often requires that individuals work together as cohesive teams to achieve important goals. For example, you may assign specific team members to a “focus group” — tasked with brainstorming ways to improve existing processes. In many (if not most) cases, such focus groups come up with unique ideas only through close collaboration.

Employees with a “team spirit” are the driving force behind any collaborative success. In your performance review, you can show your appreciation of a team-oriented employee using the above phrase or a variant thereof.

* “Achieved [this goal] within [this time frame].”

Nothing says “success” quite like a met quota or an objective achieved within a set deadline in the corporate world. So if you know that your employee set a personal goal in the past months and eventually reached it, you should commend this success.

Many performance review platforms allow managers and employees to brainstorm potential personal goals and then record the one(s) that the employee selects. Whether your forum contains a record of the team member’s documented plan or not, it is essential to recognize the dedication, perseverance, and hard work that led them to this favorable outcome.

Phrases to Address Negative Behaviors

Of course, not every employee is a paragon of workplace virtue — and even the best team members will have areas in which they can improve. Nevertheless, you can often address negative aspects of the employee’s performance clearly and tactfully by framing your feedback in positive language. In other words: you can use phrases that focus attention on the solution, not the problem.

* “Has an opportunity to improve reaction to constructive feedback.”

No one likes demands. However, if your employee is resistant to coaching, then they are not only reducing your team’s overall productivity — they are damaging their career prospects. Therefore, employees who demonstrate negative attitudes towards coaching should have that trait addressed at the performance review.

You can change the perception of your words from that of a “problem” (harmful) to an “opportunity” (positive). In other words, there is an opportunity for the employee to become a better team member and to grow as a person. Even though some individuals will not respond well to criticism no matter how tactfully it is delivered, you may reach a problematic employee with phrasing such as that found above.

* “Can work on finding ways to improve attendance metrics.”

Are you reviewing that employee who’s always late or consistently misses time? Instead of bluntly saying: “You’re always late,” or “Your attendance is terrible,” this phrase again focuses on potential solutions to the issue at hand. For instance, can the employee wake up 10 minutes earlier each day to arrive on time? Is time management at the root of the problem? Are they dealing with too much work-related stress, which in turn drives them to absenteeism? If so, what can you as a manager do to help?

Again, this phrase is a great way to attack the problem with solution-driven thinking instead of the person.

* “Can focus on building interpersonal skills.”

If the employee you’re reviewing tends to be solitary, uncooperative, or standoffish, then you may be able to address that issue by using a phrase similar to the one above. You may also want to briefly brainstorm ways for the employee to build those interpersonal skills proactively. For instance, you may ask the employee if they would like to have a mentor “shadow” them for a day or two each week and offer them constructive feedback. Or you may decide to assign them to group activity in the coming weeks and see how they handle it.

The bottom line is: all of these phrases deal with negative behavior in a positive light. So be sure to use the same approach when dealing with any adverse situation at an employee’s performance review.

And if you use the 11 phrases discussed above, or variations on them, you will likely find that your reviews go more smoothly and are more effective in the long run.