What those performance review phrases really mean

From a guidebook on employee assessments comes a bounty of euphemisms—and we offer some candid translations. Buckle up.


We are all familiar with corporate jargon, acronyms, and legalese and how use of these elements can obscure the true meaning of a message. But rarely is language more purposefully obtuse than in an annual performance review.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a performance review in which we’re not quite sure what’s being said.

What follows is a sampling of phrases from performance reviews—along with their possible translations. All phrases were taken from the book “2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews” by Paul Falcone. Note the word “Effective” in the title.

Phrase: “Often flouts corporate policy and appears to march to his own drummer.”
Translation: You’re late every day.

Phrase: “Demonstrates an entitlement mentality.”
Translation: You think it’s OK that you’re late every day.

Phrase: “Often gets too ‘creative’ in changing established procedures without approval.”
Translation: You try to convince others that it’s OK to be late every day.

Phrase: “Uses his position to dominate and intimidate others.”
Translation: People are afraid of you.

Phrase: “Remains unwilling to carry out tasks that are ‘below him.'”
Translation: You need to learn how to use the copier.

Phrase: “Is too wordy to communicate a clear and compelling message.”
Translation: No one knows what the heck you’re talking about.

Phrase: “Fails to display an acceptable standard of grooming.”
Translation: Ummm, soap and shampoo? Please?

Phrase: “Demonstrates a domineering work style.”
Translation: People don’t like you, because you’re an insufferable jerk.

Phrase: “Fails to take steps to strengthen the overall impression she makes.”
Translation: Because you’re an insufferable jerk, you don’t care that people don’t like you.

Phrase: “Over-relies on his engaging personality rather than substantive work.”
Translation: You’re a suck-up.

Phrase: “Often lets anger, frustration, and anxiety show.”
Translation: You yelled at Bob that time. And those other times.

Phrase: “Excessively bothers her peers with questions about basic matters.”
Translation: Everyone is tired of covering for you.

Phrase: “Appears sleepy and unfocused throughout the morning.”
Translation: More often than not, you come to work hung over.

Phrase: “Does not consistently avail himself of existing technology.”
Translation: You need to start using SharePoint.

Phrase: “Feeds the corporate grapevine with unsubstantiated facts.”
Translation: You really need to shut up.

And my favorite . . .

Phrase: “Lacks a basic mastery of business writing techniques.”
Translation: You can’t write your way out of a paper sack.

Readers, any other common review phrases you’d care to share?

Laura Hale Brockway is the author of the grammar/usage/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.

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