Action Words For Performance Reviews: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

by Srikant Chellappa Oct 20,2022

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

For many of us, the very thought of reviewing someone’s performance fills us with dread.

That is not an easy burden to bear. Because it includes throwing your weight behind your words. A performance review is one place where you cannot pad your comments with mindless fluff. 

Most of us stumble when it comes to writing insightful comments. And for those who are not naturally inclined to be articulate, reviewing performance can be as agonizing as pulling a couple of teeth. Because your choice of words can and will have an impact. However, writing comments on performance review forms does not have to be rocket science. Consider this article to be a primer on what constitutes appropriate action words for performance reviews.

Also read: 8 Ways To Ruin Performance Reviews For Your Employees

We are going to divide the action words for performance reviews into three categories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The purpose of these labels is broad. They are just to give you an idea of what works and what does not.

Performance Reviews Wording: The Good

Good performance reviews are extremely helpful. All employees want them. But they are not easy to put into words. It’s because providing thoughtful comments that combine appreciation and criticism neatly takes effort.

Use action words

Action words are dynamic and meaningful. “Performs”, “communicates”, “exhibits” and “exceeds” are all examples of action words. Stringing these words along in various combinations should give you some good performance review phrases. You do not want to be vague. Being direct and concise allows your review to be understood and leaves very little room for your comments to be misinterpreted.

Mention instances of good work

If an employee has done good work, then recognize it in a performance review by mentioning the good work and giving details about it. This makes your comment clear and easy to understand. And usually, it makes sense to keep track of the work that employees do. That way, you do not have to rack your brains when the annual performance review rolls around.

Have an outline

Even for something as small as a comment, follow an outline. The outline will make your comment precise and prevent you from rambling. An outline can go like this – describe a situation, describe the employee’s behavior, the impact of that behavior, and tie it up with a final comment of appreciation!

Also read: Negative Performance Review – A Plan for Moving Past It

Performance Reviews Wording: The Bad & Ugly 

I’ve clubbed bad and ugly together because they more or less go together and are equally unhelpful to anyone reading them.

If your performance reviews wording contains any of the following or even worse, all of them, then you should probably rework them. Not everybody sets out to write bad comments. However, sometimes if you are not careful with the words and phrases you use, then your comment will sound a lot harsher and critical than you intended it to.

Avoid personal attacks

This is a no-brainer but one that bears repeating. A performance review is not an opportunity for you to comment on somebody’s appearance, gender, health, etc. Comments on circumstances outside of a person’s control are not allowed either. Work is at times influenced by circumstances beyond our control. Recognize genuine mistakes and review what could be done better.

Avoid completely negative comments

When making a comment about an employee’s lack of performance, instead of writing a scathing rebuke, you need to state the problem and provide a solution too. And in a way that is not incendiary. At times, you might find yourself having to turn in a review form that puts the employee in the firing line. In that case, there’s no point in hedging around your words. Be clear, be concise, and if it can be phrased in a better, more sensitive way, then you absolutely should do it.

Be careful about the language

Avoid words such as “pathetic, “useless, “annoying” etc. These words are demeaning and can cause an employee to be distressed. You want to talk about the effect an employee’s work had on a project. For example, their laid-back attitude towards an important project affected the project’s timeline. That is something you can mention. You cannot simply say that their inherent laziness tanked a project. If you have to make a serious accusation of poor performance, there are two things to remember. One, this should have already been brought to their notice, two, you need evidence and logic to back up your comment. 

List of Action Words For Performance Reviews

Use the below list of action words while writing performance reviews.


Action Words 

Communication Skills Clarify, Collaborate, Communicate, Compose, Direct, Develop, Elicit, Explain, Develop, Express, Judge, Listen, Summarize
Managerial Skills Authorize, Coordinate, Express, Empathize, Establish, Improve, Incorporate,  Assign, Analyze, Inspect, Originate
Organizational Skills Code, Collect, Maintain, Compile, Organize, Supply, Review, Route, Update, Verify, Prepare, Correct, Execute, Distribute
Analyzing Skills Audit, Correct, Compute, Conserve, Program, Research, Reduce
Technical Skills Design, Assemble, Adapt, Engineer, Operate, Re-engineer, Overhaul, Relook, Develop 


Performance reviews are not rocket science. With a little practice, you can become good at them. Before you submit your review, it’s best to read out loud and imagine yourself as the recipient. Would you approve of the review or would you be annoyed by it? Using yourself as a yardstick of measure can go a long way towards helping you write better performance reviews. Moreover, the action words for performance reviews discussed in this article will help you refine your review comments further.

action words for performance reviews

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Srikant Chellappa
CEO & Co-Founder of Engagedly

Srikant Chellappa is the Co-Founder and CEO at Engagedly and is a passionate entrepreneur and people leader. He is an author, producer/director of 6 feature films, a music album with his band Manchester Underground, and is the host of The People Strategy Leaders Podcast. He is currently working on his next book, Ikigai at the Workplace, which is slated for release in the fall of 2023.

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