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Dealing with 360 Assessment Feedback Shock

By Michele Caplette, Ph.D., Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

360 Assessment Feedback Shock

Third in a series on how to best use 360 assessments.

How to Handle Direct and Candid Feedback without Freaking Out

The survey is complete, you've set yourself up to get the most value out of your 360 assessment, you have the feedback report in hand and you begin to read through it.  And you start to freak out!  No matter whether the scores and comments are relatively gentle or pretty blunt, many of us initially experience the feedback as a gut punch or a personal attack. Even though we may be our own worst critic, when we hear it from others we can feel attacked, made wrong, or disrespected.  We can feel threatened and, in some cases, experience the physiological emotional responses of sweating, heart racing, and a feeling of panic.  Criticism experienced this way challenges our safety, our need to feel valued, and to belong.  In every day life, we rarely hear feedback that is so direct and blunt—this is not how we talk to each other.

Fortunately there are ways to handle feedback shock that allow us to hear, acknowledge, and learn from what others observe about us.  In our coaching experience, we have found the following five ways of dealing with feedback shock to be effective in converting feedback into insights and learning.

  1. Be thankful for the gift of feedback!   Remember in the previous article Setting up for success, the importance of “adopting the right mindset” including being willing to change, being curious and open-minded.   Consider yourself lucky to actually have this information: honest and candid feedback from others.  Isn’t it better to know what people actually think than to be operating “in the dark?” 
  2. Acknowledge the positive.  While often not possible at first, it is critical to accept and acknowledge the positive feedback messages.  We often take our strengths for granted or they get lost when we focus on what we hear as the negative messages.  Own these positive messages.  Affirm them.  Say them out loud.  You will keep returning to this step over and over as you deal with feedback shock.  Ultimately we have to balance the positives and negatives and recognize we have both.
  3. Calibrate the negative.   Consider the 360 feedback as a snapshot in time.  This is how people see you at this time in your current role.  These are perceptions of certain behaviors, not your entire identity.  While perceptions are real and we can’t argue with them, they can also be changed.  Be curious—what parts of these messages have you heard before?  Hear the messages as advice and an invitation to be your best.
  4. Don’t argue with the feedback.  Recognize that is a natural reaction and we feel defensive when we feel we’ve been attacked or that the feedback is unfair.  At the same time, it doesn’t serve you to say to yourself “People have it out for me, I have to do it this way, they don’t get it, I’ve been put in a difficult situation, I didn’t pick the right people for the survey, they’re wrong, etc.”  As long as you are arguing with what people have to say, you are closed to insight and learning.
  5. Don’t try to figure out who said what.   While it is tempting to try to figure out who said what, it is not a useful exercise.  Ultimately, it’s important to identify patterns and themes.

These tips can be difficult to put into practice.  Which is why having an external leadership coach can be so valuable at this stage.  An experienced coach can help people sort through various emotions, not veer off track, and gain a perspective on what’s been said.  A coach can help people discern patterns and themes and acknowledge the positive.  Needless to say, it is almost impossible to move onto the next step of making sense of the feedback:  how to sort through it all and find a focus area or two until one has dealt with feedback shock and its potential blinders.

From an organizational point of view, it is important to recognize that leaders will have a variety of reactions to their reports.  Ensuring that the leader balances all feedback is the biggest hurdle to growing as a leader.  As mentioned in the Set Your 360 Assessment Up for Success article, make sure that leaders are ready to hear feedback.  Be proactive in the set up stage by communicating to leaders that this is likely to happen.  Remember that you can’t change what happened in the past, but can focus on ways to move forward with solutions.

The first article in the series is here: Avoid Wasting the Rich Opportunity of Developmental 360 Assessments.

The second is the assessment series is here: Set Your 360 Assessment Up for Success.

You can find the fourth in the series at Making Sense of the Feedback:  How To Sort Through It All and Find a Focus Area or Two.


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