Ten (less than ideal) reactions to 360-Degree feedback and how to overcome them.

Over the last 25 years working as an HR practitioner and leadership consultant I have debriefed countless 360-Degree feedback reports across all levels of the leadership pipeline, in numerous geographies and using a variety of 360-Degree feedback instruments.

Fortunately, most of these conversations have gone well, and the individuals receiving the feedback have been genuinely interested in understanding how they are perceived by others.

While we may not always like what we hear, we thrive on feedback and those who embrace opportunities to understand how others are impacted by their behaviour have a wonderful foundation for growth and development. Afterall a better understanding of self and the impact we might have on others is at the heart of emotional intelligence.

In a leadership context, receptivity to feedback is also considered one of the strongest indicators of leadership potential. It is consistently identified by researchers as a core attribute to look for when identifying individuals to accelerate towards more senior leadership roles.

In the last decade the importance of receptivity to feedback has been explored through the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Over the course of twenty years, Dweck researched the power of beliefs, both conscious and unconscious and how these contribute to success and achievement. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she concluded that people approach situations with either a fixed or growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset tend to view their abilities, like their intelligence or competence as fixed. They spend their time justifying their abilities instead of developing it. They view learning and development as an entitlement. Those with a growth mindset view abilities and competence as something that can be cultivated and developed; they develop a passion for learning and development rather than a hunger for approval. They view feedback and learning as an opportunity.

The ‘Gift’ of Feedback

Occasionally when delivering 360-Degree feedback I will get some ‘push back’. That is fine. Seeking to understand your feedback is a normal and reasonable response. In fact, I encourage people to interrogate the results to better understand their strengths and development areas as well as potential blind spots and unknown strengths. But sometimes you get a response that surprises you, so, while I do not want to make light of the feedback process or the reaction that people have, there have been some interesting responses over the years. With a little poetic licence let me share 10 of the more interesting responses to 360-Degree feedback.

  1. My raters did not understand the questions. I thought they were confusing too.
  2. I knew this was going to happen. I think a lot of people are jealous of my success.
  3. This must be someone else’s report. (OK, that did happen once.)
  4. It would be hard for anyone to give me reliable feedback because nobody really knows what I do, my role or the situation I am dealing with.
  5. I used to be this way, but I’ve changed.
  6. Everyone has it in for me.
  7. My strengths are right, but I’m not so sure about the weaknesses.
  8. This was a bad time to ask for feedback. I’ve had to make a few decisions that haven’t gone over well.
  9. I’m not really like that. Ask anyone outside of work. My job makes me act this way.
  10. It might be accurate, but I ‘m not going to change. I make no apologies for acting this way. It needs to be done.

“We tend to judge others by their behaviour and ourselves by our intentions.” – Albert F. Schlieder

Tips for Encouraging Receptivity to Feedback

As you scanned these you probably had a bit of a chuckle at some and surprise at others. However, it’s important to be sensitive to everyone’s reactions. Feedback is a gift, but it is also a moment of vulnerability and so there will be times when people share a reaction that is ‘less than ideal’. However, often they are simply confused, shocked or concerned that what they are seeing is not consistent with their intentions. These are natural reactions to feedback and as a feedback provider it is important to acknowledge and prepare for the variety of responses you might encounter. So, if you are tasked with debriefing a 360-Degree feedback report, don’t just focus on the mechanics of the report. Help the feedback recipient to make sense of the results and more importantly reflect on the context, impact and implication of the feedback.

Here’s three things you can do to open up the discussion and encourage receptivity.

  • Encourage individuals to pause before reacting. In his book THE 24 HOUR RULE—Leading in a Frenetic World, author Charles Fred writes about the importance of a pause in leadership. Fred says, “Pause is not a delay, but a discipline”. It’s not a waste of time; rather, it affords us the time to deliberate before we act. A pause is clearly an opportunity for reflection but do not assume that everyone will automatically make that connection. It is important to encourage reflection with questions that prompt someone to think about actions or behaviors that might have contributed to the feedback and how they might have approached situations differently.

  • Review the feedback for patterns across all data points. Sometimes we become obsessed with as single data point or comment and lose sight of the broader picture and themes. One of the unique elements of 360-Degree feedback is that it provides an insight into a person’s ‘brand’ and reputation amongst stakeholders. A personal brand represents a person’s values, drivers, and commitments. A 360-Degree feedback process can help individuals assess the degree to which they are living the personal brand they aspire to. I would always suggest starting at a higher level before digging into the detailed results. Do this by looking at overall competency themes, top and bottom behaviours and common words and phrases within open-ended responses.

  • We hear it all the time in the workplace but in the case of 360-Degree feedback it is fundamentally true: Perception is reality. As much as we may not like what we hear, we can’t deny what others might be seeing or feeling. Changing the perception of others requires we embrace their reality and take responsibility for our actions and behaviours. Change of any kind requires change. So having a desire to see things differently is critically important. This creates the opportunity to learn and create new perceptions.

Receptivity to feedback is critical to growth and while some may bring a stronger desire for feedback, we should not give up on those who may take a little longer to embrace and realise the gift of feedback. A leader or employee will ultimately be judged on what they do and how their behaviour impacts others. That is why 360-Degree feedback is such an important and worthwhile form of feedback.

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