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Delivering negative or constructive 360 feedback: what works best?

2nd Oct 2013
CEO Track Surveys
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I’m interviewing for a book on 360 Degree Feedback for consultants, and am fascinated by the variety  of consultants’ viewpoints on every aspect of 360, from how to sell the benefits in to their client, to the best way to coach someone through their 360 report.

One area that is particularly interesting  is how to help people deal with criticism when it is part of the 360 feedback they have received from their colleagues.  This should be anonymous, of course, although individual can sometimes identify the giver of the feedback based on the style of the writing and the examples they provide.

However, let’s assume that there is enough quality feedback from enough peers and direct reports that protects their identities, and that there is some critical feedback in the report – there will be some ratings that are lower than others, and there may be comments that follow those themes in the qualitative written parts of the report.

So how do you as a coach or debriefer, respond to someone who is annoyed or upset about the feedback they’ve received?

Some organisations go to great lengths to avoid this situation in advance: pre-checking the reports before the participants see them, providing help-lines in case anyone needs to have a private conversation about their feedback, and so on.  In one case, we had to send the 360 reports at a particular time of the day, before the start of a workshop the following morning, but late enough the day before that they wouldn’t have too much time to think about it!  When individuals were unhappy about some aspect of their feedback, it was in some ways seen as a failure of the organisation in creating a positive environment for their people.

However, one of my interviewees gave me a different point of view, making the case for a more robust approach.  His view was that if people are upset about their feedback, we should allow this and, while supporting them, not try to minimise it in any way.  He went on to say that provided they have understood the process, and have had some choice in asking for feedback, ‘they should be prepared to hear some things they may not like’.  My interviewee, who is a highly experienced coach and a former HR director, was adamant that people ‘should be treated like adults’, and that they should not have any ‘negative feedback’ changed or ‘sugar coated’  in any way.

There’s a good blog on HBR called ‘Don’t sugarcoat negative feedback’ (he means constructive feedback), where Steven Berglas says ‘deliver constructive feedback rapidly in its raw form. This doesn’t mean harshly; there’s a way to soften blows without delaying them if you strive to be empathic. Just never make it seem like you’re avoiding hard cold facts. All that does is make the facts seem worse than they are’. 

This approach seems to resonate with my interviewee’s views, although Steven Berglas also advises that we ‘must understand your audience and tailor your feedback to their needs’. 

If you do have a particular point of view on this, I’d love to hear it.

Jo
Track Surveys Empower 360

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