Dealing With Difficult 360 Debriefs

I’ll never forget the time the client, unhappy with her 360 results, threw almost 40 pages of report high into the air. She stared me straight in the eye and said “that’s what I think of that #$%.”

Admittedly the results didn’t portray her in a very positive light, but it was hard to believe, as we both stared at the scattering of pages on the floor, that this was the most appropriate treatment of the results.

The reality is that when you work with 360-degree feedback tools there will be occasions when the client is unhappy with the feedback. While its difficult to identify the correct course of action is in every situation, here are three strategies that I have found useful for getting the conversation back on a productive track.

  1. Re-ground the discussion: Taking the client back to the reason they undertook the 360 is a great place to start. Clients should always fully understand why they are going through the process in the first place. Re-grounding them in the reasons why they wanted to undertake a 360 (for example to improve their leadership effectiveness) is a way of getting them to start looking at the results through a different lens.
  2. Look for the good: I have seen very few 360’s where all of the feedback was negative. There is always something that you can use to get help the client refocus on the report and discuss the results. This isn’t about ignoring the negative feedback – it’s about finding a place to start the conversation so that you can work through all of the results.
  3. Explore the truth: As reluctant as some clients can be to accept the results, they can often identify situations or experiences with colleagues that may have contributed to the negative feedback. While there are often surprises in any 360 report many leaders are at least somewhat aware of the areas where they have opportunity for growth.

As with any debrief the key is preparation. New practitioners sometimes underestimate the time needed to prepare for a good 360-feedback session. This is not a place to wing it, and a strong analysis of the report beforehand can give you at least some idea of how the session is likely to play out.

Keep in mind, though, that what you think is a generally positive report may be seen less so by clients, and vice-versa. 360 debriefs can be emotionally charged situations, and you will need your preparation, your coaching smarts, and a high degree of emotional intelligence to give a great debrief.

I am happy to report that after using Strategy 1 the client I mentioned at the beginning of this post was able to make it through the debrief. We even managed a giggle as we both scrabbled on the floor for the pages to put the report back in the right order.

What stories or tips do you have about difficult 360 debriefs? Please comment in the box below. And if you have a question on anything related to assessments, emotional intelligence, or leadership development in general that you would like me to address in an upcoming blog post please let me know – drew@clearpointleadership.com.

 

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