I contribute to a regular column called Sticky Situations, where expert executive coaches respond to various presented situations. The situation and my response are excerpted below.
THE SITUATION: I was recently hired to deliver feedback from a leadership 360 online assessment. The client ‘freaked out’ and refused to hear the feedback. What should I have done and how could I have handled the situation better?
FEEDBACK 101 – THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN:
It is important to set the context before the client engages with any assessment, before they invite their first rater. Was this not your coaching client? Were you brought in just for the transactional debrief of a 360 that you did not administer? What was the established purpose of this 360? Was the leader aligned with the intention behind the assessment? What
did the leader want to get out of the 360? If those contextual and alignment conversations were skipped over, or if you were brought in at the 11th hour to debrief and give feedback to a client with whom you didn’t already have an established trust and rapport, then the freak-out you described makes sense. Here’s how you might handle the situation:
1. Do not agree to deliver feedback to someone you don’t know.
2. Establish trust and rapport, learn of the client’s intentions and objectives, understand what matters to that client BEFORE you discuss any feedback.
3. Understand the tool, what it is designed to show the clients, and how the results will be used in the organization.
4. Set context: “Feedback often tells us more about the person responding than it tells us about you, so listen within the context of your goals. If you hear anything useful and relevant to you, that’s worth paying attention to. If you hear something that doesn’t resonate as true, or is not helpful to you in terms of your goals and what matters most to you, disregard it. You are not required to believe any of this is true about you. Listen for patterns or themes. If we hear the same thing from a lot of folks, it’s worth paying attention
to. If we hear something from only one or two folks, it may not be as helpful. You have full permission to only take from this what is most useful and relevant.”
5. Prime the pump. Ask, “what are you expecting to hear?” Steer the conversation towards the positives.
6. If your client is anxious, ask what they are most afraid of hearing in the feedback.
7. Give them all the power to credit or discredit what they hear, to contextualize or make meaning of the responses. Don’t assume that what the 360 reveals is the full truth about the client.
8. Have the client review the results ahead of time, and start by asking them to walk you through their analysis of the assessment. What, if anything, are they taking away from it?
9. Tread gently. Read your client’s mood, reaction, state of mind, and allow them space to process what they are hearing.
10. Be on the client’s team and offer support, understanding, clarity, and scaffolding so they can take meaning from the feedback. Help connect the dots to a desired future, and to possible actions to take from this feedback.