Managing Feedback: Truth vs Perception

A wise man once told me that there are three sides to every argument: 1) Your side; 2) The other’s side; and 3) The truth – which usually lies somewhere in between. It may be a rather simple concept to understand and makes perfect sense, but it has a much deeper relevance when considering how it can impact your leadership ability, especially when it comes to managing your own emotions.

As a leadership coach, I often come across situations, where the use of some form of 360 degree feedback really helps clients explore their blind spots and develop a greater level of self-awareness. Whilst there is more than enough evidence that suggests this is a key ingredient to improving our leadership efficacy, it is not always that straightforward when reflecting on the results with clients. The reality for most is that this form of feedback is very confronting and if not managed well by a suitably qualified professional, trained to administer such a tool, the repercussions can be quite damaging for the client and the hidden opportunities that it may present can be completely lost.

In my opinion, all these surveys need to be carefully assessed and place heavy emphasis on context. Things like the participants’ mood, timing, maturity levels and their recent experience of working with the person being evaluated should be scrutinized. These variables are constantly shifting and are likely to change the outcomes of this type of feedback and so the closest comparison I can think of (given my business background) is looking at the financial position on a company’s balance sheet, which is purely a snapshot in time that depicts the financial health of that business. In many instances, the feedback is often contradictory and again reflects how the various participants view the subject from their own unique perspective and their specific interactions within some form of explicit hierarchical structure or otherwise implied.

Here’s the thing, the powerful insights that these multi-rater feedback tools provide should never be in question. They deliver some hidden gems that can help us grow by exploring the very things that make us feel uncomfortable and highlight where our learning opportunities lie. However, the big caveat to consider is that they should always be viewed as a matter of perception rather than truth. On this basis, I think it is very important to first gain some understanding of a person’s core values and level of self-belief before going down the path of more formal feedback questionnaires. Establishing a solid foundation in the former will allow for or encourage feedback from wide ranging perceptions without the unhelpful elements of self-judgement that typically erode self-esteem.

I am not suggesting that you take a linear approach to this by ensuring mastery of self-belief before applying any feedback loop processes, but I do feel that gaining some of these insights is an important piece of the puzzle in building the required level of resilience to cope with at times direct or “raw” feedback. It will also make it so much easier to disseminate this valuable information and put it to good use. When this happens, I believe that people can take things to the next level when it comes to building mental stamina and enhancing their leadership capabilities.

So, next time you work through your 360 feedback results, try and perhaps see it from a different perspective. Rather than taking every answer or comment as verbatim and forming black and white opinions of yourself, it may be a better idea to adopt a curious mindset and look for those clues on how to improve your emotional intelligence. After all, you should be grateful to your colleagues and peers for taking the time and effort to provide their thoughts in a world that is often devoid of honest feedback.

Managing Feedback: Truth vs Perception
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