I worked at a company, two actually, where 360 degree feedback was a significant part of the performance management process. Twice a year it was up to my manager to parse through the feedback, think through his/her own perspective and write up my review. That 360 feedback featured prominently in my raise, my bonus, what others heard about me in the infamous calibration sessions, and ultimately my feelings of self worth. Sound familiar?

What is 360 degree feedback, really?

360 degree feedback is….well….feedback. It’s not a measure of who you are or even what you are capable of doing. It’s not a measure of anything, actually. A measure implies some form of objectivity. Like, you achieved 10% ROI or you are 65″ tall. Those are objective measures. Feedback you get from a colleague or direct report or even your boss, particularly on the way you do things (i.e. your competencies in HR performance management speak) is purely that person’s awareness of you.

The information you get is a combination of two things: how you actually operated and how that person perceived how you operated. It’s someone else’s *perception*

The trick is to remember that it’s skewed by the experience of the feedback provider —

  1. what they expect
  2. what they choose to see and
  3. what they choose to share

Not by what is true. So, how does that play into the interpretation of the feedback?

It’s not all bad…

Feedback from others isn’t all bad. When there is consistency in what others are seeing, there is likely something to it. On the plus side, you may exhibit some positive behaviors you didn’t realize you were demonstrating. We overachievers have a tendency to be hard on ourselves and underestimate our strengths.

On the constructive side, you think you behave in certain ways, and it is your intention to do so. Even if you are well intentioned, which you surely are, your approach may not go over in the way that you planned or had hoped. It’s hard to see it in ourselves, and you may not even agree with it. And, ultimately, you don’t have to. But you do have to listen and pay attention to it.

I received feedback over the course of a number of years that I had “sharp elbows” and needed to work on listening more effectively. On occasion, feedback providers would give examples of when I exhibited these less than stellar tendencies, so I had some idea of what they spoke. More often than not, though, I would have no idea when these lovely parts of me would come out. I thought I was considerate and kind and a good listener. It took me a long time to figure out what it all meant and at first, I simply attributed it to not being true. It’s not what I meant to do, after all. But with age and experience comes wisdom, and perhaps I needed to pay more attention. You see, eventually it started holding me back.

What do you do with the feedback? Work on Your Self Awareness, Baby!

You can choose to do something with the information, or you can choose not to. But first, I recommend that you spend some time in that “fun” place of self awareness. It’s the place that most of my clients initially dread because….

it’s an acceptance that your colleagues may be on to something, even if you can’t see it in yourself.

It might be that you are a good listener or you do take other people’s feelings into consideration, but others just aren’t SEEING it! Something you are doing is creating the impression that it isn’t true. So, while you may be doing these things, your actions don’t convey them.

Spend some time noticing when others may be perceiving you acting in the way that you aren’t intending. What clues can you take from others that you are doing something they don’t like? Body language and verbal response are two ways. Simply asking is another. Sharing what you are working on will open the door to insightful dialogue and give others a positive impression of your interest in fixing your perceived area of opportunity.

What goes around… a few other things to note:

Remember, the feedback is only as good as the effort put in by the feedback provider. You can’t always assume the person sharing their perspective took the time to be thoughtful. I’m sure some do, others not so much.

By giving some credibility to consistent feedback, you are setting a good example for your colleagues and making visible improvements that matter to them. In addition, they may more readily take your input and use it for their own development. This is where 360 feedback goes around and comes back around. Your willingness to accept that others’ perceptions are meaningful will give your colleagues more reason to listen thoughtfully to yours.

“I am what I am”

Let me say it again because it’s important: 360 feedback is not a measure of who you are or even what you are capable of doing. Instead, it’s how others perceive your actions and interpret them. Assuming your intent was there, they just aren’t seeing what you mean for them to see. So, acknowledging the feedback and understanding how others perceive you isn’t about changing who you are, just changing the way others embrace you.

Popeye sang, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” (I know you were singing along, You were. Admit it.) Underneath your long-practiced behaviors, your good, well-intentioned self is there. Listen to what others say, become aware of the ways in which your actions hide your good intentions, and let your intended self come through.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisonlongrigg/3503494291/”>Alicakes*</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>