360 degree evaluationLet's be honest, receiving the results of 360 degree feedback for the first time can be a bit like walking into an "End of Season" sale.  Racks and racks of items as far as the eye can see....you might even experience a bit of vertigo!

You know that you will find the"good stuff" if you are patient, avoid distractions, and are willing to put in the time to search. As coaches, we can help leaders to find the "good stuff" - insightful and helpful information that fuels developmental action - and avoid these four common distractions.


Extreme ratings that don’t seem to align with the rest of the 360 degree feedback data can cause a leader to focus on how or why they received these ratings or comments, and distract them from looking for patterns in the data.  In some cases, feedback providers describe a specific experience and their feedback is limited to that one particular experience. 

Coaching Tip: Direct them back to the overall themes of the feedback report and to look for trends or patterns in the feedback.  Use the following coaching questions:

  • What are your feedback providers trying to tell you?
  • How does this information relate to other feedback that you have received?
  • Does this information align with your own perceptions of your performance?

Harsh Comments

Not all feedback providers are able to offer written comments in a constructive way.  Harsh comments can be very distracting to some leaders and cause them to shut down or respond in an emotional way.

Coaching Tip: Acknowledge the leader's emotional response and then help him/her find the underlying message being sent by the feedback.  Use the following coaching questions:

  • How do these comments make you feel?
  • What helpful themes can we pull out of these comments?

Unsupported Ratings or Vague Comments

Ratings that are unexpected and not supported by written commentary or comments that are vague or overly general can be hard to interpret. It is easy to discount these items and potentially miss out on helpful information. 

Coaching Tip: Work to (1) help the leader try to connect the information with other feedback that he/she may have received in the feedback results or in other venues, and (2) solicit additional feedback from trusted colleagues.  Use the following coaching questions:

  • How does this rating or comment relate to other feedback that you have received?
  • How can you take steps to follow up on this information?
  • What actions will you take?

Contradictory Data

One of the true benefits of 360 degree feedback is to provide leaders with feedback from multiple perspectives. Different groups have different opportunities to observe performance.  Nonetheless, feedback that greatly varies across groups of feedback providers can cause concern.  While one person may consider something a strength, another might think it is a development area.  It can be difficult for a leader to interpret this conflicting data. 

Coaching Tip: Highlight the benefits of receiving insight from multiple perspectives and how understanding the specific area for improvement can help to jump-start a development plan.  Use the following coaching questions:

  • Why might one group view you differently from another? Can you think of a specific example?
  • What are the implications of ....(example: your peers viewing this as a strength and your direct reports perceiving this area as a development need)?
  • What are your next steps?

As coaches, we can help leaders to stay focused on finding the "good stuff" and maximize their ability to surface and take away helpful information from 360 degree feedback results. 

What techniques do you use in working with leaders to maximize the benefits of 360 degree feedback?  Share your comments and success stories.

Related Resources:

Free Whitepaper: 360 Degree Feedback for Development or Dollars. The debate continues....

Free Whitepaper: The 360 Degree Feedback Advantage:  How this powerful process can change your organization.

360 reviews