Personality Types and 360-Degree Feedback: Who Responds BEST?

“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” -Jose Ortega y Gasset

Personality does indeed influence how participants react to 360-degree feedback, how motivated they will be to act on the suggestions and observations of others, and how likely they will be to implement and sustain new behaviors to become more effective. Here are some research findings supporting this:

Research by Smither, London, and Richmond (2005) explored the relationship between leaders’ personalities and their reactions to and use of 360-degree feedback. Leaders high in emotional stability were more likely to be rated by a psychologist as motivated to use the feedback results for professional development.

Additionally, leaders high in extroversion or sociability were more likely to have sought additional feedback six months later, while leaders high in conscientiousness were more likely to have engaged in developmental behaviors.

These researchers also found that extroverted leaders who are open to experiencewere more likely to perceive and view negative feedback as valuable and were most likely to seek further information about their feedback.

In general, individuals with high self-esteem reported more favorable attitudes toward the 360-degree feedback than those with low self-esteem. Feedback recipients who rate themselves highly on receptivity and the desire to make a good first impression were also perceived by feedback providers as having more positive reactions to feedback (Atwater, Brett, and Charles, 2007).

Research by Bono and Colbert (2005) suggests that the motivation to change behavior following 360-degree feedback is related to a personality concept called core self-evaluations (CSE). Specifically, they found that individuals with high levels of core self-evaluations (those with high self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, internal locus of control and low neuroticism) will be most motivated to change behavior when they receive discrepant feedback, while those with low levels of core self-evaluations will be most motivated when others’ ratings are most similar to their own.

These results suggest the potential value of coaching to assist individuals to understand potentially complex feedback and to increase the motivation to set developmental goals. In general, leaders with an internal locus of control (i.e., those who believe they have some control over what happens to them) tend to react to peer and subordinate feedback more favorably, with a greater intention to improve their skills.

Goal orientation may influence whether an individual views feedback as a development opportunity or a challenge to his or her self-rating. Individuals with a learning goal orientation tend to hold a view of ability as modifiable and believe they are capable of improving their level of abilities (Brett and Atwater, 2001). These researchers found that those with a learning goal orientation believed the feedback was more useful than those with a performance goal orientation.

Taken together, it seems people are most motivated to use 360-degree feedback for development when they are conscientious or extroverted and when they had high self-efficacy, an internal locus of control, and low anxiety. As a result, coaches should assess the personality and style of their clients and reflect on how this might impact the receptivity and use of the 360-degree feedback results.

Coach’s Critique: 

Some people are truly limited by their abilities to benefit from coaching and/or a behavioral change program. So, 360s could perhaps be implemented on most  types of individuals, however, who will actually utilize it as way to change behaviors is impacted by many factors including to a great extent, personality.

There are certain personality types such as the ones mentioned above that reflect individual level of coachability to create and sustain change. On the other hand, there are people with personality types that are considered so extreme that even the most seasoned and brilliant coaches cannot get them to change their behaviors. It is hard enough for any type of person to change and form habits, independent of personality. Now, to expect people to change with personalities that are less likely to result in proactive behavior and deliberate practice is simply NOT probable!

With that said, coaches should guage at their client’s likelihood for improvement by understanding their personality traits. In our recent book, Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It, Ken and I talk about the process and methods for maximizing coaching, as well as research about the various personality traits and their impact on behavioral change.


Toss ’em or Keep ’em? What To Do With Harsh Open-Ended Comments in 360-Degree Feedback?

“A pleasant illusion is better than a harsh reality.”

-Christian Nevell Bovee

Open-ended comments have some clear benefits and disadvantages. Participants generally find comments from open-ended questions useful and a great way of clarifying the sometimes confusing quantitative scores (e.g., when rater agreement is low but average scores are moderate or moderately high).

Open-ended comments do have some potential downsides. For one thing, they take more time to complete and require more effort on the part of raters to make them more behavioral and useful. At the same time, open-ended comments might also reveal raters, diminishing anonymity in the feedback process, where the participant is likely to identify who said what.

One of the biggest disadvantages of open-ended comments is the negative impact it can have on the participant.Open-ended comments can create strong emotional reactions that can interfere with the acceptance of feedback and lead to diminished engagement and productivity. For example, Smither and Walker (2004) analyzed the impact of upward feedback ratings, as well as open-ended comments, over a one-year period for 176 managers. They found that those who received a small number of unfavorable, behaviorally-based comments improved more than other managers, but those who received a large number relative to positive comments significantly declined in performance more than other managers.


Coach’s Critique:

They say that some things are better left unsaid….. I couldn’t agree with this statement more. It is common for raters to take advantage of being provided with open-ended questions by stating their opinion about the participant in an overly critical way, either intentionally or unintentionally. This can lead to hurt feelings, diminishment in confidence, and a decreased motivation to change on the part of the participant.

The challenge is to collect as much honest and useful information as possible, while keeping the participants emotional reactions in tact! So, what do consultants or coaches do when they have reviewed a 360-degree feedback that consists of overly critical open-ended comments? Do they toss ’em? Or, do they keep ’em?

This is obviously a difficult question to answer, as it is essentially a judgement call on the part of the coach. In my experience, if a feedback comment is not behavioral AND specific, it does not need to be included. If there is something negative to be said about someone, then perhaps it does NOT need to be mentioned. A rater might say, “No body respects or listens to Joe’s presentations! He is clumsy and boring!”. Well, here is what I would do….I would ask one question…does the quantitative portion of the 360 results cover development opportunities for presentation skills. If so, I would take this comment OUT. Not only would keeping such a comment emotionally hurt the participant and decrease chances of behavioral change, but it could motivate him to try to identify the rater that made the comment…this could inevitably lead to tremendous resentment and animosity.

So, generally, when comments are highly critical, it might be a good idea to delete the comment or modify it in a way that participant might feel more comfortable to receive.

What has been your experience with harsh and unnecessary open-ended comments? Would you toss ’em or keep ’em?


  1. Smither & Walker, A.G. (2004). Are the characteristics of narrative comments related to improvement in multi-rater feedback ratings over time? Personnel Psychology, 89, 575-581.

Clueless Part 1: A Model for Coaching Leaders to Change their Behaviors

Have you ever tried to change a habit? Initiating and successfully maintaining new behavior is challenging for all of us. Every day, coaches and trainers are attempting to help talent to leverage their signature strengths and start, stop, and change behaviors that are part of our unconscious competence. Our new book, Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get it, introduces a powerful three-step, individual change behavior model, along with structured exercises to facilitate successful behavior change.

The Three E Model

In order to successfully initiate and maintain behavior change, people move through three specific stages that we call “Enlighten,” “Encourage,” and “Enable” — the 3 “E” Model.

This theoretically derived behavior model (from leadership, health psychology, and behavioral medicine literature) provides a context for coaches to understand the dynamics of the behavioral change process and the special role that feedback plays in facilitating a readiness and sense of confidence to begin a developmental journey. Each of the progressive stages is affected by individual and organizational variables, and are focused on individual behavioral change and targeting enhanced effectiveness.
More important, each stage represents a milestone for your clients to move through. If successful, they will be able to transition from successful adopters to successful maintainers of new behaviors.

Stage I: Enlighten

During this Enlighten stage, the coach is using the data from a feedback process (e.g., interviews or 360-degree assessments) to help the coachee to interpret the meaningfulness of rater perspectives compared with their own self-perceptions. One important role of the coach during this stage is to help manage potential coachee reactions to ensure that the feedback does not elicit disengagement or cause the coachee to ignore it or to overly emphasize it (Smither, London & Reilly, 2005).

Reactions from any feedback process may range from being pleasantly surprised to experiencing hurt, anger, and even depression, with predictable consequences for performance, health, and psychological well-being (Eisenberger et al., 2003). As Joo (2005) has pointed out, the feedback orientation and personality directly affect the coachee’s openness to the coach’s input, suggestions, and feedback, which can affect the overall effectiveness of the intervention.

Stage II: Encourage

One key to successful, long-term behavioral change is in the planning process that should also include deliberate practice of newly acquired skills or leveraging of one’s strengths. The coach’s role is to ensure the translation of the Enlighten stage to the creation of a realistic, specific, and measurable performance development plans in the Encourage stage. Goal setting and developmental planning are generally addressed in most feedback models (Gregory et al., 2008), and as previously pointed out, coaching appears to significantly help the coachee translate awareness and motivation into specific behavioral change goals (Smither et al., 2005).

The Encourage stage involves gaining commitment with the coachee toward a collaborative and explicit behavioral change plan. The coach, during this stage, explores signs of resistance and actively strengthens clarity of action plan goals and commitment to implement them. The coachee’s motivation to change is a function of the discrepancy between their action plan goal and current situation. Coaches also should help the coachee to see if the goal is realistic, as a large gap between ideal and current states may actually decrease confidence to sustain change over time, leading to possible relapse (Parks & Marlatt, 1999).
Motivational interviewing (MI) is a useful individual-based approach for coaches and consultants to assist coachees to reflect and target specific developmental goals to work on and a powerful way to enhance self-insight and commitment to change. It is a style that values and emphasizes the coachee’s self-evaluations, values, interests and motives and utilizes reflective listening and probing to help the coachee make lasting behavioral changes.

MI is a collaborative approach to identifying motivations to change, potential obstacles, targeted goal setting and reappraisal to ensure long term success without being overly directive with the coachee (Passmore, 2007). The coach must identify the key “readiness to change” stage from Precontemplation (no intention to change), contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse and apply specific approaches, techniques and strategies at each stage to help facilitate successful long-term success (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).

Stage III: Enable

This is the stage in which coaches begin to actually help the coachee acquire new knowledge, increase self-efficacy, and reinforce deliberate practice of skills to initiate and maintain important new behaviors. In general, coachees are more likely to try new behaviors in which they are confident in a successful outcome and feel a sense of mastery in maintaining it over time, despite some possible setbacks and challenges.


If the coachee is lacking confidence in his or her ability to implement the plan, the chances that he or she will maintain it over time will be low. It is the role of the coach to provide encouragement and support with their coachees to explore their feelings about their developmental journey through structured emotional expressive writing or by probing directly for reactions, reflections and insights in each session.

This Enable stage is critical for long-term success of any behavior modification program, and this stage is often overlooked or minimized by many coaches. When possible, coaches should be working during this stage to help the coachee manage lapses, recognize successes, enlist the power of social support systems (such as help educate the coachee’s manager about what he or she can do to follow-up and reinforce key behaviors and learning), and focus on progress through structured reminders, recognizing and rewarding goals, and to evaluating overall success.

The coach’s role is to assist the coachee with re-evaluating the importance of their goals and exploring some relapse prevention strategies to prepare the coachee for the inevitable lapses that accompany any behavioral change effort. For example, the coach could help the coachee anticipate future unavoidable high-risk situations and prepare for inevitable lapses with his or her boss or work team. Encouraging ways for the coachee to reward sustained behavior is also something the coach can discuss during their follow-up meetings, along with an analysis of the coachee’s professional and social support network and what role he or she can play in maintaining new behaviors over time.

Final Word

The Three “E” Model (Enlighten, Encourage and Enable) emphasizes the role of coach’s skills and organization’s culture (such as a manager’s involvement to reinforce and be held accountable for successful completion of development plans of their talent) to initiate behavioral change and attempts to recognize the fragility of sustaining these behaviors without relapsing. Coaches and trainers can use this individual change model to design individual and team interventions that maximize learning transfer and sustain successful habit change over time.

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Gregory, J. B., Levy, P.E. & Jeffers, M. (2008). Development of the feedback process within executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 60, 42-56.
Joo, B. K. (2005). Executive coaching: A conceptual framework from an integrative review of research and practice. Human Resource Development Review, 4, 134-144.
Mashihi, S. & Nowack, K. (2011). Clueless: Coaching people who just don’t get it. Santa Monica: Envisia Learning, Inc.
Nowack, K. (2009). Leveraging Multirater Feedback to Facilitate Successful Behavioral Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 61, 280-297.
Passmore, J. (2007). Addressing deficit performance through coaching – using motivational interviewing for performance improvement at work. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 263-273.
Parks, G. A. and Marlatt, A. (1999). Relapse prevention therapy for substance-abusing offenders: A cognitive-behavioral approach in what works: In E. Latessa (Ed.), Strategic solutions: The international community corrections association examines substance abuse. (pp. 161- 233). Lanham, MD.