As we work with leaders to provide 360-degree feedback, we encounter four common defense mechanisms that people use to discount negative perceptions they find in their report. We call these “barriers to leadership intelligence” because they prevent leaders from gaining the self-awareness they need to become better leaders.
Taken from principles of psychology, these barriers include the following:
- Naïve Realism: This philosophical concept explains that each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We also think that what we see is what everyone else sees. When we receive feedback about ourselves that is contrary to our point of view, we discount the feedback by rationalizing that others have not been exposed to the relevant facts or they are blinded by their own interests, ideologies, and biases.
- Self-serving bias: This is a tendency to use or make dispositional attributions (put our own spin on) for success, and situational attributions (explain away or justify) for failures. If I do something well, it is because I am skilled and work hard. If I make a mistake, it is because I did not receive the correct specifications from the engineering department or I was not given enough time to complete the task.
- Ego Defenses: We tend to react to contrary feedback in a way to maintain our self-concept and esteem. Sigmund Freud claimed that individuals tend to repress, identify (incorporate), or rationalize away information that threatens their ego. These reactions manifest themselves in a variety of ways including manipulation, denial, or distortion of the feedback.
- Negativity Bias: This is a tendency to focus all attention on negative feedback. We find that individuals get “hung up” on any negative information from their 360-degree feedback survey and have trouble seeing the positive ratings in their results.
The good news is that all of these barriers are relatively easy to overcome by helping individuals recognize when they arise. When leaders are able to accept the feedback, they are then able to leverage it to change needed behaviors and become more effective leaders.
Which barrier do you see most often? Do you find yourself confronting any of these barriers when you encounter feedback that is not congruent with your self-perceptions?
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