One of the most important benefits of multi-rater feedback (a.k.a. 360-degree feedback) can also be one of the most confusing (and even frustrating) pieces of the process.
360-degree feedback provides a unique opportunity to assess how others view one person’s performance and behavior. Seeing how a collection of raters perceive someone across a spectrum of behavioral dimensions or competencies often serves as a catalyst for change. However, it’s interesting how often different rater groups (supervisor, peers, direct reports, others, etc.) vary in their judgment of an individual. And without proper interpretation of these gaps, many individuals see the gaps and begin to question the validity of the feedback. Others may struggle to reconcile these differences in their minds.
So what do we do when raters disagree? How do we to take action when there are differing opinions on what needs to be addressed? Perhaps our own anatomy can provide us with insight.
Our brains infer depth and distance based on disparities between our two eyes or two ears. In the case of the eyes, spatial disparity, a difference of just a few arc seconds (the width of a dime from 1¼ mi or 2 km away) helps the brain determine spatial relationships. For the ears, a temporal disparity (a time difference) of microseconds in receiving audible sounds to each ear helps establish distance. We leverage the differences between the sensory reception to orient ourselves in a space, forming impressions of what lies around us, judging, and making decisions.
Similarly, the disparity between the feedback from raters in multi-rater feedback gives the participant rich understanding to help orient them in terms of performance. Having multiple raters provides participants with depth that is not as available with a single rater (ex: supervisor-provided performance appraisals). While differences in ratings can sometimes cause confusion for an individual (“My Supervisor thinks I am a poor communicator, yet my Direct Reports think I walk on water!”), they also provide additional clarity.
Interpreting Gaps in Perception
Asking the following questions may help induce meaning behind the rater gap:
- Does my behavior change based on the group with which I am working?
- Does my relationship, history, experience, etc. with these different groups cause them to view me in a different light, even when my behavior doesn’t vary across groups?
- Are these gaps the result of external factors? (“I just rolled out a new policy which didn’t sit well with Direct Reports, yet was required by my Supervisor.”)
- Do I need to do a better job at informing some of these groups about what is going on?
- What am I doing well, according to a high-rating group, which I could take and implement with the low-rating group?
- Is it possible that one group of raters may benefit more from some of my behaviors than another group? What should I take from this?
Note that none of the above should be mistaken for excuses. They are, however, possible considerations that may provide insight in understanding the gaps in 360-degree feedback. Rather than creating confusion and frustration, understanding the value behind differences and gaps can provide depth that adds to the valuable insight available from 360-degree feedback.
In addition to the above, are there other questions that should be asked in interpreting these gaps?
For additional information on how the brain interprets gaps, see the fascinating work of Dr. Oliver Sacks. Information above is adapted from his book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.” Dr. Sacks is a physician, professor of neurology and psychiatry, and accomplished musician.
Related Post: 360 Degree Feedback Gaps in Perception
Related Post: How I Reacted to My 360 Feedback
Related Post: Do You See What I See? Self Score Inflation in 360-degree Feedback
Related Content: 360 Degree Feedback
Related Post: The White Christmas Effect: Filling in the Missing Feedback