360-degree feedback results are an invaluable tool that offers leaders a holistic view of their performance and leadership style from various perspectives. This feedback typically comes from direct reports, peers, supervisors, board members, and external stakeholders such as customers or vendors. However, deciphering these results can be a complex task. This guide aims to provide you with practical tips on how to effectively interpret your 360-degree feedback assessment. 


Understanding 360-Degree Feedback 

The initial step in interpreting your 360-degree feedback reports is to understand how we design and structure 360-degree feedback assessments. These assessments are designed to evaluate a range of competencies (i.e., skills or abilities). Each competency is assessed by asking those around the leader to indicate how frequently they observe the key behaviors that correlate with success inside the competency. 

For instance, the competency of “Shaping Strategy” is best understood when we use at least four behavior statements to evaluate a leader’s proficiency. Here’s an example: 

  • Competency: Shaping Strategy

    • Behaviors or Behavior Statements:  
      • Demonstrates a thorough understanding of the company’s market position and capabilities. 
      • Creates a realistic and compelling vision of the organization’s future. 
      • Anticipates key changes affecting our company and industry. 
      • Understands how to create and maintain a competitive advantage. 

Some competencies are general and applicable across industries and verticals, while others are unique to a specific organization. Ideally, a competency has been customized and correlated to business success within an organization. This process, known as competency design, is usually led by a team of internal or external organizational development consultants. For example, a manufacturing facility would likely focus on competencies such as safety, data-driven analysis, teamwork, and process improvement. In contrast, an advertising firm on Madison Avenue might prioritize competencies such as creativity, innovation, trendspotting, and communication skills. 


The Importance of Self-Awareness 

There is, however, one competency that is foundational to all others and is universally applicable: Self-Awareness. Leaders who are self-aware can grow and develop. A 360-degree assessment is a powerful tool that compels leaders to evaluate how their behaviors impact others and whether they are as effective as they believe. 

When discussing 360-degree feedback with leaders, a common phrase we use is: “beware of blind spots.” A blind spot is a weakness that leaders are unaware of, and they can hinder us from achieving our goals. The most effective remedy for blind spots is comprehensive 360-degree feedback. 


The Role of Context 

The first step in effectively analyzing a 360-degree feedback report is to understand the context: What is the purpose of the feedback, and what am I expected to do with the insights? 

In the case of a typical 360-degree assessment for development purposes, the tool should be used as a window into how your working style impacts others. The focus should be on “how” you do things in your organization. However, in the case of a 360-degree performance review, the focus should be on “what” you are doing for the organization and whether your efforts are effective. 

To better understand the context, consider asking program leaders these questions before starting the process: 

  • Who will see the results? 
  • What is your purpose in giving me the assessment? 
  • Is this assessment for development purposes or is it to review performance? 
  • What expectations do you have of me throughout the process? 
  • Do you offer coaching to help me understand the feedback and turn my feedback into results? 
  • Will I be expected to share or discuss my feedback with my supervisor or someone else inside the organization? 
  • Will you be tracking my action plans?  


Managing Emotions and Being Open to Feedback 

The next step involves your mindset. Be open and curious about the feedback. Instead of trying to rationalize things or figure out “who said what,” strive to remain receptive to the feedback being offered. 

Remember that receiving feedback can be an emotional process. Feedback may sting at times, but often, it’s this type of feedback that is the most beneficial. Accept the ratings as a reflection of how others perceive your leadership. Remember, leaders have to manage others’ perceptions as their reality. 

By anticipating the emotional aspects of the process, you can be more deliberate and intentional in how you accept the feedback you’ve been given. The SARAH model, which stands for Shock, Anger, Resistance, Acceptance, and Hope, is a problem-solving method that can be applied to help keep emotion from derailing your 360-degree feedback analysis. 

  • Shock: Our initial response to feedback may be shock, or denial of the feedback, especially if what we hear is unexpected or contradicts our own views. 
  • Anger: As we realize what the feedback means, shock can turn into anger or anxiety, particularly as we see its implications. 
  • Resistance: If feedback indicates the need for change, we may experience a period of resistance. 
  • Acceptance: As we process the feedback, we come to a point of acceptance. 
  • Hope: In the final stage, hope, people may begin to see the positive sides of changing and even the benefits to them and the organization. 


Consider the Rater Groups 

A skilled interpretation of your results requires an understanding of the different perspectives of your raters. It’s important to consider the context in which the feedback was given and the strength of the relationships between you and the raters. How are those relationships, and how will their relative strength and health impact the feedback being offered? 

For example, feedback from a direct report might focus more on your management style or how your decision-making process impacts them directly. On the other hand, feedback from a peer might focus more on your teamwork and collaboration skills. 


Open-Text Comments 

When it comes to open-text comments, know that these comments offer some of the greatest value in your report because they are often specific and detailed. Nonetheless, we recommend you avoid focusing too much attention on one comment that may seem harsh or especially personal. Second, we encourage you to avoid the “Who said that?!” trap. The most important thing is to look at what is being said. Finally, we recommend you look at your comments through a quantitative lens. Watch for one or more words or phrases that are repeated multiple times and give more weight to those messages than to other isolated comments that don’t align with other themes from your report. 


Reacting to Feedback 

Once you’ve spent time interpreting your feedback, it’s time to create an action plan. If you have scored low on a competency, such as accountability, set targeted goals for improvement. However, spend more time identifying your strengths than focusing on your weaknesses. Focusing on a strength will often yield more value than trying to discover all your gaps and then attempting to fix the problem areas. As with anything, consider the ROI from your efforts. Try to be proactive instead of reactive; choose focus areas that will result in the greatest value gains. 



Interpreting 360-degree feedback results is a critical step in leadership development. This type of feedback provides leaders with a comprehensive view of their performance, helping them identify their strengths and areas needing improvement. By effectively interpreting these results, leaders can enhance their self-awareness, improve their leadership skills, and contribute more effectively to their organization’s success. 



DecisionWise can help you implement 360-Degree Feedback Assessments for your organization.

Learn how Spectiv by DecisionWise can help your organization get valuable 360 Feedback in an easy way with robust individual and group reporting.

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