The SARA Model: Learning from 360-Degree Feedback

Many people are surprised by the results from their 360 degree feedback report.  Some are completely un-aware of other’s perceptions and have a difficult time dealing with critical feedback about themselves. They experience the same range of emotions that are felt by those who grieve for the loss of a loved one. We can experience these emotions with any type of dramatic change in our lives.

The SARA Model

This emotional process is often referred to as the SARA model.  SARA stands for Shock, Anger, Resistance and Acceptance.  As we coach leaders on their 360 degree feedback results, we find that people need to go through this process before they are able to use the feedback effectively to make improvements in their lives.

Shock

The first phase of the SARA model is 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. When people are experiencing shock, they may say things like, “This report must not be right,” or “What? I don’t understand this report.”

Anger

As we realize what the feedback means, shock can turn into anger or anxiety, particularly as we see the implications of it. During the anger stage, people may say things like, “Who said this anyway?!” or “This report just doesn’t fit my current situation.”

Resistance

If feedback indicates the need for change, we may experience a period of resistance. Change can be difficult, or at least uncomfortable. When experiencing resistance, people may say, “That’s just the way I am, take it or leave it,” or “I get it, but I don’t like it.”

A woman works through the SARA model as she learns to accept her feedback

Acceptance

The final step of the SARA model is acceptance. As we process the feedback, we come to a point of acceptance, which leaves us at a higher place than where we started. When an individual is finally accepting their feedback, you may hear them say, “What can I do to improve?” or “How can I best use this feedback?”

Critical or unexpected feedback can leave us in shock, anxious, and possibly even angry for days, weeks – or longer. Feedback from someone significant to us (i.e., spouse, friend, boss) may be especially difficult to deal with.

The good news is that those who initially respond with greater shock or anger to feedback and who work through the SARA model often end up with a higher commitment to change and improve.

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