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Presenting feedback after an assessment

Author: Dr Simon Moss


In many training, development, and coaching programs, participants first need to complete an instrument that characterizes their personality, temperament, and demeanor. After participants complete these instruments, they will eventually receive some feedback--from a report, coach, or facilitator, for example. Obviously, the feedback will vary across instruments and depend on the responses of participants. Nevertheless, some key insights and principles that are relevant in the vast majority of instances should be emphasized.

Highlight that character can be cultivated

Practitioners need to demonstrate that personality and character can evolve gradually over time--and is not fixed or inflexible. Indeed, many studies have demonstrated that personality can change fundamentally. For example, research indicates that individuals do become more stable, resilient, and sociable, rather than irritable, vulnerable, or reserved, if they work in a job or environment they enjoy (see Scollon & Diener, 2006).

Individuals who assume that personality and character is malleable cope more effectively in response to change (Werth, Markel, & Forster, 2006), accept criticism appropriately (Maurer, Mitchell, & Barbeite, 2002), exhibit flexibility, not rigidity, in their beliefs (Plaks, Stroessner, Dweck, & Sherman, 2001), and embrace diversity (Hong et al, 2004). They also are less inclined to feel like a phony, but instead feel deserving of their respect (Kumar & Jagacinski, 2006 & see Implicit theories of malleability).

Furthermore, these individuals are more likely to focus on developing their expertise and character, rather than demonstrating their competence or outperforming colleagues (e.g., Robins & Pals, 2002). This focus on development also confers many benefits, such as resilience (Van Yperen & Janssen, 2002), cooperation (Duda & Nicholls, 1992), concentration (Nolen, 1988), learning, (Licht & Dweck, 1984), and creativity (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004 & see Goal orientation).

To demonstrate that individuals can cultivate their character, practitioners need to convey several key principles:

Step 1 Invite participants to identify someone in their life, perhaps in their past, who seems to have changed fundamentally on one or more of these facets of personality and become more satisfied with their life--perhaps an adolescent who became more extraverted as they aged. Second, participants should be asked to reflect upon this person whenever they feel defensive or anxious. Indeed, they should form an image of themselves reflecting upon the extent to which this individual has changed, particularly during an occassion in which hey feel distressed or threatened.

Reflecting upon individuals who have changed reinforces the assumption that human character can be developed with time and experience. This assumption then evokes the benefits this assumption affords, such as resilience, flexibility, creativity, and confidence. In addition, individuals are more inclined to fulfil their goals if they form implementation intentions--that is, if they consider the conditions under which they will execute the intended behaviors (e.g., Oettingen, Hoig, & Gollwitzer, 2000). If individuals form implementation intentions, such as when they imagine a specific person as soon as they feel distressed, they execute the intended goals with minimal, if any, mental effort (see & see also Achieving goals). That is, the behavior seems to be implemented effortlessly whenever suitable cues transpire (Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998& Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).

Step 2 Invite participants in the future to behave in a manner that diverges from their usual personality traits, perhaps for an hour or so. Specifically, they should identify a trait that differs from their usual character but might be desirable to exhibit in some setting. To illustrate, these participants might usually prefer to consider broad, abstract concepts, but might decide they should sometimes focus on concrete details, at least on some activities. They should then imagine themselves enacting this behavior, as vividly as possible.

As recent research indicates, when individuals act in a manner that departs from their usual demeanor, a broad gamut of their characteristics and tendencies change as well, as though they have adopted a different personality (McNiel & Fleeson, 2006). For example, when individuals act in a bold, sociable manner, they tend to experience genuine feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and tenacity--feelings that usually characterize an extraverted person. This exercise reveals that individuals should not assume that only one core persona underlies the surface of every person. Instead, individuals are multifaceted and demonstrate or develop different characteristics with time, effort, and experience.

Step 3 Participants should be encouraged to identify some of the tendencies or traits they would like to develop and demonstrate, at least in some circumstances. They could be asked "If you could change something about your personality or temperament, what characteristics would you modify?"

Next, they should be asked to identify some activities they could undertake to facilitate this change--articles they might read, advice they could seek, or activities they might undertake. They should not focus on the outcomes they would like to achieve, but on the tactics and opportunities they might pursue to facilitate this development.

When individuals focus on the strategies, tactics, and practices they would like to undertake to develop their character and skills, they are more inclined to perceive their core personality as malleable (e.g., Robins & Pals, 2002). Consequently, they are more likely to be resilient, flexible, and open to advice.

Instill a sense of power and control in stressful contexts

Step 1 Participants should be encouraged to identify five or so of their principal strengths, qualities, or tendencies they regard as desirable as well as five or so limitations. Next, they should identify one of their personality traits or characteristics, as specified in their report, that seems to be related to one of their strengths and limitations. To illustrate, these individuals might perceive themselves as organized but not creative. They might decide the trait "prefers routines rather than uncertainty" might partly explain both of these tendencies.

This exercise ensures that individuals perceive their strengths and limitations as related to one another. When difficulties arise, individuals become more aware of their shortcomings. Some of these individuals, however, conceptualize their strengths and limitations as intimately connected (Zeigler-Hill & Showers, 2007). An awareness of limitations also evokes a recognition of their strengths, in turn instilling a sense of competence, power, control, and autonomy, ultimately diminishing anxiety and agitation.

Step 2 Participants should be encouraged to concede one or more of these limitations to their peers. They should acknowledge this deficiency is not extreme, but nevertheless a tendency they would like to modify (see Self compassion). They should be informed that accepting, rather than controlling, upsetting thoughts and feelings is a signal of strength, as shown by Spada, Nikcevic, Moneta, and Wells (2008).

After individuals attempt to disregard doubts about themselves, their anxiety rises and confidence diminishes (Borton, Markovitz, & Dieterich, 2005). For example, sometimes individuals consider the possibility that perhaps they are unintelligent. Often, to improve their mood, they will then deny this possibility, striving to suppress this thought. However, individuals become more sensitive to the deficiencies they would like to suppress. They might become more likely to notice or remember occasions in which they committed an error& their self esteem declines and their anxiety escalates (see Ironic rebound effect).

Step 3 Finally, participants should be asked to specify the traits they would like to exhibit, from the set of characteristics that are measured by the personality inventory, when they feel distressed, anxious, or threatened. For example, perhaps they would like to demonstrate a bold, assertive demeanor whenever they are criticized. They should, as vividly as possible, imagine themselves demonstrating this demeanor in response to an upsetting or confronting situation, such as criticism from a supervisor or colleague.

Developing a sense of meaning and connection

Step 1 Participants should be asked to reflect upon the broader purposes that perhaps their roles and responsibilities could achieve in the distant future. That is, they should ponder over the meaning they attach to their role--how their job relates to a significant cause or issue. They might be able to contribute to improvements in efficiency, which ultimately reduced the expenditure of energy, for example.

Next, they should consider which traits or qualities they would like to cultivate. To demonstrate, they might feel they could improve efficiency more effectively if they were more thoughtful and reflective.

When individuals experience a sense of meaning, they feel connected to an issue that is broader than themselves--an issue that is stable and enduring. Because they feel connected to an enduring cause, they experience a sense of solidity (see Simon, Arndt, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1998). As a consequence, they feel sturdy not vulnerable or defensive, even when their character is undermined or threatened (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Rosenblatt, Veeder, Kirkland, & Lyon, 1990& see also Terror management theory).

Furthermore, when individuals deliberate over their most important values, they do not feel as concerned with more pressing anxieties and concerns (Koole, Smeets, van Knippenberg, & Dijksterhuis, 1999& see also Self affirmation theory). Their perception of themselves becomes more stable rather than vulnerable to criticisms.

Cultivating commitment to change

Step 1 Ask participants to reflect upon whether they are flexible and adaptable. They could be asked "Are you a person who would like to develop your expertise".

When individuals are asked to reflect upon the extent to which they are willing to change their behavior in the pursuit of progress, previous memories of their flexibility become more prominent (e.g., see Fitzsimons & Shiv, 2001). They perceive themselves as adaptable rather than inflexible.

Furthermore, especially after they reflect upon aspirations and values they have attempted to fulfill (Cohen, Sherman, Bastardi, Hsu, McGoey, & Ross, 2007), individuals are also motivated to engage in behaviors that align to their perceptions of themselves. Therefore, if they perceive themselves as adaptable, they behave more flexibly& they become receptive to change.

Step 2 Sometimes, facilitators, coaches, or instructors would like to discuss a specific recommendation with participants. They might, for example, want to encourage participants to behave with more humility, conceding their limitations to colleagues. In these instances, participants should be asked whether they have demonstrated similar behavior previously.

Step 3Facilitators, coaches, or instructors should always concede the inconvenience of some act or behavior. They should then inquire whether or not the participants would engage in this act if such behavior was indeed beneficial. They might ask "I know it can be stressful, but if conceding your faults did help your reputation, would you act with more humility".

In response to these hypothetical questions, the participants, usually unwittingly, become more likely to direct their attention to the benefits of this act (Fitzsimons & Shiv, 2001). They might reflect upon the prospect that humility could enhance their reputation (see Steering customers towards particular courses of action).

In addition, if they concede their recommendations are inconvenient , facilitators, coaches, or instructors are actually more convincing (Werner, Stoll, Birch, & White, 2002). The participants are more likely to feel their needs and concerns are understood or appreciated& the recommendations are, thus, regarded as credible.

Related topics

For further information, see:


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Last Update: 5/15/2016