Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Selective hearing - issues in coaching

Having delivered a lot of 360 feedback to people over the years I've noticed how often people seem to selectively pick out the messages they want to hear and reject or rationalise away the rest. Not too surprising at one level, but given the intent of 360 feedback is (in part) to puncture our self-delusions not reinforce them, this form of selective hearing seems worth paying attention to.

William Swann*, US psychologist, talks about two competing motives that tend to preserve and reinforce our view of ourselves: the self-consistency and self-enhancement motives. Those with a stronger self-consistency drive need to see themselves as essentially unchanging - even if it means clinging to a poor self-image. So when faced with good feedback they will often diminish or minimise it, whilst lapping up the bad news. A stronger self-enhancement motive shows up as people wanting to enhance their view of themselves - so guess what - the good news gets heard and the bad news gets rejected. This makes it tough work for the coach trying to increase a client's self-awareness but understanding these motives does help.

So what do you find harder - the good new or the bad news?

* Swann,W.B. et al (1999) The cognitive-affective crossfire: when self-consistency confronts self-enhancement, in: Roy F. Baumeister (Ed.), The self in social psychology, Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press. Click here for a link


  1. I very much concur with your experience Alison. I did an extensive piece of research a few years ago for my masters degree on whether 360 degree feedback had a lasting impact on leadership style. The conclusion.........only if an experienced facilitator challenged the halo and horns effect in terms of deleting, distorting and generalising!

  2. Thanks for the comment Marion - would be very interested in anything you have written up from your research.