Approaching Difficult Feedback Conversations


The prospect of receiving feedback on psychometric reports can be intimidating for some people. Understanding the implications of psychometric data and what it may mean to an individual’s sense of self, is not an easy endeavour. As a practitioner, I have found a few strategies useful while delivering feedback in difficult conversations. In my experience, being cognizant of how the client reacts to a new piece of information, can be useful in understanding the client better and helping them.

I start by identifying common patterns in the conversation and try to understand their undercurrents better. There are three common themes in difficult conversations around psychometric feedback and I discuss below, ways in which a practitioner can approach them.


  1. The Resistant Response – The client may sometimes, refuse to accept the new information and put up walls in response to it. In such conversations, it is important to avoid being directive or challenging. The practitioner could ask, “What are you disagreeing with?” or “What do you think that means?”. By letting the client know that it is alright to disagree, help the client try to expand their understanding and reasons for disagreement. The more the client feels in control of the conversation, lesser is the need for the client to resist.


  1. The Agreeable Response – Here, the client immediately agrees to all aspects of the feedback without exploring them well. Counter-intuitively, this agreement isn’t a desirable position. This could imply a few things. On one hand, it could mean that the client may be avoiding engagement by agreeing with you. This may be his or her attempt to encourage you to move on and finish the feedback sooner. The client may also be implying that this information is not new to them; suggesting that they have known it all along and implicitly questioning the value of the psychometric report or the conversation itself. This begs the question if the client is engaged in the conversation, enough. To address engagement, the practitioner might want to pull back, help the client explore their larger life context, the purpose of the conversation and how this process may help them. The information from the psychometric report can be re-introduced in the conversation when the client is re-engaged.


  1. The Rationalization Response – In my experience, many clients often agree with the new information from the psychometric test but offer possible reasons or explanations for it. They feel compelled to explain why they are the way they are. In doing so, clients extend sympathy to themselves which is not undesirable. However, this is also accompanied with not taking responsibility for changing themselves, feeling helpless or abdicating any agency in dealing with life situations. In such conversations, I have found it helpful to redirect the conversation to what the client could do and not focus on why they did what they did. The practitioner could say, “I see why you find it difficult to trust people, but how is this distrust limiting you? What else could you do to not let distrust limit you?” This will help client move towards a solution and rather than the ‘why’ of the problem.


In dealing with difficult conversations, practitioners need not choose between empathy and effectiveness. Instead, noticing such patterns and addressing them, will help practitioners deal with clients’ tacit anxiety and help them work with their psychometric reports better.


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