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  • Writer's pictureAustin Aloysius Tay

Words Do Hurt

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me). This is a famous children’s rhyme to persuade the child, a victim of name-calling, to ignore the taunt.

Recently, this rhyme came to me in a conversation on my way to work. Somehow, it connected with me during my recent feedback session. Let me set the scene, this was feedback from a consultant to an individual for development.

The consultant started with the usual formalities and informed the individual of the purpose of the feedback; the discussion will be confidential and did a good introduction to the tool used for the assessment. Then, the consultant began to focus on the individual traits and some of the statements used to make me realise how that could impact the individual.

For example

You have a score of 1 for communication, which means you do not like socialising and talking to a big group of people. You are very individual. It would be best if you were more communicative as a point of development.

Your influencing score is three this means you are not good at influencing. You are not a good leader as you are not good at influencing. You like to follow what others say. You need to develop on this.

This went on for about 45 minutes. I can imagine how the individual must be feeling. Every ‘you need to’ would have made this individual feel less confident that there is any strength he is worthy of. I cringed at every statement that came out from the consultant’s mouth and I was so determined to stop the whole session. Thankfully, I did. And thankfully, this was just a practice feedback session. I debriefed the consultant and told her that she needs to be mindful of how she delivers the feedback. It dawned on me that many consultants (new or old) have fallen into this bad practice of plainly telling individuals where they are not ‘good’ at according to the scores they get from the questionnaire. Whatever happened to validating the scores? Whatever happened to put the scores into perspective – linking the scores to the job that the person is doing or will be doing in the future (in this context of development). Have we all become so subjective and not realized that what we say will affect the person receiving those comments?

One crucial way to ensure that such bad practice is not repeated is to ensure that consultants are adequately trained. There should not be any shortcuts. Providers of psychometric tools must also ensure that resellers or people who are going to be selling their tools need to be credible and understand the tools. Sadly, some psychometric providers, in pursuit of selling their products, have failed to maintain stringent requirements to ensure that psychometric tools are used and trained properly. This has encouraged an overflow of psychometric instruments in the market provided by people clueless about the purpose, benefits and potential risks (when used inappropriately). As a trained IO psychologist, I can do my bit to propagate good practice slowly but surely.

Regarding the consultant, the good news is that she will not give feedback soon until she understands the right way of doing so….

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