Dr Austin Tay


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.


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


The consultant started with the usual formalities and informed the individual the purpose of the feedback; the discussion will be confidential and did a good introduction of 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 realize how that could impact on the individual.


For example

You have a score of 1 for communication and this means you do not like to socialize and talk to a big group of people. You are very individual. You need to be more communicative as a point of development.


Your influencing score is 3 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 really be mindful of how she is delivering 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 – that is 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 now all become so subjective and not realized what we say will affect the person receiving those comments?


I believe one crucial way to ensure, such bad practice is not repeated, is to ensure that consultants are properly 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 pursue of selling their products, have failed to maintain stringent requirements to ensure that the use of and training of psychometric tools are done properly. This has encouraged an overflow of psychometric tools in the market provided by people who are clueless about the purpose, the benefits and also the potential risks (when used inappropriately). As a trained IO psychologist, I believe I can do my bit to propagate good practice slowly but surely.


With regards to the consultant, the good news is that she is not going to be giving another feedback soon till she understands the right way of doing so….

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