From Resistance to Receptivity: Overcoming Feedback Resistance


May 17, 2024


The decision to change your behaviour based on personality assessment results is hard. Arriving at that choice requires a leader to have an open mindset, strategic self-awareness, and Hogan coaching. Hogan practitioners who hold feedback sessions and ongoing development discussions need to understand how to predict feedback resistance and guide leaders past it to receptivity. Their conversations about behavioural change must be collaborative and empowering to address feedback resistance and compartmentalisation.

By understanding characteristics that might dispose people to feedback resistance, Hogan practitioners can strategically direct a feedback session toward a positive outcome. Our earlier blog post about predicting feedback resistance discussed scale scores that can help practitioners anticipate the likelihood of feedback resistance when they are interpreting results. During a debrief or ongoing development conversation, a practitioner needs insights and strategies for overcoming feedback resistance as it may occur.

Read on to learn ways to turn resistance into receptivity.

How to Overcome Feedback Resistance

How can Hogan practitioners help developing leaders move from resistance to receptivity? Arlene Pace Green, PhD, principal and founder at Enelra Talent Solutions and member of the Hogan Coaching Network, provided insight and advice for overcoming feedback resistance.

Set Expectations

Even before meeting with the leader, it is wise to set expectations for what the session is intended to achieve. People who have never been coached before might have incorrect assumptions about the purpose or scope of development. Because many organisations provide coaching for leaders who are in or will be in role transition, acknowledging changes in circumstances is a good way to begin discussing change and adaptation. Leaders may be less likely to resist developmental change if they perceive it as a positive association with their new role.

Dr. Green often uses a questionnaire before her first session with a leader to help set expectations as well. Some of the questions concern reputation, values, career objectives, and even life goals. The self-reflective mindset helps leaders recognise that coaching is about them and for them, which can excite their curiosity and minimise resistance.

Get Buy-In

During a feedback session, it is important for Hogan practitioners to find a hook to capture the interest of the leader. The hook is the answer to the question “What’s in it for me?” from the leader’s perspective. A leader’s openness to receiving feedback is enhanced when they recognise the value of the process.1

Dr. Green suggested looking at their Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) results for the hook. “You have to connect the feedback to their values,” she said. “It has to be something they care about.”

Helping a leader understand how their reputation relates to their values is a key technique in overcoming feedback resistance. A leader who scored high on the Recognition scale may be more willing to address her performance risk of lack of focus (high Imaginative) if she believes that she might be distracting her team from gaining a high company ranking. A leader who scored high on the Affiliation scale may be more willing to acknowledge his overused strength of self-promotion (high Colourful) if he realises he could be creating resentment among his peers.

In addition to values, another motivation that practitioners can use to overcome feedback resistance is the influence of stakeholders like bosses, clients, or teams. A leader who tends to withdraw in social situations (high Reserved) might decide to prioritise socioemotional skills if she realises that her clients want her to participate actively in their network.

When giving feedback, especially about the performance risks in the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), address elevations in the context of impact on performance. If a leader is unaware of or in denial about performance impact, buy-in is especially necessary to encourage the leader to receive developmental feedback about minimising negative performance implications.2

Avoid Derailment During Sessions

Dr. Green recommended using a strategic structure for the feedback session to place developmental feedback in context. She gives an overview of the assessments and then discusses results from the MVPI, the HPI, and the HDS, in that order. “I tell them that the assessments show what they want, what will get them there, and what could hold them back,” Dr. Green said. This framework places the leader and their motivations at the centre of the conversation.

To lessen the possibility of derailment during a feedback session, Hogan practitioners should establish an atmosphere of collaboration and openness. According to Robert and Joyce Hogan, PhD, our founders, and Rob Kaiser, president of Kaiser Leadership Solutions, “Derailed [leaders] are often self-absorbed, unwilling to take responsibility for their shortcomings, and unable to learn from their mistakes—factors that make them resistant to performance enhancement.”3 Whether or not a leader is disposed to resist feedback, it is good practice for practitioners to be prepared to respond to signs of derailment during a session.

When debriefing assessment results, practitioners should be sensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues that a leader is disengaged, ambivalent, or defensive. As a best practice for delivering Hogan feedback, a practitioner should neither overreact nor underreact to feedback resistance. Resistance likely reflects a gap between the leader’s identity and their reputation.

One excellent strategy for addressing resistance during a session is the PAUSE method: (P) point out the resisting behaviour you have observed, (A) ask the person to explore the reaction using neutral language, (U) understand and acknowledge what the person is saying, (S) suggest a new focus or reframe the feedback, and (E) exercise judgment about when to explore further or move on. Asking questions that provoke reflection and approaching the conversation without judgment will help defuse strong emotions.

Create a Meaningful Development Plan

Development isn’t just about helping to mitigate derailment, but it’s also about helping people to learn to leverage their strengths. As Dr. Robert Hogan wrote, “Development consists of adding behaviours or skills to one’s repertoire as the skills become necessary.”4 A meaningful development plan is one that outlines actionable short-term objectives that serve a leader’s overarching, long-term professional goals.

A skilled Hogan coach can help maximise development outcomes by helping the leader understand assessment insights in the context of their job and the impact their reputation has on their performance. Ongoing development for leaders means support from a coach while the leader practices new adaptive behavioural skills. An investment in ongoing coaching also allows the coach to monitor the leader’s progress over time and adjust the development plan as needed.

The leader-coach relationship also influences how resistant or receptive leaders are to feedback over time. Successful coaching relies significantly on rapport. A study of executive coaching outcomes found that “eighty-four percent of participants identified the quality of the relationship between executive and coach as critical to the success of the coaching.”5 Feedback resistance fades and disappears when leaders see how much coaches care about their success.

Acknowledge Personal Lives and Challenges

Don’t take feedback resistance personally.

Occupational development is the purpose of professional coaching, but this often overlaps with personal development. Strategic self-awareness necessarily touches upon a leader’s personal life too. Feedback resistance might have nothing to do with work at all. Perhaps the leader is worried about the political situation in their home country, or an injury has kept them away from their habitual exercise routine for months. It’s impossible to always know all the circumstances or challenges that might contribute to feedback resistance.

Keep a positive perspective, even in the face of resistance. Development is hard and often requires a concert of factors working together before a leader will express sincere interest in implementing behavioural change.1


  1. Warrenfeltz, R, & Kellett, T. (2016). Coaching the Dark Side of Personality. Hogan Press.
  2. Hogan, R., Hogan, J., & Warrenfeltz, R. (2007). The Hogan Guide: Interpretation and Use of Hogan Inventories. Hogan Press.
  3. Hogan, J., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2011). Management Derailment. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 555–575). American Psychological Association.
  4. Hogan, R., & Warrenfeltz, R. (2003). Educating the Modern Manager. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2(1), 74–84.
  5. McGovern, J., Lindemann, M., Vergara, M., Murphy, S., Barker, L., & Warrenfeltz, R. (2001). Maximizing the Impact of Executive Coaching: Behavioral Change, Organizational Outcomes, and Return on Investment. The Manchester Review 6(1), 3–11.

*This post was originally published on Hogan Assessment

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