Oh NO! My Client Disagrees With the Results!
by Roberta Hill

When a client challenges the results of an assessment, the first thing to remember is not to panic. Believe it or not, disagreement can be quite a good thing. It means that the client is taking it seriously enough to have read the material fully. 

No one will have 100% agreement with his or her results—and no one should. The real danger lies in individuals' tendency to accept the results without proper analysis. Psychologist Bertram R. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves, without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone. (For more details about the Forer Effect, see my blog post at

Assessment results are based on a model or theory of part(s) of our personality, and no assessment is the be-all and end-all. Most clients enjoy an assessment, provided it has been introduced and explained properly. Some clients will challenge every detail—a response that often says more about the client than it does about the assessment itself. Setting the stage is the key to managing expectations. I tell a client to expect that about ten percent of the results won't be a 'perfect match,' and perhaps another five or ten percent will raise some uncertainty. Why? Because an assessment is only a guide—a piece of the puzzle that gives us some clues about how people function. We are all so much more complex than any, and I do mean any, assessment can capture.

The first thing to do when you give your client the assessment results is to have him or her review the report. Beside each statement, have the client identify:

  • Agreements with check marks;
  • Uncertainty or questions with question marks; and
  • Disagreements with x's.

Following this process, ask the client to suspend final judgment until he or she has had the opportunity to think about the information, and perhaps seek feedback from a trusted source. This is where multi-rater feedback and 360-degree instruments can be quite valuable, since they reflect the 'real' perceptions of others rather than just the self-rater's subjective opinions.

In my experience, issues around disagreement with the results occur in about five percent of the cases. Perhaps three percent of clients will claim that the report is 'totally inaccurate.' It is easy to identify that rare case in which the report is clearly not a good match for the client, because the client usually becomes genuinely confused rather than defiant. Often, when you as a coach review the output, you are surprised as well. There are a number of possible causes for such results. The client may be distracted, may be undergoing a massive change that is creating both stress and personal shifts, or may have misinterpreted directions. Despite careful instructions, it is not uncommon to find someone who completely answers the questions in reverse, which obviously creates results that are diametrically opposed to who the client really is.

While redoing the assessment is a possibility, this 'totally inaccurate' situation can create an interesting conversation, and can even eliminate the added time or expense of a retake. When you discuss the assessment results with your client, find out if any specific role or situation existed when the assessment was taken which may have influenced how the instrument was completed. Perhaps the client based answers on ideal rather than actual behaviors. Maybe, due to outside distractions, the client may not have been focused on reading the questions. Talk about how these factors may have had an impact on the results. 

The other two percent who disagree with the assessment results pose the greatest challenge. In these instances, the assessment results can raise some controversy if the debrief is not handled smoothly. Over the years, the clients who tend to be the most adamant in their disagreement with the results are those who have the most limited Emotional Intelligence, particularly in the area of self awareness. No amount of pushing or discussion will create any shifts. In these situations, I recommend stepping back and asking the following types of questions:

  • What do you see as your strengths or predominant behavioral attributes?
  • How do you know these perceptions are real?
  • What have others said about you?
  • How do you demonstrate these strengths?
  • What do you find most challenging, and why?
  • If you aren't sure how to answer these questions, would it be worthwhile to find out?
  • What can we do to get this information?

Finally, sometimes the instrument simply does not resonate with the individual. While the client may not disagree with most of it, it just isn't something he or she finds very useful. When clients disagree, can't relate, or do not engage in the conversation, then the best thing to do is acknowledge it, let it go, and move on. After all, it is the client's agenda, and no assessment results should take precedence over that fact. It is not unusual for a client to want to revisit the assessment at some future date, but if they don't, that's fine, too.

Assessments are tools we can use to clarify the issues that are preventing or supporting our clients in achieving their objectives. Our value as business coaches lies in making meaning for our clients, and in helping our clients to work through the material. During the assessment debriefing, we can partner with them to interpret the meaning behind the words—to provide an answer the question: "So what?"

Roberta Hill, MBA, MCC, PMC, is the owner of Assessments Now, an online assessment provider with a network of more than 40 qualified coaches worldwide. As a partner in 1-Focus International, she currently consults on issues of change and leadership in Europe and North America. Roberta may be reached by email at

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