How to receive feedback?

There’s a great deal written about feedback (shameless plug for ‘The Feedback Book’). Much has been  written about giving feedback – but what about being on the receiving end? Here are four tips.

Some of us can feel slightly squeamish at the idea of someone giving us feedback, but we need to understand that the best feedback is fuel for continuous improvement. Whether the feedback is positive or corrective it’s a two-way street. If we expect to give others feedback we need to accept it ourselves, regardless of experience, job title or place in the organisational hierarchy.



1. Be open to feedback

How others experience us will vary from one person to another – it’s an interaction. How others see us will often differ from our own view. Blocking feedback from other people will limit our self-awareness and keep it one-dimensional – and very biased. We need to maintain an open mind when someone offers feedback. At worst, it’s their opinion and they’re entitled to fair hearing. At best we will emerge wiser for receiving the feedback and better equipped to improve.

2. Get clear on the behaviour that’s prompted the feedback

Your feedback giver may not have sufficiently developed their skills to give you clear and actionable feedback. For example, they may say, “You were confident”, or, “You were aggressive”. Both ‘confident’ and ‘aggressive’ are adjectives and both are the giver’s subjective inferences drawn from some behaviour or other. An impartial observer may disagree that you were ‘confident’ or ‘aggressive’ – and so might you. There’s less likely to be disagreement if the actual behaviour is identified. We need to hear verbs, not adjectives.

If your feedback giver offers feedback that’s full of adjectives, politely ask what it was you said and did that gave them that impression. Repeat the questions – gently – if necessary to get clarity. If the feedback giver simply can’t get beyond adjectives, ask them to point out to you the next time you are ‘confident’ or ‘aggressive’ and to notice the behaviour that prompted them to form that impression.

3. Ask for feedback on a specific point

This is something I picked up at my co-coaching group, where we work in trios of coach / coachee / observer. When it’s our turn to be coach, we are encouraged to ask the observer for feedback on a very specific point. This really helps the giver focus on a particular area, rather than being general in their feedback. What results is always very valuable.

You might want to try this next time you do a presentation, or negotiate, or run a team meeting for example. You can ask your presentation feedback giver(s) to pay attention to how you make eye contact, use body language, or vary your voice. In negotiation, you may ask for feedback on how well you listen to the other party (rather than ‘reloading’ or evidently forming your next statement whilst they’re talking) and reflect back to check you’ve identified what’s really at stake for them. Or if it’s a team meeting, how you get participation from all team members, encourage the less talkative to contribute, or ensure the meeting runs to time are examples of what you can ask colleagues to give feedback on.

You can also ask for feedback if you’ve been working on a development point that was originally raised by… feedback, to check you’re making progress.

4. Thank the giver of feedback

When feedback is given well, it really is a gift – which benefits the recipient more than the giver. Acknowledge this when someone gives you feedback. Acknowledge too that giving feedback may have been daunting for this person – whether they’re very inexperienced or just wary about your reaction. Thank them for their feedback.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book

Image: Deposit Photos

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