How to receive feedback

Receiving feedback is just as much a skill you can build as giving feedback. You can build your skills in three areas:

  • Attracting high quality feedback
  • Listening to feedback
  • Reflecting and acting on feedback

Attracting high quality feedback

Talent-Magnet-FeaturedHave you noticed that some people get continuous high quality feedback on their performance? Others in exactly the same role get nothing………………..and then wonder why they got fired. It is your responsibility to get the feedback you need to develop yourself – you need to proactively seek it out.

How can you motivate people to give you feedback?

    • Invite it. Some people have valuable feedback gifts that they never give you because they are worried that you will take it badly and their gift may damage the relationship. Remove this barrier by proactively asking them for feedback. After a customer meeting ask your boss for an immediate debrief on your performance – what did you did well, where you can improve. If you have some colleagues that you know are excellent observers, take advantage of their skill by asking them in advance to watch and comment on a specific area – for example, eye-contact with the audience while you are presenting. Let your team know where you want to improve ask ask them to feedback in this area whenever they see something.
    • Appreciate it. You would thank someone who gave you a gift, wouldn’t you? Sometimes, the gift is so valuable and so tough that you cannot appreciate it on the spot….that is OK. What is critical is that after you have reflected (and calmed down) you come back to the person that shared the constructive feedback and thank them, genuinely and graciously. After all, they did not have to give you the gift of feedback. When you can genuinely appreciate the toughest constructive feedback immediately….then you know you are a Zen-master of receiving feedback.
    • Act on it. The person if giving you a gift to help you develop. The most satisfying and best motivation for them is to see their gift put to good use.

Listening to feedback


All your skills of active listening will be needed here. Your objective is to get the most value from their gift.

Sometimes, you will need to help them give their gift. If they are being too general, ask them for specifics – examples are especially valuable. If you feel they are being negative/critical – the hairs rising on your neck and you heart racing will tell you that you feel this – you can defuse the situation by returning them to the facts – exactly what did you see, what was the impact on you, what would be the desired behaviour in that situation from your perspective?

Ask open questions – be curious and interested to learn the most you can about your impact on others. You don’t often get a mirror – make the most of them! Ask them what they did when they were in similar situations, what tips do they have for developing your skills.

What to avoid:


Not listening…….There are many ways for you to not listen. Most of us are experts in not listening to things we don’t want to hear…..remind yourself – whatever they say, it does not diminish me. I am exactly the same person as I was before, I am just better informed, because I know how I impacted this other person

Getting defensive. Be aware of your natural fight/flight defensive mechanism….. when you feel it triggered, let your natural defensive reaction wash out, then re-engage in active listening. Don’t launch into excuses and rationales. They sound weak, and always get in the way of your listening to the feedback. You are marshaling your arguments and trying to persuade…not being present listening to the other person.

Once you have fully digested the feedback and the impact on the other person, then it is appropriate to bring in the context when you jointly problem-solve with the other person about how to do it right. “I understand that this report was not up to your standard – I was not happy with it either. I only got the data from HQ yesterday – how do you think I could have handled it better?”

Giving them feedback. They have just given you a big gift………….don’t they deserve a big gift back………..right between the eyes?

Just don’t. This is the trick we all learnt as kids “You lied about eating those sweets” “But you lied too last week!” This is a deflection mechanism, we can shift the uncomfortable spotlight of our own behaviour and counter-attack, putting the other person under pressure. Great for preserving your ego, rubbish for learning.

If you really have valuable feedback to give the other person, first explore their feedback about you fully, thank them genuinely, wait long enough that it does not appear like a counter-attack and then share it your gift with them.

Reflecting and acting on the feedback

Even the most valuable gift is useless to you if you don’t act on it.

Reflection is an active process.

Play back the situation, seeing it through the other person’s eyes. Bring in other feedback that you have been given over time…is there a pattern, can you see the signal through the noise? It may involve getting a second opinion – tell one of your friends about the feedback you received and ask them to give you their perspective. Of course it has to be a true friend who knows that truth-telling is more valuable to you than soft soap…….

You should feel empowered by feedback – you don’t have to act on every feedback you receive. If only one person has ever told you that you were a bit quiet in a meeting, don’t immediately go to Assertiveness Training Classes. On the other hand, if five or six people tell you over several months, then you should take it on board and decide what you want to do about it.

Decide, powerfully, if you want to change.

And if you want to change, make it happen. Enroll other people as observers, ask others how they built skills in that areas, find out if there are training courses your company can send you on. Even problem solve back with the person who gave you feedback – what would they suggest?

Final thoughts

Receiving feedback is the skill that will turn you into a guided missile.

Keep coming back to “feedback is a gift”…..Don’t take it personally!…It is one person’s perspective, it is not “truth”, affirming or constructive feedback doesn’t diminish you or hurt you in any way.

The giver should feel that their gift was heard and valued. All constructive feedback helps you, you are in control, to reflect and decide what action you want to take.


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