Receiving and Responding To Feedback

“The more accustomed people become to giving and receiving feedback, the more comfortable they get with the process.”
~ Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner,
Authors of The Leadership Challenge



Last month’s Harmony Habit Tip featured Ten Guidelines for Giving Effective Feedback.  The key points were made that feedback needs to be:

  • Specific versus general
  • Focused on behavior rather than personality
  • Delivered in a skillful and  timely manner
  • Solicited rather than imposed
  • Descriptive rather than evaluative

I emphasized that the key words were “skillful” and “effective” and maintained that feedback delivered in any other way can be counterproductive, even detrimental.

On the other hand, I pointed out, if feedback is provided skillfully, it can have a tremendous, positive impact on a person’s performance.  Feedback that’s given effectively essentially “encourages the heart”, fosters greater growth and learning and creates a safer, more emotionally healthy experience for everyone.

Yet delivering feedback is only the half of it.  Oftentimes, we’re on the other end of receiving it.

So, this month we’ll look at:  What to do When We’re on the Receiving End of Getting Feedback…

As important as it may be to hear what others have to say, it’s not uncommon to feel apprehensive and uncomfortable about receiving feedback. This process can potentially expose everyone to feelings of vulnerability, hurt and sometimes even anger.

Many people on the receiving end of feedback tend to become defensive and stop listening, especially if the information is perceived as negative. This can create an increased reluctance on the part of the person delivering the feedback to offer it again.

If that happens, the receiver misses out on opportunities that could lead to further growth and success.

This doesn’t have to happen that way.

If the desired result is a positive, open and constructive dialogue, in which everyone feels seen, heard, and understood, then a different response is needed.

A smarter choice would be to demonstrate an openness to receiving feedback – and a sincere desire to grow and improve – by learning to relax, actively listen to understand, and welcome what’s being said.

The following Guidelines for Receiving and Responding to Feedback Constructively can help in developing this kind of receptivity.

Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding
To Feedback Constructively*

1.  Accept and Manage Your Emotions.

Most people tend to react to constructive feedback, especially if it is feedback they don’t particularly like, with a HiRes (604x640)little surprise or shock, quickly followed by anger and then rejection or denial.

This is natural, although not usually helpful.

Observe your emotions and give yourself time to let them move through you.  Talk with someone about your feelings, if that helps.  After denial, we usually shift into acceptance and even contentment.

Don’t respond to the feedback giver until your “fight or flight” response has settled down!

2.  Reflect on the Feedback.

Take time to analyze the feedback and determine what you think it means for you.

3.  Talk With the Feedback Giver(s).

Talking with the person(s) who gave you feedback is the most important part of the process.  Feedback is part of building and maintaining healthy working relationships.

By showing the feedback giver(s) that you care about their perceptions and needs and are committed to making changes that help them do their work better, you’ll strengthen the trust, respect, and confidence in your relationship with them.

a.  Tell the feedback giver(s) that you’d like to discuss their feedback with them.  Set a time and place, and follow through.

b.  Demonstrate your openness by sharing your feedback results with your workgroup as well as your interpretation of what the data means to you.  This will help open the lines of communication between you and your workgroup.

c.  Show that you are interested in listening to whatever they want to say.

Below are four responses to feedback that demonstrate you are listening:

i.    Paraphrase: After listening carefully to a person, paraphrase or summarize their ideas in your own words.

ii.    Summarize:  Restate succinctly the information you gathered.  This confirms a shared understanding of what has been said or decided.  It provides closure to a conversation.

iii.    Ask Open-ended Questions: Open-ended questions usually begin with words like: What, Who, Where, When, and How and are difficult to answer with a simple “yes” or “no” response.  E.g., “What do you think about that?”

Open-ended questions indicate your interest in learning more about the issues, ideas, and reasoning that are important to the feedback giver(s).

Avoid asking “why” type questions that can put a person on the spot, e.g., “Why do you think that way?”

iv.   Use Silence: Wait for the other person to respond and finish talking.  Then pause rather than respond right away.  These pauses are not intended to be embarrassing.

By not filling the vacuum, you let the other person know you are listening and are interested in what he/she is saying and that you are making space for more.

 d.   Listen for understanding and information, without thinking about your response.  Avoid countering, judging or evaluating what is being said.  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (Stephen R. Covey).

e.    Don’t try to read minds.  A lot of our anxiety comes from what we read into things and not from what people actually say.  Your goal is to remain unaffected by the criticism directed at you so you can discover what needs to be done to improve the situation.

f.    Admit ignorance or confusion when you do not understand what is being said or are confused.  Nothing is gained if you don’t understand the feedback and do nothing about it.  You gain people’s respect by being “big enough” to admit that you are not quite on top of the conversation.

g.    Avoid getting defensive.  If others attack or criticize you or your actions, calmly acknowledge the possibility that there may be some truth in the criticism or their point of view.  This allows you to receive information in a less anxious or defensive manner.

Yet, it still allows you to be the final judge of what you are going to do.

4.  If You Believe You Were In Error, Admit It.

If a problem was caused by you or by something you said or did, admit it and move on.  Don’t get defensive over something that you did or something that did not work out as you expected.

By stating your errors you show that you recognize and accept them; that way you can move forward, rather than get bogged down in self-criticism.

At the same time, don’t be overly apologetic.  Treat the error as a learning experience.

5.  Find Out What Changes On Your Part Would Most Help The Feedback Giver(s) Be More Effective In Their Work.

Be sure to get clear from the givers exactly what they are asking you to do differently.  If there are several things, ask them which are the most important.

6.  Consider What Changes You Will Commit To.

After you’ve taken in the feedback and become more aware, it’s up to you to choose what action you will take – if any.

You will be more likely to follow through if:
a.    You select only a few changes (up to three)
b.    You select changes you believe are in your own interests
c.    You genuinely want to make them

7.  Commit Yourself to Specific Actions by Specific Dates.

The most powerful actions you can take to strengthen an atmosphere of trust and confidence in your workgroup are to make your commitment publicly to your workgroup, and then demonstrate that you have fulfilled it.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of the Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding To Feedback Constructively*

*Adapted from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Office of Human Capital Management”Short Guide to Giving & Receiving Feedback”


This week’s practice:

The next time you receive feedback, find time beforehand, if possible, to read through these Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding to Feedback*.

Acknowledge where your strengths lie, then be sure to pay close attention to the more challenging actions you’d like to take to demonstrate a more skillful and effective response.

Then engage in a process of self-examination:

  • What stance do you typically take?
  • Are you able to relax, suspend your judgment and ease into the discussion?
  • Or do you tend to listen defensively?
  • Do you demonstrate that you care about the feedback giver’s perceptions and that you are committed to making recommended changes to improve your working relationship?
  • Are you clear about what success would look like?
  • If the information is confusing, do you ask for clarification or specific examples?
  • Could the feedback have been provided more effectively?
  • What suggestions might you make to improve the process?
  • If you were on the receiving end tomorrow, what would you do differently?

The bottom line is:  With consistent practice, you should soon develop greater skill, comfort and ease with this often feared – and sometimes even dreaded – feedback process.

You may come actually to enjoy it!


movie roll iconWatch a short video of Mary discussing
“Fight-Flight” response.

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