How to be good at receiving feedback

by Sep 29, 2020

Receiving feedback without getting defensive

Without feedback we will never know what we do well, where we need to improve and our own blind spots.


Giving and receiving feedback is an essential component at every level of team interaction and leadership. Very often we read a lot about giving feedback correctly, but not how to receive it. It’s hard when someone criticizes our work, not to get defensive.

The emotional process we go through is very similar to parts of the grief cycle, especially if we hadn’t seen it coming. In some ways we are grieving, for our bruised egos. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Shock and denial: What are you talking about? It’s fine.
  • Anger and bargaining: That’s not reasonable, did you expect a miracle?
  • Pain: It was your assignment, give me a break.
  • Guilt: OK …maybe I could have checked in more frequently.
  • Acceptance: I get your point. I missed that.
  • Growth: I’ll pay better attention to that next time. Thank you.

Without feedback we will never know what we do well, where we need to improve and our own blind spots. This can only happen in a culture where feedback is encouraged, openly shared and well-received. Being open to feedback is the hallmark of being on an inclusive team.

receiving feedback

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Feedback is based on perception

Any feedback is one person’s perception of your performance. It offers an insight into the giver as much as the receiver. Very often feedback is impacted by deeply embedded bias and impressions which can be made in a matter of seconds. So context is important. This applies in many cases to women who are penalised for their style rather than their content.

Learn how to manage bias with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

Benefits of constructive feedback

Being able to receive feedback constructively can give you real time actionable points on which to grow and develop, leverage your strengths and work on your personal development points. Going through a feedback process correctly, rather than as the grief cycle, encourages better communication, which in turn leads to the development of trust and respect. This solid base allows you to enhance your reputation and grow your influence.

Feedback is not a performance review

Feedback is not a performance review, although the same strategies can be applied. Daily feedback and a once a year performance review have separate functions. A performance review is designed to measure your activities against formal KPIs to gauge organisational effectiveness, as well individual needs.

Ongoing feedback is mainly about you. There should never been any surprises in a performance review as every issue should have been raised multiple times before in regular feedback communication.

How to receive feedback for growth

There are two inter-related components:

1. Active listening

Active listening is one of the most relevant skills we can work on.  Active listening means you are paying attention to the speaker and not focusing on how you intend to respond. It sends the speaker the signal that you are open and engaged. You do this by:

  • Identifying the main points of the conversation
  • Assessing any emotions  -your own and the speakers
  • Summarising the key message to check you have understood correctly
  • Sharing with the speaker your key takeaway
  • Thank the speaker for their feedback

2. Asking the right questions

To make sure you have understood the key element of the message, asking the right questions is important in the first instances to establish the content and intention. Then you have to understand specific details and gain clarity around next steps.

“Help me understand….

Can you clarify…

How do you want me to proceed /  What do you want me to do instead?

You don’t have to accept feedback

Unless the feedback is from your boss you have a choice how you respond. You don’t always have to act on feedback. It might be a good idea to share your decision to the giver. Tell them you heard what they said, thought it was important and have considered it carefully, but have decided to stay as you were, pursue another course of action.

If it’s your boss you probably have very little choice unless it opens up a wider debate.

Asking for feedback

Giving and receiving feedback on a regular basis is the hallmark of an inclusive organisation. Checking in with colleagues to establish their communication preferences and asking them what they would like to see you do differently is an important tool for growth. Remember, don’t use the word better. Once a team is in the habit of sharing openly make this a key part of your interactions and team building activities.

The way you receive feedback is a vital part of the process. If you develop a reputation for being difficult, prickly and unapproachable, the process becomes contaminated and set up to fail. No matter how good the giver of feedback is, it will fall on deaf ears. Yours.

As with everything the first person to work on is you!


If you want to enhance your communication and soft skills check out our individual services programs.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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