Ten Tips on Accepting Feedback Gracefully

By Maren Perry, Founder and President, Arden Coaching

We often talk about how to give feedback effectively, though rarely do we hear talk of how to accept feedback well, when really, how effective the exchange is overall very much lies with the receiver of the feedback rather than the deliverer.

We collect a lot of feedback on our clients in  360 Assessments , and while as coaches we are not the ones contributing to the assessment’s contents, we do see the impact on the receiver.  How people relate to feedback often determines the success of a coaching engagement: those interested in feedback and willing to empower it and respond accordingly,  typically move faster through their developmental work than those who do not.

Many of us are scared of feedback and sort of instantly recoil at the thought of it.  Understandable, as no one likes to be surprised to find out that what they thought they were doing is not how something comes across.  But receiving feedback can be much easier if you follow these steps:

Ten tips on how to accept feedback well:

1. Ask for it.  Asking others for feedback does a number of things: first, it puts the ball in your court about when you receive feedback and what you get feedback on.  Second, it lets people know that you are interested in improving, which can build a closer, more connected relationship.  Third, it allows you to get feedback in bite-sized increments, which is often more appealing.

2. Get it often.  Don’t wait till your annual review to find out how your boss thinks you’re doing on things.  Don’t wait till ‘never’ to find out what your colleagues think about working with you.  Make it a habit to check in with people frequently.  This again allows you to get feedback in small doses, and frequently more specific feedback if you ask about performance on a particular project rather than your overall performance over the past quarter.

3. Ask the hard people. The people that are easiest to ask are usually the ones we naturally ‘sync’ with best, so they’re the ones most likely to give positive feedback with little room for growth. That’s great, ask those people too, it’s good to know what your strengths are and what you do well!  But also ask the people you don’t get along with a well.  They will have feedback for you that’s on your growing edge.  The bonus is that the very act of asking them may bring you closer together!

4. Listen fully.  When someone is generous enough to provide feedback, make sure you listen carefully to what they have to say, even if there’s a voice inside screaming “but that’s not what I meant!” or “I do NOT do that!”  If you get defensive or argue with their feedback once you’ve asked for it, you can bet they won’t be so generous as to offer you honest feedback in the future!  Breathe, take notes and keep listening.

5. Ask questions.  Make sure you fully understand what they mean.  Be curious about what would have had something go better or wht alternative they’d like to see.  You may not take them up on their suggestions, but it will help you understand the direction of their comments.

6. Know it’s not about you.  Of course, it is about you, but it’s about your behavior, your attitude or your words.  Whatever they say does not alter the beautiful human being that you are.  It’s just stuff: things that you can alter.  Make sure you’re in touch with your spiritual side, or your higher self, or whatever grounds you when you ask for feedback so you can keep perspective.

7. Handle your emotions offline.  If you do have an emotional reaction to something someone says, make sure you handle your reaction elsewhere.  If you start to have a reaction in front of them it’s fine to say “wow, that’s surprising” or even “wow, that hurts” as long as you also thank them for their candor and tell them how much you appreciate it.  If they had the courage to tell you something hard to say or hear, you owe them gratitude for their courage and candor.  Your emotional reaction is yours to handle separately.  Make sure you do handle it!  Cry to your spouse, scream in a pillow, or lift weights till your arms hurt.  You must get that response OUT in order to address any of the items of feedback with perspective and power.

8. Take what you like and leave the rest.  You can’t address or work on anything if it’s not something you are willing to empower.  In other words, if someone says you speak too much in meetings but after looking at it, you decide that’s not feedback you want to work on, then fine, leave that feedback out of your development plan and your life.  Maybe you’ll come back to it later, but if you’re not ready to work on it, pretending to or trying to because you “should” won’t stick.  One note here: there is always likely to be feedback you don’t agree with right off the bat.  Of course!  So pay extra attention to the comments you think are way off base – there’s likely gold in them!

9. Take action.  Awareness is useless without action.  Create a plan to address the feedback you want to take on, and make sure you do it (get a coach or accountability partner if it helps!)

10. Circle back.  Nothing says “I heard you” better than hearing the feedback, working on the items someone mentioned and then circling back with them to see how it’s going from their perspective.  You will create relationship in addition to getting additional feedback!

Rinse and repeat.

For more on feedback and how to give and receive it in order to produce the most effective and productive environment and culture, contact us for a consultation.