A wise person once told me that feedback is a treasure hunt not a witch hunt. The idea is to look for the gold and if there is not much then to look for the lesson and what can be learned.
But most of us would rather have root canal surgery than give or receive corrective feedback and so we miss the treasure that someone might be handing us.
1. Stop Your First Reaction
At the first sign of critical feedback, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You’ll have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s plenty of time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive response and remind yourself to stay calm.
2. Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback
Now, you have a few seconds to quickly remind yourself of the benefits of receiving constructive criticism—namely, to improve, to learn and to grow.
You should also try to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person who is delivering the feedback. Remember: Accurate and constructive feedback can come from flawed sources.
3. Listen for Understanding
You’ve avoided your typical reaction, your brain is working, and you’ve recalled all the benefits of feedback—well done! Now, you’re ready to engage in a productive dialogue as your competent, thoughtful self (as opposed to your reactive, Mean Girls self).
As the person shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share their complete thoughts, without interruption. When they’ve finished, it may help to paraphrase what you have heard.
Try to avoid debating or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding their perspective. Try to give the benefit of the doubt here—it is not easy to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express their ideas perfectly. Remember that anxious can look like angry.
4. Say Thank You
Next (and this is a hard part, I know), look the person in the eyes and thank them for sharing feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this—be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.”
Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts.
5. Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
Now it’s time to process the feedback—you’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. Avoid engaging in a debate; instead, ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them.
For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:
- Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
- Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You’re right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
- Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
- Look for concrete solutions to address the feedback: “I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”
6. Request Time to Follow Up
Hopefully, by this point in the conversation, you can agree on the issues that were raised. Once you articulate what you will do going forward, and thank the person again for the feedback, you can close the conversation and move on.
That said, if it’s a larger issue, or something presented by your boss, you may want to ask for a follow-up meeting to ask more questions and get agreement on next steps. And that’s OK—it’ll give you time to process the feedback, seek advice from others, and think about a solution.
Hello there! I am Jenny Cole – Coach, Consultant and Cheerleader. I work with women to create careers, workplaces and lives that allow them to flourish.
I love nothing better than watching smart, capable but overwhelmed women step confidently into their best self and truly succeed.
I am endlessly curious with two successful businesses behind me. My blog shares what I see, what I know and random musings.