Tips for Receiving Feedback—and Putting It to Use

Our brains are hardwired to sense threats. And not just physical ones: when we perceive something as a threat to our ego, stability or sense of belonging, the part of the brain that regulates our emotion catches fire. When that happens, and we’re full of emotion, we struggle to think clearly and rationally.

This is why it’s so tricky to receive feedback at work, even when we know it is well-intentioned, and sometimes even when we’ve asked for it ourselves. But the ability to receive feedback is a necessary skill in the workplace. If you can let go of your ego, you’re more likely to absorb and act on the feedback you receive, and ultimately improve your job performance.

Learning how to accept and utilize feedback takes discipline and dedication. Here are some tips for getting into a mindset that is receptive to feedback:

Assume good intentions.

Doing so requires an intentional choice, one you’ll have to make every time you have these conversations. For example: When someone offers feedback that’s phrased a little harsher than you’d like, you can choose to find the underlying constructive help underneath their words and understand that they didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Most people are not trying to ruin your day or make your life harder. Most people—even people in charge of other people at work—have good intentions but are just not great at delivering feedback.

Accept feedback as information instead of judgement.

Choose to be open to hearing how others perceive or experience you. You can learn a lot and find room to grow in their experiences.

Consider how the information you’re receiving aligns with other feedback you’ve received and what you know about yourself.

If you find patterns, there’s likely some truth to the feedback you’re hearing. If that’s the case, you’ve found a great opportunity to work on not just the matter at hand but also your self-awareness! You can then refocus your attention so you can better identify and understand how you affect those around you. Responding to feedback can feel awkward, too. Here are some tips for when you’re in the middle of it:

Show that you are listening.

Display your full attention by asking curious, clarifying questions. For example: “I hear you saying that you need more frequent updates from me regarding this project. Is this correct?” This shows the other person that you’re paying attention and allows you to ensure that you fully understand the other person’s need or expectation so you can plan your next steps.

Pay attention to how you feel.

If you notice your emotions starting to run high, pause, take a breath, and remind yourself that what you are getting is just information. You don’t have to take any of it personally.

Show gratitude.

Thank the person for trusting you enough to share their feedback. It’s difficult to be honest, and acknowledging that will help you understand their side of the equation, too.

After the conversation ends, give yourself some time to process what you heard. Determine how you will follow up and what specific actions you will take to improve. Remember feedback is only as useful as the work you do to improve after you get it. So use that information you’re given. Down the line, once you’ve made some progress, you might even check in with the person who provided the feedback and update them on the steps you’re taking.

Suzi Wear, VP People Development & Culture at Xenium, initially recorded this message on video. Watch the video here: Tips for Receiving Feedback—and Putting It to Use

On Brandon’s show, Transform Your Workplace, he discusses a related topic with Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, on creating a safe environment so our employees can do their best work. Read about it here, Why We Need ‘Psychological Safety’ to Do Our Best Work


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