How to Receive Feedback

Nobody’s perfect, so the saying goes. But in our minds, we’re pretty darn close. Part of being an adult means assuming you know the best course of action and can act appropriately. Another part, however, is learning how to receive feedback and use it to your advantage.

Take it from Sheryl Sanderg, CEO of Facebook and founder of Leanin.org. When asked the most important trait to look for in someone who can rise through ranks and scale with an organization, she replied, “Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly.”

Mic. Drop.

Receiving Feedback

According to one survey, criticism, when delivered well, is appreciated by 92% of respondents.

Let’s face it, though — most people are terrible at giving criticism. They’re nervous and clumsy. They feel prepared to be met with contention and may have a difficult time effectively delivering their feedback.

Most people are pretty terrible at receiving it, too. We’re defensive and emotional. We have a hard time seeing feedback for what it is: an opportunity to learn. That’s why it’s important to sift through the language of the criticism, look for the takeaway and make room for change.

How to Receive Feedback Constructively

Feel uncomfortable when receiving constructive feedback? Transform how you think about the conversation. Here are some tips on how to receive feedback like a champ:

1. Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions

Instinct may tell you to respond to criticism defensively, as if you’re being attacked. If that’s the case, you need to re-learn how to receive feedback — even this feedback. Instead of putting up your shield and attacking back, hear what is being said. Consider it a conversation and work to be a part of that conversation.

Avoid any immediate reaction to hearing feedback — no snarky comments and avoid that look — you know the one. Take time to think about what they’re saying before you react.

2. Avoid Black-and-White Analysis

Don’t assume every part of your feedback was negative or positive. The brain has a tendency to hear what it assumes is true, and sometimes that means leaning on all-or-nothing ways of thinking.

Criticism isn’t bad. It isn’t a punishment. And it doesn’t mean you’re failing. It just means you have room to grow.

Know, too, that the offered feedback isn’t the sum total of your work with the company. Most HR execs — nearly 80% — believe that employee evaluations aren’t an accurate representation of an employee’s ability. Sure, you can do better in one area of your work. That doesn’t mean that all areas of your work need improvement.

3. Don’t Take It Personally

You aren’t being attacked as a person or a professional, so avoid confusing identity with behavior. Someone is asking you to change your performance, not your personality.

Another aspect of taking criticism too personally is by demonizing the messenger. Even if the messenger’s delivery of the information wasn’t the best, now isn’t the time to focus on that. When you understand the importance of feedback, it’s easier to see the difference between a personal attack and constructive criticism — no matter who you’re hearing it from.

4. See the Benefits

Even if delivered clumsily, feedback is there to help you. Take a minute to see how getting criticism — even before thinking about how to use the feedback — is beneficial to your career. Receiving feedback — no matter what the feedback entails — is an opportunity to improve and be better at your job.

5. Listen

The moment someone begins offering feedback, even if you think you are ready for it, it’s hard not to interrupt and explain yourself. You may be thinking, “Yes, but I did it that way because…” or, “No, that’s not what happened.” Bite your tongue — at least metaphorically.

Your thoughts may be accurate, but they could be a response to your own insecurity about getting feedback. Listening is a soft skill that’s hard for many to develop. If you’re one of those people, learn that skill today for better overall career advancement.

6. Ask Questions

When the speaker has completed giving your feedback or after you’ve finished reading it, ask questions. If you know you’ll have a hard time asking questions that aren’t critical of the feedback — like “But how much of it did you understand?” or “Are you sure these comments are valid?” — take a breath. Sit on it and write down possible questions to ask that will help you better understand the information, rather than simply defend yourself.

Don’t just skip this step, though. It’s a crucial one. When you ask constructive questions, feedback givers know you’ve heard them. And — here’s a crazy thought — it may also help you improve at your job. Consider these as jumping off points:

  • Ask for examples. Explain that you understand the feedback and would like specific examples on how to improve.
  • Ask for help. If you know there is truth to the criticism and it’s more than you can handle, see if there is help available.
  • Ask for patience. Getting better and improving at anything takes time. When you explain you are working on improvement and ask for the criticizer’s patience in making changes, they are likely to see you’ve heard the feedback and are trying to get better.

7. Say Thanks

No one really likes criticizing others. It’s a pretty thankless task. When someone takes the time to explain how you can do something better, however, a word of gratitude goes a long way.

Even if you disagree with the feedback, acknowledge that this person is trying to be helpful. Explain that you appreciate their time and consideration — and avoid the temptation to add a “but…”

Make Feedback Work for You

Most people looking for career advancement are already perfectionists. When it feels like you are giving 110% and someone indicates any kind of flaw, it’s hard not to explain all the ways you are going above and beyond. Don’t do it. Trust yourself and don’t explain.

If everything on this list is a struggle, boil it down to this: Listen and say thanks. Work through the other stuff in your own time.

Have you learned lessons from getting particularly harsh feedback? Or do you have advice to offer as the feedback giver? Talk to us and subscribe to Punched Clocks to be part of the conversation. Remember — you don’t have to kill the messenger, use the message to perform better and maybe be the messenger yourself.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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