Receiving Feedback Effectively

As I talked about in Giving Feedback Effectively, feedback giving requires skill and practice, and it is worth the effort. Ability to receive feedback well (and then act on it appropriately) is also a key skill to learn. Lots have been written about giving feedback, less on receiving. You want to be good at receiving feedback because they provide tremendous learning opportunities. Being good at receiving them also encourages feedback givers and you get more feedback from them and others.

There are 3 steps to be followed whenever you have an opportunity to receive feedback.

Make the feedback giver comfortable

You need to demonstrate behavior that makes the person comfortable. A feedback giver is doing a favor to you and you should show your appreciation. Good behavior also makes the information more forthcoming and you are likely to receive feedback again. Behaviors to be demonstrated when receiving feedback:

  1. Listen well – You should be totally focused on the feedback, and your body language should show it (it will if you are honestly focused on the feedback).
  2. Demonstrate your understanding – Paraphrase and say again, ask clarifying questions, etc.
  3. Don’t defend – Not jumping to defend your actions is probably the hardest thing to do, but must be done if you want the feedback session to go well. Feedback giver gives feedback because they want to see you get better, not to be proven wrong. If you think the feedback is unacceptable, unfair, or wrong, feel free to ignore it when it is time to analyze and follow-up.
  4. Stay calm – This is hard if the feedback is critical, but it is important to stay calm throughout. Remember, the feedback is rarely about who you are, it is almost always about what you did. Also, most feedback givers will withdraw immediately if they see you are getting too uncomfortable.

Collect as much data as possible

When receiving feedback, make sure you get 4 things right:

  1. Context – Which meeting, event, instance is being talked about? What really happened? Who is the affected party?
  2. Action – What did you do?
  3. Expectation – What were you expected to do?
  4. Impact – What was the impact on the affected party?

Analyze feedback and follow-up

Follow this 3-step process when you analyze the feedback:

  1. Analyze all the data from the feedback session and form hypotheses
    1. Do you agree with the feedback? If not, why do you think the feedback giver felt this way? This usually generates more data (by looking at an event from outsider’s perspective) or triggers the need for more data
    2. Do you need more information? Maybe talk to others who saw you in that context? If so, talk to them and ask them open-ended question (make sure you don’t bias them)
    3. Why did you behave the way you did? Was there a different way to behave? Was it better?
  2. Decide whether to accept it or not
    1. Accept for improvement – You may agree with the feedback and work on creating an improvement plan for yourself.
    2. Accept for monitoring – Many behavioral traits are hard to put your finger on, and watching for them usually reveals more data. Feedbacks can serve as good trigger to observe yourself for some such traits.
    3. Reject – There are many reasons you might want to reject the feedback. It could be a one-off behavior, or a behavioral trait that you believe defines you, or it isn’t really sometime you need to fix, etc. Be clear why you are rejecting, otherwise you might be ignoring some serious problem.
  3. Follow-up – Make sure you communicate the decision you made about this feedback, to the person who gave the feedback. Also, make sure you thank them again.

Giving and Receiving feedback are 2 of the most important tools to have in your armory if you want to be an effective professional. Being good at these is important for your career growth and relationship-building.


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