Receiving Feedback


Often the forgotten part of the feedback process, but for me the most fundamental part of creating a feedback culture is to help people understand the principles of receiving feedback. Some people experience feedback as criticism and do not want to hear it.  Others see it as crushing or a confirmation of their worthlessness.  Others only want to hear positives and nothing that might suggest imperfections. Other people view it very differently – accept feedback however, even if it is sometimes disturbing believing they can grow from it. It comes down to whether you believe feedback will harm you or benefit you.

Think of a time you responded well to feedback.

What did you do? 

Think of a time you responded badly to feedback.

What did you do? 

One of the problems for some people with regard to receiving feedback is that they only know how to behave as a ‘feedback victim’ rather than take responsibility for receiving feedback as well as delivering it. We do not always have to accept feedback, or the manner which it is delivered.  We all have the right to disregard feedback and we can expect feedback to be given in a respectful, supportive manner… but even delivered badly, we may be able to learn. Best practice for receiving feedback – what do we want to do?

Positive / Open Style

  • Open – listen without frequent interruptions of objections
  • Responsive – willing to hear what is being said without trying to turn the tables
  • Accepting – accepts other persons point of view without denial
  • Respectful – recognises the value of what is being said and the speakers right to say it
  • Engaged – interacts appropriately with speaker. Asks for clarification
  • Active listening – tries to understand the meaning of the feedback
  • Thoughtful
  • Interested
  • Sincere – wants to make personal changes if appropriate

Negative / Closed Style

  • Defensive – defends personal actions, frequently objects
  • Attacking – verbally attacks the feedback giver, turns tables
  • Denies – refutes the accuracy or fairness of the feedback
  • Disrespectful – devalues speaker and what speaker is saying
  • Closed – ignores feedback, blanks it out
  • Inactive listening – no attempt to understand
  • Rationalising – finds explanation for the feedback that dissolves any personal responsibility
  • Superficial – listens, appears to agree, with no intention of doing anything about it

This is not to say you cannot challenge the feedback if you disagree with it.  It may be appropriate to go away and think about the feedback in a pro-active, responsible way first though. It can be OK, valid and right to not do anything about the feedback or to decide you want to challenge the feedback. You may have other feedback or examples to show this feedback is invalid or not the case. This is not to be used as an excuse for never taking on board feedback. If you receive the same feedback several times from different people (and you are interested in self development!) you need to explore it. Also, there is no need to argue with feedback – it may not be factual, it may be someone’s personal opinion.  Always repeat back the feedback to check you have fully understood and be curious.


Sean Spugin - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement


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4 Responses to “Receiving Feedback”

  1. performcorp Says:

    I accept and give feedback fairly well so I’ve been told, including when I was a supervisor. However, I was NOT tolerant of ridiculous baseless allegations by someone vying to get rid of me with vague derogatory comments that were very uncharacteristic of me and quite unflattering. This individual was supposedly going on heresay yet could not recall details of who said what where or when. Ironically, he had even forgotten what room he was going to reprimand me in! I quickly learned that this was the organization’s way of getting away with not living up to its many obligations – get rid of the person making noise about the inconguence between corporate words and actions. I resigned before I tolerated having my reputation tarnished. I was in the open style, did active listening etc, and ultimately became closed and defensive necessarily. Systems level explanations for people’s behavior is something you cannot ignore by simply blaming the individual for their acceptance/non-acceptance of negative, malicious feedback intended to incite a resignation.

    Just though I’d share the nasty side of inappropriate feedback that you failed to mention. Who the person is, what their agenda and in what context ,plays an important role on whether you should be accepting of the feedback from said person. Best advice: avoid organizations that play corporate smoke and mirrors to make authentic high performers disappear when they call them on not walking the talk, by disguising a pre-termination strategy as merely “giving performance feedback.”

  2. Ravi Khanna Says:

    I agree with you Performcorp.

    Whilst I remain committed to the principle that it is essential to keep the lines of communication between colleagues at work flowing, my faith is sometimes dented when I come across individuals who seem to feel they have the right to use feedback as a weapon.

    For me the intention behind giving feedback is key. I encourage leaders to ensure their intention is always to support the development of the individual with whom they are speaking. If people know their boss genuinely has their best interests at heart, then whether the content of the feedback message is to recognise something positive, or to highlight an area requiring improvement, I believe that most of us will welcome that conversation.

    Problems occur when we sense the person giving us the feedback has other motives. Whether it is to take out their frustrations on us, express their opinions and judgements about us, or encourage us to leave the business, such intentions inevitably lead to a breakdown of trust and respect in the relationship which unfortunately characterises so many management relationships in today’s workplace.

    I’m glad to hear your regrettable experience has not prevented you from ensuring you continue to give and receive feedback in the “right” way

    • performcorp Says:

      Indeed, the whole nasty situation of what goes beyond simply “constructive feedback” to character defamation, reminded me of how NEVER to treat employees or subcontractors. Judging by the feedback from my former staff, I delivered appropriate and appreciated feedback that was fair.

  3. seanatbluesky Says:

    I agree Ravi, the intent behind the feedback is key. If the giver of feedback has ulterior motivates – which are not healthy ones, it can be very damaging to the relationship. We all have a choice as individuals to the way we approach life, or in this case feedback and I am also glad you have decided to continue giving feedback in the right way & with the right intent

    I am a big believer in Karma……

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