Ten Tips for Receiving Critical Feedback

Recently, a friend who works as a keynote speaker sent me some feedback that he received after speaking at a conference. It went something like this:

This speaker was very rude and offensive to one of his support staff. This guy promotes himself as a leadership and communicator guru and yet he was rude and condescending to others. What a hypocrite! I will be spreading his name around as a fake. NOT sure where you got this guy!

My friend was devastated because this is definitely not him, not on his worst day. Receiving negative feedback is especially difficult because it can influence how we feel about the entire experience, regardless of any other positive feedback we might receive.  Unfortunately my friend was forwarded this anonymous feedback by the event planner and didn’t have the opportunity to speak with the person who submitted it.

Studies show that it takes five positive acts to counterbalance one negative[1]. Knowing how to receive critical feedback is an art well worth learning, particularly if you want to be able to improve and continue to receive the kind of information that will help you grow and develop. Here are ten tips for making the feedback you receive work for you.

1. Listen for facts. The observations that people make influence their thoughts. Understanding what a person is seeing and perceiving is critical to evaluating the validity of their point of view. If the other person doesn’t provide the facts that led to their opinion, judgment, or interpretation of you or your behavior, then ask for them.

2. Ask for examples. Closely related to the previous point, be sure and ask the other person for examples of situations or behaviors that formed the basis of their judgment. Don’t be surprised if the person doesn’t have any concrete examples to share at first. Sometimes people make judgments of others solely based on their emotions. When negative emotions are present, rationality usually leaves. Asking for examples forces the other person to think about the reasoning behind their opinions. If they are agitated, this exercise will usually help dissipate their negative emotions by helping them look for logic.

3. Remain objective. Focusing on staying objective will help you avoid becoming defensive. It is natural for us to become defensive when others make statements about us that we don’t agree with. This is all the more reason for us to remain calm and try to understand the other person’s point of view. We don’t see ourselves the way we are seen by others. No matter how well intended you are, you may come across in a completely different way than what you envisioned.

4. Ask questions for clarification. Asking questions will help you understand where the other person is coming from, especially those that solicit examples and reveal the other person’s basis for their perspective. You might ask, “Can you give me an example of that?” or “What evidence led to your perspective?”  Take the time to identify those questions you need to know the answer to and then ask them. This will help you to deepen the conversation while uncovering the reasoning behind the other person’s opinion. 

5. Don’t assume anything. Sometimes we make incorrect assumptions that influence our actions without realizing it. In order to avoid this from happening, simply ask yourself, “What am I assuming?” or “What are they assuming?” This is a wonderful way to slow down our thinking processes and examine the accuracy of the thoughts that are driving our actions and feelings.  

6. Allow time to process. It is helpful to take time to reflect on the feedback that you have been given and try and determine why the other person might have given that particular response. Giving yourself time to think things through before reacting can help keep defensive emotions in check. Ask the person who is giving you feedback if you can have some time to think about what they have shared. Request permission to circle back with questions to enhance your understanding after you have taken time to think things through.

7. Seek additional confirmation. Taking some time to process the feedback you have been given allows you the opportunity to ask for an opinion from someone else that you respect and trust. Share the feedback you received with a trusted colleague and ask if they have experienced you or your behavior in a similar way. This will lessen the likelihood that you will dismiss important feedback as only one person’s perspective.

8. Make a plan. Once you have received the feedback and given it consideration, make a plan to act on those things that aren’t working or need to be improved. Once you have decided upon a plan, you might want to share your plan with the person who initially gave you the feedback. When making a plan for self-improvement always give priority to whatever will have the greatest impact.

9. Be respectful. Even though you may not agree with everything the other person is sharing with you, it is important that you treat them with the utmost respect. Maintain eye contact, use a respectful tone of voice, control your nonverbal behavior, smile and be congenial, seek understanding by asking questions, and listen to what is being shared. The way you act and treat the other person in this situation should signal to them that it is safe and productive for them to tell you what is on their mind.

10. Express appreciation. Giving feedback can be more difficult than receiving it. The person providing you with feedback is often worried about the consequences of sharing things with you that might be uncomfortable to hear. Thank the person who was willing to share what was on their mind. Doing so will increase the likelihood that they will be willing to provide you with additional feedback in the future if you should so desire.  

Giving and receiving feedback is never easy. It may be just as uncomfortable to give as it is to receive. Being a great receiver and knowing how to effectively manage the feedback you are offered will make the information you receive more useful in improving your ability to lead and interact with others. The way you receive feedback often influences the way others receive feedback from you. Positively managing feedback will promote a culture of candor and learning vital to improving your working relationships and ensuring continued success.  

“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good,” Roy F. Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer and Kathleen D. Vohs, Bad is Stronger Than Good.  Review of General Psychology 2001. Vol. 5. No. 4. 323-370.  

According to the work of John Gottman and Robert Levenson, who closely studied the effects of negativity with couples, the suggested ratio is 5:1, meaning that for every negative encounter, there should be a minimum of five positive ones to counterbalance the effects of the first.https://collectivehub.com/2017/05/how-many-good-experiences-finally-outweigh-a-bad-one/

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