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Receiving Feedback: First and Foremost, Say “Thank You”

4 min read

Try to learn from the giver of your feedback. They can help you understand how you can give feedback in the future.

You’re a good employee. You accomplish what you set out to do. Perhaps your work environment is a bit of a “buzz”—things move quickly, projects are completed and you’re on to the next. Maybe you get a comprehensive performance review once a year (or maybe it’s a “check-the-box” quick meeting). Maybe the person to whom you report lavishes praise on you (in a perfect world!) and/or lets you know when you haven’t quite hit the mark (more likely).

I’m a big fan of feedback. Not the generic “good-job-Bob”, but the specific, authentic, helpful feedback which lets you know exactly, precisely, and in a timely fashion, what you’ve done well (so you can leverage that skill in the future) and where there’s room for you to be even better. Giving good feedback is an essential competency for a great employee.

Have you ever thought about the best way to receive feedback?

So many factors contribute to the way you hear, receive, and respond to feedback.

  • What’s the relationship you have with the person offering the feedback (good, bad, or no prior relationship)? And does this person (or how this person is communicating) remind you of someone else or some other situation, unrelated to this moment?
  • What’s the timing of the feedback (immediately after some behavior you have demonstrated or long after the fact)?
  • What’s the environment in which you’re receiving the feedback (a private one-on-one conversation or in a public arena; a formal performance review conversation or a casual walking-down-the-hall moment)?
  • How does the feedback match or mismatch with your own perceptions of performance? (Does it confirm what you know or raise something new to your awareness?)
  • How is the topic of the feedback related to other feedback you’ve heard in work settings? (You’ve heard this before or it’s brand new to you.)
  • Is the area of feedback important to you? (“Yes, very” or “Oh, please, give me a break; who cares?”)
  • How does the topic of the feedback connect to your sense of self or your core identity? (Is the person offering feedback questioning something “big and basic” about who you are in the world or are they commenting on a small behavior they’d like you to modify?)

Whew. There could be a lot going on. Different parts of how you receive the communication may be conscious, unconscious, or subconscious as you hear someone say something affirming (we may interpret as “good”) or constructive (we may interpret as “bad”) about how you do what you do. You may need some time and space to “unpack” the complexity of all that is going on beneath the surface of what may appear to the giver of the feedback as a simple statement of fact (or perception).

Here are some basic guidelines that hold me in good stead.

Perhaps they’ll work for you, too.

  1. First and foremost, take a deep breath. You don’t have to quite “brace yourself,” but get centered and really be present in the moment.
  2. Listen carefully to what is being offered to you. Don’t go too far ahead of where the speaker is to extrapolate or generalize. Just hear precisely what is being said.
  3. Take it in, maintaining eye contact, perhaps nodding to let the other know you’re hearing what’s being said.
  4. Try being silent and maintaining a “neutral” face. (It’s hard to do so; you’ll be almost compelled to speak on your own behalf.)
  5. Refrain from responding with a different point of view, a rationalization, an excuse, or a rebuttal. (This is important.)
  6. Say “thank you.” And mean it! You are being offered a little glimpse of someone else’s perception of you.
  7. Keep in mind the source of the person offering you the feedback. It’s possible there’s a particular bias,the person does not have all of the information, or there may be something else “in the way” of their perception of you or their communication to you of what they want to say.
  8. If possible, even if you disagree to some extent, find the “seed of truth” in the feedback given. It’s very possible that if this person perceives you in a particular way, others may as well. It’s also possible that even if all they’re saying doesn’t match with your perception (or with others’), there may be one tiny nugget that’s very valuable for you to hear.
  9. Decide if you want to take action. In a situation where your manager is offering feedback about meeting performance standards, you may not have a choice! But in other cases, you likely will.
  10. If you need further information (for example, additional instances of what’s being brought to your attention), ask for that additional information. If you think that the provider of feedback needs additional information from you to put their comments in a richer context, go away and think about the feedback first. You can always come back at a later time and say, “I’ve been thinking about our conversation from Monday where we talked about X. I’ve had some additional thoughts I’d like to share. Is this a good time to continue that conversation?” You then may be able to have an even richer conversation than the initial one.
  11. If you decide you want to take the feedback on and change in some way, check back in with the person who offered the feedback to let him or her know how you’re progressing. Specifically ask for their continued observations (especially if you’re improving!). Sometimes when we think we’re making huge changes, if it’s not noticed or acknowledged by others, we lose our motivation to continue working on it.
  12. Say “thank you,” again. Confirm your own desire to continue to improve and “stretch” into new areas of development. Let the other know of your appreciation for the time and effort they take in communicating clearly with you about what’s working well and what could be going even better.

Bonus tip: Try to learn from the giver of your feedback. They can help you understand how you can give feedback in the future that’s even cleaner, clearer, crisper, richer, more helpful, authentic, timely, and actionable. Giving and receiving feedback are both areas in which you can further develop your skill for great benefit to yourself and others.

This blog was originally published on October 23, 2014 and was updated October 30, 2017 for accuracy.


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