3 Strategies for Receiving Constructive Feedback

Collaboration | Engagement

Receiving feedback. While a net positive and necessary aspect of a successful workplace, it can also be the most daunting, especially when it’s “constructive” feedback.

Constructive feedback is the type of feedback aimed at achieving a positive outcome by providing someone with comments, advice, or suggestions that are useful for their work or their future. Constructive feedback—even when done well like we outline in 5 Steps to Giving Productive Feedback—can cause a person to put up their defenses or send them into overthinking mode where they question their entire role. Still, it’s important for us to receive this feedback. In fact in a recent survey, 92% of respondents agreed that this type of feedback, when delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.

Given that feedback is a cornerstone of a successful workplace, and that constructive feedback is necessary for an individual to grow in their career, how can we as receivers feel better prepared and able to take the feedback in stride and put it to good use?

1. Confirm that You’re Ready to Receive Feedback

Let’s be honest with ourselves, there are times where we are not in the right headspace to take constructive feedback. You could be going through a difficult time in your personal life or maybe you’re swamped with work and receiving feedback will only hinder your productivity.

If you do not feel that you’re in the right space to receive feedback, let the person know. But be clear that you would like to discuss it at a different time. However, do not continually put this off as it will only make receiving the feedback much more difficult.

2. Ask Questions When Appropriate

You’ve likely experienced a poor feedback conversation where the provider is not specific on what they’re addressing. They may say something like “You are behind on deadlines, and it’s affecting the project and team.” While this is direct, it’s not actionable and quite vague.

If you receive vague feedback, you should ask questions to get to the root of the issue without getting defensive. In this instance, you may ask about the situations they’re referring to. You may uncover that the deadlines were too optimistic or that priorities weren’t properly addressed.

A popular tool we teach in facilitation and management training is “reflecting.” If the piece of feedback is vague or confusing, you may say “I hear what you’re saying. Can I repeat back what I’m hearing to make sure I understand?” This will allow the receiver to clarify what they’re saying and add more detail, if needed.

Both the provider and receiver should be asking clarifying questions as necessary to make the feedback actionable. The goal of feedback conversations is to end with agreements built on how to move forward with clear expectations and support.

3. Take a Beat and Process

For many, the immediate reaction to any constructive feedback is to get defensive. Rather than processing the information, we sometimes speak without thinking. This is especially true if you’re taken off guard by the feedback.

Take a beat and process what you have heard before reacting defensively. You may even vocalize this by saying, “I need a second to process this.” Or take a note from what was mentioned above, ask if you can take time to fully reflect on the feedback. Don’t feel like you’re showing a weakness by doing this. If anything, it shows that you are taking the feedback seriously.

Once you’ve processed it, keep a level head and have a productive follow-up conversation. Maybe you felt the feedback had no merit or was coming from a negative place. If this is the case, calmly ask questions or provide an alternative view on the situation. Without blaming others, take responsibility for your own actions and propose a solution, if needed. If you get overly defensive, it’ll only make the situation sour. If after you’ve asked questions and discussed your view of the situation and you still feel the feedback is misplaced, it might be time to escalate this to the appropriate resources within your organization.

Feedback is crucial in a productive workplace. Stay open and curious to let it help you move forward in your career. Make sure you’re ready to receive the feedback, ask appropriate questions, and don’t let your defenses take over or react before taking time to reflect on what you’ve heard.

If you’re interested in learning more about feedback conversations, check out our flagship program for first-time leaders, Managing with Impact, where we dive deeper into how to have effective 1-1 interactions like feedback, coaching and delegation.

About Eve Keller

Currently, Eve serves IA as a Director of Client Solutions. Prior to IA, Eve worked on multiple federal and state contracts supporting the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS), the Federally Facilitated Marketplace and the Department of Education as a project manager and master instructional designer. As a former educator, she has a passion for teaching and learning in a variety of ways that includes mounds of positive encouragement and motivation.