Give Thanks for Feedback – how to receive feedback gracefully and constructively

In the world of management and leadership training, a lot of emphasis is put on teaching people to give effective feedback and very little attention is given to receiving feedback. Yet we know that a major reason that feedback conversations go sideways is the recipient’s response. Given the importance of feedback, we need more training on how to gracefully receive and learn from feedback, even when it is not skillfully given.

The starting place is gratitude. Repeat after me: “Feedback is a gift.” Really.

You need feedback to grow and learn. Even the most self-aware people have blind spots, and most of us mere mortals have plenty. At its best, feedback that is timely, specific, and actionable sheds light on our blind spots and helps us to correct course. For more on how to solicit feedback, see my previous post. Yet even the most clumsy criticism or complaint can be a source of learning. Feedback is data. If nothing else, it tells you how someone else perceives you and thereby gives you insight into that person’s perspective and needs. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, when someone tells you that you have made a mistake or behaved badly or caused her harm, you are in a better position than you would be if you didn’t know. Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness is power. In the moment, though, it can be hard to feel grateful.

The key to finding the gift in feedback is curiosity . No matter how much you want to disagree or defend, take a deep breath and seek to understand. Here’s how to find the treasure buried in the feedback:

Feedback as Complaint: “You really let me down.”
Curious Responses: “What could I have done better?” “What were your expectations?” “What was the impact of my behavior?”
Feedback as Criticism: “You have no executive presence.”
Graceful Responses: “What am I doing that is getting in the way?” “What could I do differently?” “Can you give me some examples of what you mean by presence?”
Feedback as Non-Specific Advice: “You need to be more strategic.”
Grateful Responses: “Thanks,  can you give me an example?” “How would you suggest I work on this?” “What opportunities do you see for me?”

In each case, there is something to learn. So even if your initial reaction to feedback is to feel angry or embarrassed, take a deep breath, remember that you are better off knowing than not knowing, and get curious. And don’t forget to say thanks!