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07.01.2022 Company Culture

How to receive feedback

How to receive feedback

Master the art of receiving feedback at work in 12 simple steps. These tips show you how to receive feedback effectively and with grace—or how to eloquently question it.

Receiving feedback at work is about more than just saying “I’ll take it on board moving forward”.

You need to watch your body language and ask questions where needed. And regardless of whether you’re receiving positive or negative feedback, you should thank them for supporting your development. After all, they are giving feedback to either praise you for something you did or to help you do something better.

Below, we walk you through 12 steps you should take when receiving feedback. If you respond well to feedback you encourage the people around you to share their feedback more often. This helps you create a strong feedback culture in the workplace, which will benefit your business.

Follow these steps to receive feedback effectively

An Officevibe survey found that 65% of employees want to get more feedback. And a staggering 98% of employees fail to be engaged when they don’t receive feedback from their managers. A Qualtrics study further found employee engagement scores to increase by 17% when a feedback program was provided by their company.

You and your team need to get comfortable with feedback. And an important part of achieving that is mastering the art of receiving feedback effectively. How?

Just follow these steps.

1. Be open and approachable

Always keep an open mind. Respect their opinion and their right to speak their mind. Even if you disagree you shouldn’t just assume that you know better.

Take this opportunity to learn how others interpret your actions. In some cases, there is no right or wrong answer and it comes down to personal preference. And even if they are wrong “on paper” it doesn’t take away that this is how they feel. You should always respect that.

If you’re open to feedback you are more likely to receive feedback from employees, managers or colleagues in the future. It makes you more approachable.

Ideally, this mindset should be reflected by your body language. Maintain eye contact, nod as you take in what is said, and practice an open posture (arms and legs uncrossed, directly facing the other person).

2. Listen actively

An important part of being receptive to feedback is active listening. Do you notice you’re about to receive feedback from someone?

Perhaps they’ve requested a one-on-one meeting to talk about a project you delivered. Or they might simply approach you saying they have some feedback regarding your work. If this happens, shift all your attention to them and actively listen to what they have to say.

This also means not checking your phone or Slack messages while they’re speaking. You should be thankful that you’re receiving feedback and that they’re taking the time to help you grow. It also ensures you understand everything that’s being said.

3. Breathe in

Receiving feedback, especially when you’re not used to it, can make you feel stressed. You might feel personally attacked or like your skills are being put into question.

When this is the case your body triggers a fight-or-flight response. It’s your body’s natural way of coping with the stress and perceived danger of the situation. If your body decides to fight you might become defensive, argumentative, or even angry.

If a flight response is triggered, you’re likely to try and escape the situation. For example, you might say you don’t have time to listen to their feedback, or you quickly agree with whatever they’re saying just to get out of the situation.

Although this is a natural response to feedback, you should try to avoid this from happening. When you notice stress building up, try to breathe in deeply and control your defences. It’s just some feedback, there’s no need to panic.

4. Thank them for their candour (or praise)

Phew, you made it through the receiving part of the feedback. Regardless of whether you just received positive or negative feedback, the first thing you should do is thank the person who gave you the feedback.

It’s great that your employee, colleague, or manager decided to take valuable time out of their day to give you feedback. And the fact that they felt comfortable enough to approach you with their feedback is a compliment on its own!

So before actually commenting on the feedback that was given you should take a moment to acknowledge and give thanks.

5. Repeat the feedback you received

Now it’s time to align and ensure that you’re both on the same page. The best way to guarantee that you fully understood what they said is by repeating their feedback.

Summarise what they’ve said and ask if you’ve understood correctly. It shows that you’ve been actively listening and that you are really hearing what they’re saying. It also signals that you are open to their feedback and interested in fully understanding what they’ve said.

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6. You don’t have to respond straight away

You might feel a bit flustered and overwhelmed by the feedback, causing your body and mind to freeze up (it’s sometimes also called the fight-flight-freeze response). Because of this, you might not be able to respond to the feedback straight away.

But it could also be that you just need some time to formulate a proper plan to incorporate their feedback. Or you might simply be too angry or upset and in dire need of some cooling-down time first.

The most important thing is that you communicate that you need some time and that a response will follow soon, rather than just ending the situation as quickly as possible.

7. Ask questions if needed

Is anything about the feedback you’ve received unclear? Would you like to get more examples to further illustrate the feedback?

Especially when dealing with negative constructive criticism, you want to ensure that you have all the facts and you know what you need to do. So don’t be afraid to ask questions when receiving feedback. Questions you could ask include:

  • Could you explain in more detail how I can improve my behaviour?
  • What steps do you suggest I take moving forward?
  • How long has this been going on/is this the first time you’ve noticed me making this mistake?
  • Could you explain how this behaviour negatively affects the business/the team so I can better understand the situation?

8. Ask for a second opinion

Often the feedback you get is clear and simple. You did something wrong, they point it out to you, they tell you how to improve, you do better. Done.

But sometimes, especially when the feedback refers to behavioural aspects or a more general way of working, you might want to get a second opinion. After all, it’s just one person’s observation.

Although you should always receive feedback openly it doesn’t mean the other person will always be right. So sometimes asking a coworker if they agree with the feedback might be the best course of action.

9. You don’t always have to act

Remember, just because you receive feedback doesn’t mean that you always have to act on it. Perhaps you simply disagree with the feedback, you might want to hear if others agree with the feedback first, or perhaps the feedback refers to something in the past that’s now out of your control.

You might feel forced to act after receiving feedback, but in some cases, accepting the feedback is all you have to do.

10. You don’t always have to agree

Do you disagree with the feedback you just received? That’s ok! You don’t always have to agree when you get feedback.

But respectfully disagreeing with someone is a skill in its own right. You need to be able to strike the right balance between not sounding defensive while defending your point of view. You need to remain calm and not feel attacked while ensuring you don’t attack the other person either.

Keep these points in mind when disagreeing with the feedback you’ve received:

  • Always remain calm and keep your emotions under control
  • Ensure you have all the information
  • If needed, take some time to cool down and formulate your response carefully
  • Still thank them for their feedback and show that you respect their opinion
  • Be prepared that you might have to agree to disagree

11. Explain your actions

If you agree with their feedback you need to acknowledge this in your response and outline what actions you will take. Explaining your plan of action helps set clear expectations for the other person.

Let them know, in as much detail as possible, what actions you will take moving forward. If they already mentioned some ways to improve in their feedback, be sure to incorporate these points in your action plan.

Did you disagree with their feedback? Then explain your motivation (without being defensive) and explain why you will not take their feedback on board.

12. Ask for follow-up feedback

Following up on feedback is a great way to ensure that feedback is handled correctly and leads to the desired outcome. Too often feedback is received, accepted, but never acted upon.

How best to approach this depends on the type of feedback you’ve received. For example, if the feedback was something concrete, like “you made several typos in this text, please correct them”, you can make the changes and circle it back to see if they are happy with the result.

But if the feedback was aimed at a behavioural trait, like “I’ve noticed you’ve been late for meetings quite often, could you please try to pay better attention to punctuality”, it would be different. In this case, you can’t show up on time for one meeting and ask for follow-up feedback.

Instead, agree to reevaluate the situation in a month when you’ve had the opportunity to improve.

Be better at feedback

Your workplace needs to be filled with feedback, both positive and negative. Your employees crave it, your managers need it, and your colleagues will appreciate it.

Do you want to learn more about feedback in the workplace? Then check out the next article in this series: 10 ways to create a feedback culture in the workplace.

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