Stop! Collaborate and Listen... How To Constructively Receive Feedback

January 22, 2020

When a colleague is about to give you feedback, do you ever freeze up with anxiety, put on your emotional armor or want to bury your head in the sand? Well, you’re not alone.

So you can apply feedback to your day-to-day and become a more effective employee, here’s a survival guide for how to constructively receive feedback.

To Prepare

  • Assume positive intent. Know that the person providing the feedback wants to help you improve. We all want to see each other succeed so, although it may sting a bit, it’s coming from a place of encouragement.
  • Remember that you can only get better through feedback. While we’re all rockstars, we also have room to improve. Having someone else identify how to do that is a great gift! 

During the Conversation

  • Lead with curiosity instead of defensiveness. “What can I learn from this person?” versus “Why is this person pointing out all my flaws?”
  • Ask clarifying questions if something is unclear. If someone is providing feedback, it’s fair to ask for specifics. Ask for a specific example of the behavior to put it into context. Just be sure to pose the questions in a curious manner, rather than in a defensive way.  
  • Summarize what you heard. This allows you to make sure you heard what the person was trying to say and gives them a chance to clarify if something was misunderstood. 
  • Thank the person for the feedback. This may be tough for you, but it is as tough (if not tougher!) for the person providing the feedback. Be courteous even if you don’t agree or still need time to process the information. 

After the Conversation

  • Write down any immediate thoughts of feelings. No feeling or thought is wrong, but capturing them in real-time may be helpful in processing what you heard. 
  • Give it a bit of space. Take a walk, have a cup of coffee (... or a glass of wine), watch an episode of Schitt's Creek – anything to give yourself a quick mental break. Taking a breather lets you come back to the feedback with a clear head so you can process appropriately.  
  • Start your action plan. Start a list of things you can do to address the feedback. Need help? Ask someone you trust to help you (maybe even the person who gave you the feedback in the first place)! 

 In the Future

  • Ask for real-time feedback as you work to make progress. It’s always easier to course-correct when you know right away if something didn’t go well. Pose questions like “what could I have done better?” instead of asking “do you have any feedback?”
  • Keep positive feedback accessible. A suggestion from the book No Hard Feelings: “Keep a smile file (or folder). Write down nice comments you receive. Save emails from colleagues thanking you for your hard work. Criticism will linger longer than praise, so being able to quickly remind yourself of what you do well will help you weather your inevitable gloomy moments.”
  • Give the gift of feedback to others


There are LOTS of resources about receiving feedback (clearly it’s not easy for anyone)! Here are a few that may be helpful:

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