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Grow

Receiving Feedback: Make the Most of the Feedback You Get at Work

Marta Kuzma
10 min read
May 12, 2020

Sharing our work with others requires courage. We have to embrace our vulnerabilities and approach receiving feedback with the right mindset. If you see feedback as a threat, you’re missing an opportunity to grow and learn. The key to successfully receiving feedback is understanding its value and treating it as a part of our learning process.

No doubt, the way we receive feedback matters. In an ideal world, we’d all be masters at giving feedback. We rarely are. I recently wrote about the seven reasons why giving feedback fails, even when we have the best intentions.

Part of the problem is the idea of constructive criticism. Oh, boy. What does that even mean? I wish we could simply swap it for constructive support or helpful feedback. 

Criticism leads nowhere. As I mentioned in the article, it only moves people further away from resolving the problem. But let’s face it, criticism is here to stay. While receiving this form of feedback, we have to focus on how we handle it, rather than get frustrated and annoyed. 

We have little control over how the feedback is given. Thankfully, we can focus on leading the conversation in the right direction and learning how to make the most of it.

Feedback is not a universal truth

Let’s start with the basics. Giving and receiving feedback means exchanging our opinions, impressions, and experiences. None of those are objective. Understanding that the person giving feedback is sharing their own perception of your work is crucial to adjust the way you react to it. 

Instead of thinking, “Oh, so this is how the results of my work are seen,” try, “This is how this particular person perceives my work.” At this point, you’re able to distance yourself from the feedback given and be curious about the other person’s reasoning. 

Feedback is not a universal truth. Approach it as you would any other conversation. 

Understanding that is essential to receiving feedback with a positive attitude and willingness to act on it (if you find it useful!). Try to understand the other person, stay curious, and ask questions. Be open-minded. 

Remember, the feedback you’re receiving is just part of the story. Feedback doesn’t change the situation, it doesn’t downgrade your efforts, and it shouldn’t get you down. It’s just one perspective of what has already been done, allowing you to adjust your actions if you find it helpful. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the person giving feedback 

Both giving and receiving feedback often come with intense feelings. We have to remember that whoever is giving feedback is just another human being. No surprise, right? Well, then think about it the next time you receive feedback. I’d bet you’re so focused on your own emotions and reactions that you forget that feedback comes from another person who is just as vulnerable as you are. They might be fighting with their own insecurities and feelings at that very moment, so you’re not alone. 

When we hear comments on our work, especially negative ones, we tend to elevate and exaggerate others’ expertise and qualifications in our minds. Suddenly another person seems superior, and the way we see the whole situation is irrelevant and stressful. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

How many times have you given feedback to others? Remind yourself how you felt then. You probably wondered what the right way to do it was. You stressed out about the words you used. Put yourself in the shoes of the person giving feedback to remember it’s just a conversation of two people who want to find common ground. 

Change resistance to acceptance

Have you ever heard of the ironic process theory or the so-called white bear problem? Thought suppression studies have shown that when we resist thinking about something, it’s more likely to come to our mind. When you tell someone not to think about a white bear, the struggle not to do that is real. The main takeaway here is that resistance only makes things more difficult. 

Now, think about meditation. While we strive to relax and quiet our minds, thoughts keep coming from everywhere, making it impossible to focus. One way to deal with this is to accept the fact that we think, instead of resisting it and getting frustrated. Acknowledging our thoughts and emotions, and accepting them, allows us to finally find peace and focus on breathing and visualizing. 

When feedback comes, recognize when you experience resistance. Be mindful and observe your reaction. Resistance can be triggered by how the feedback is given, who it comes from, or what it refers to. Sometimes it has nothing to do with what is being evaluated. You might feel resistant because you had a bad day or you’re hungry. It doesn’t matter. 

As soon as you recognize resistance, mindfully change it to acceptance. When you accept the situation, you’ll be able to focus on it and react accordingly, rather than get lost in a negative spin of frustration and annoyance. 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

To receive feedback, you need to accept the fact we all make mistakes, and there is always space for improvement. No matter how much work we put into a task, thanks to the perspective of people who weren’t directly involved, we can recognize how to improve our work. That’s a good thing. But, first, we have to understand that the main goal of feedback is to make things better. It’s part of a never-ending learning process. 

Stop worrying about what went wrong or what you didn’t do well enough. Use feedback as a tool to make things better, rather than a judgment on the work that’s already been done. Being open to feedback is a great soft skill. Approaching feedback with enthusiasm and a willingness to analyze your work is a way to grow as a professional and as a person. It will impress your coworkers and take attention away from what wasn't working in the first place.

Distinguish constructive feedback from criticism 

If you feel like someone just raves and rants while pointing out your mistakes, that’s criticism. It won’t help either of you. If the feedback you’re receiving doesn’t give you any insights to act upon, accept it, and move the conversation in the right direction. 

Don’t focus on the fact you’re being criticized. It says a lot about the person who criticizes and their inability to communicate efficiently. Don’t take it personally. Instead, ask for reasons behind their criticism, explain that you’d like to understand their point of view, and ask relevant questions. Remember that even if you can’t control the way feedback is given, you can control how you react to it. 

What makes receiving feedback difficult

Ego

We love to succeed, and we love hearing people admire our work. Our ego, our feeling of self-importance, suffers when we hear that something we created isn’t as good as we thought. To receive feedback well and make the most out of it, be humble, and build your self-confidence from a desire to grow. That comes from being able to learn from others’ experiences and knowledge.

Fear and low self-esteem

Fear of being not good enough, of being judged or unappreciated, makes it difficult to receive feedback. But fear is just an emotion. You can acknowledge it, and move on. Accept the fact we all experience fear from time to time, but we can decide whether or not it will affect our actions. 

If you feel stressed and worried when someone gives you feedback, recognize this emotion, and accept it. “I feel worried that this feedback means my work isn’t good enough. I experience fear, and it’s OK. I’m out of my comfort zone, but if I focus on the good sides, I’ll be able to work better in the future.”

Perfectionism

You want everything you create to be flawless, and you spend hours perfecting every detail. Then, someone gives feedback and ruins the entire plan. Well, that plan was doomed to fail because perfection doesn’t exist. Of course, you know that. Me too! 

Yet, I’m still fighting with perfectionism every day. 

So, a good workaround here is being mindful. Knowing that perfection doesn’t exist isn’t enough. Knowing that you’re a perfectionist isn’t enough either. You need to recognize this thorny personality trait every time it affects your work. Through that mindful approach, you can stop perfectionism from holding back your progress and growth. 

How to receive feedback 

Be aware of your first reaction

Before you respond, take a deep breath. Acknowledge your emotions. Notice if you feel stressed, offended, or upset. Make a conscious effort to not let your emotions take control over how you react. 

Control your defensiveness

If your first impulse is to defend yourself, try to flip your attitude. Even if the feedback you’re receiving is very negative and critical, do your best to ask relevant questions, and turn it into a meaningful conversation. 

Assume positive intent 

Most people give feedback to solve a problem or improve something they care about. Still, there will be some who just enjoy railing at people and complaining. The truth is it doesn’t matter to you. Assume positive intentions because it will help you manage your own response. 

Practice active listening

Don’t fall into the trap of planning your response when another person speaks. Do your best to be present. Make an effort to hear what’s being said without interruptions or judgment. Thanks to active listening, you’ll avoid misunderstandings and confusion.  

Ask for clarifications 

You need to get the message right. Repeat what you’ve heard using your own words. Ask questions about anything that isn’t clear. Show a willingness to understand another person. It’s the foundation of receiving feedback effectively. 

Be grateful

I’m not talking about saying ‘thank you’ for the sake of courtesy. Say ‘thank you’ because someone put effort into analyzing your work, shared their impressions, and, most probably, is trying to help you. Be grateful because thanks to this feedback, you now have a better idea of how your work is perceived. You’ll notice room for improvement, which you could have missed on your own. 

How to benefit from receiving feedback

Be humble

Be aware of your talents and strengths, but stay open to acknowledging where you can improve, too. Control your ego. Understand that no one is perfect, and neither are you. Stay open to receiving feedback, which leads to growth and improvement. 

Stay curious 

Curiosity and willingness to learn new perspectives will allow you to approach feedback without fear or resistance. Think of it as a possibility to learn new things. That’s always good, isn’t it? 

Take action

Learning to receive feedback is the first step. The next one is taking appropriate action. If you took feedback with the right attitude and willingness to learn, this should be easy. You now understand another person’s reasoning. You can learn from their experience and implement their advice into your work. 

Receiving feedback is a skill. It requires practice and work to get it right. You can read thousands of articles and books about communication and still fail in real-life situations. Don’t get discouraged. We all struggle with both giving and receiving feedback. Every time it happens, stay focused and mindful, and practice improving your reactions and responses. And here comes my last tip. To receive feedback effectively, learn how to give feedback too. These are two sides of the same coin. Knowing the big picture is the key to success.