How to Receive Job Feedback… Without Becoming Defensive


The whole process of receiving feedback can be too uncomfortable for words. You can feel as though you’re being criticised or (even worse) under attack. Your natural reaction is to become defensive, or deny its value, or perhaps both.

It’s a great shame, because feedback is often a useful source of information. It can help us improve ourselves as well as our chances of recognition, promotion and increased pay.

Happily, there are some tactics that can help even the most sensitive of us to receive feedback positively, thereby getting the most from it.

1. Prepare physically

How many times have you started to feel anxious and tense just knowing that someone wanted to give you feedback? This is a normal response, but it’s an unhelpful state to be in if we want to get value from the feedback. So, it’s worth spending a little time creating an environment where the feedback will be most easily absorbed. Arrange to be given the feedback in a quiet and neutral place. Pick a time where you’re not in a rush or have any deadlines looming. This way, you’re removing unnecessary barriers to success.

2. Prepare mentally

As well as physical preparation, it’s useful to get yourself mentally ready. Find a way to relax and keep calm. Once in that state, focus on the knowledge that all feedback is useful. However difficult it is to hear, or even if it’s way off the mark, it’s going to help you. In the first instance (difficult but useful feedback), you’ll have clarity about an area for improvement that will enhance your performance. In the second, it will inform your evaluation of the person giving the feedback, which will be useful in future dealings with that person.

3. Listen

When actually receiving the feedback, it’s critical to listen intently. The temptation will be to put your side of events forward. However, you are better served to listen hard and ask questions if you need clarification. It’s also important to ask for examples of the issues being discussed so that you have concrete evidence that you can reflect on.

4. Confirm

When the feedback has all been given and examples have been provided, it’s critical that you confirm what you have heard. We have a tendency to hear what we want to hear. By repeating back your understanding of the feedback, you are helping to avoid this normal, but unhelpful, human psychological bias.

5. Thank

Believe it or not, giving feedback can also be a very difficult experience for the giver. So, if you want to receive feedback in the future, you need to thank the person generously for providing it and reassure him/her that you are keen to receive any further feedback.

6. Evaluate

When you have an opportunity, reflect on what you’ve heard and evaluate how you feel about it and what you believe you should do as a result of it.

7. Act

If, having evaluated it, you feel that the feedback has been useful, prepare a plan to act on it. Make sure it has SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) objectives so that you reap the benefits of it.

Heather Foley

Heather Foley

Feedback can be hard to take. However, if you want to improve, it’s a necessary evil. What’s more, it’s essential if you want to succeed. In the words of business author Ken Blanchard, “feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

With thanks to Heather Foley, a consultant at etsplc.com

Published On: 2nd Nov 2016 - Last modified: 22nd Mar 2017
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