Better to give than receive? Not when it comes to feedback in the workplace.

These two brothers don't usually rest near other, so I was surprised when Dodger saddled up in Oliver's space. They were intently communicating, but only for a short while. I would love to know what they said to each other!

These two brothers don’t usually rest near other, so I was surprised when Oliver (right) saddled up in Dodger’s space. Oliver’s ears are pulled back in apparent dislike of Dodger’s intent glare. Animals seem to have a way to get their point across without souring the long-term relationship.

Providing feedback is one of those ‘must-do’ activities for effective leaders. Yet we don’t talk about receiving feedback very often, and I believe that is just as important.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been witness to a number of constructive — and unconstructive — exchanges of feedback. Providing feedback is critical, but how it is done can impact the outcome. When it feels like an attack, it’s not productive, and has the potential to damage relationships. That’s why I think the person receiving the feedback needs to be a significant player in what happens after delivery of tough feedback — especially when the delivery lacks finesse.

Feedback that strikes at the person as opposed to the situation is usually what creates the biggest problem. When offering feedback, remember to focus on the ‘what’ of the situation, not the ‘who.’ For example, if a person’s tardiness has become an issue, address the fact that because the person is not on time, it creates extra work for those who do arrive on time as opposed to saying that the person obviously doesn’t care about others because they are late.

Let’s face it, providing ideal feedback is not easy; it’s hard to get it perfect. That’s why the skills necessary in receiving feedback are critical. 

So what’s the most important thing to know about receiving feedback from others? You need to remember how hard it is to give tough feedback! That will allow you to treat the two things separately. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does help you deal with it. Recognize that just because the feedback wasn’t delivered in a supportive way, it does not invalidate the sentiment. 

When you receive feedback that isn’t constructive, be a role model to help them improve. Let them know it hurt. Tell them you still want to understand the problem. Then start to be curious about the underlying root cause. When glaring differences exist, it is difficult, but absolutely necessary, to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Instead of lashing back (either verbally or silently with your thoughts), take into account that the person had courage to speak up. And it’s likely that this person said things that other employees may have wanted to say but shied away from.

If you want to be effective at receiving difficult feedback, I suggest the following:

  • Take a deep breath (or two or three).
  • Separate any statements that seem like an attack and work to understand where they might be coming from.
  • Be curious. Ask lots of questions that will help you see the other person’s view.
  • You don’t have to agree, but when you come closer to understand how someone else is feeling, you will be further along to solving the problem.

Have you had experiences that you will share to help us all learn better skills? Leave a comment with some constructive feedback!



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  1. Karen Johnson on June 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Long ago I learned the following about feedback: it should be timely (not something that happened months or years ago); it needs to be about something that can be changed (not, your teeth are too large ) and that if you hear the same thing 3 times you need to pay attention (once can just be someone’s personal quirk).

    I love your blogs


    • Robin on June 21, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Karen, those are exceptionally helpful tips, thank you for passing them along! I so appreciate your participation and very glad you love the blog. I love writing it!

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