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Five Ways to Manage Receiving Feedback

Staci Daniels-Sommers, MSW
By Staci Daniels-Sommers, MSW
October 24, 2017
An image of two women talking at work.

One of my favorite mentors once told me, "Feedback is one of the highest forms of respect." From his perspective, giving someone authentic feedback is one of the best ways to show that you care about their success. I've tried to remember this over the years, and most of the time, this advice has helped me digest and appropriately respond to feedback.

Feedback can come in all shapes and sizes; positive, constructive, direct, circuitous, long, succinct, official, candid, etc. No matter the subject matter or how it's delivered, feedback needs to be addressed. Here are some tips for managing feedback from both colleagues and supervisors.

 

Take a breath.

You don't have to respond to feedback right away. Sometimes, the best thing to do when you initially receive criticism is just to listen and ask good questions to clarify the information your colleague is sharing. You can thank the colleague or supervisor for their input and go back your desk to digest. There's nothing wrong with processing emotions that come up with the feedback, deciding if the feedback is helpful, and then moving forward.

 

Try to honor the messenger’s intention.

It can be challenging to deliver feedback, especially critical feedback, in a way that doesn't sting. If the input is coming from a genuine place, try to listen to the heart of the information; the part that is being shared to help you be a better professional. You may need a moment to reflect on the intention of the comment. It's OK to take a breath and come back to your colleague or supervisor a few days later to let them know that you heard what they said, you appreciate their concern for your success, and how you're using the feedback to improve.

 

Get a second opinion.

Sometimes we are confused by the feedback we receive. The colleague sharing the advice may not provide clarifying examples, or it may come from a place you weren't expecting. Ask a trusted co-worker or mentor for their observations of your work. They may help you illuminate a blind spot or provide helpful context.

 

Don't brush off positive feedback.

Our brains often pay more attention to negative feedback and disregard the positive. It's easy for us to discount positive input. You can learn just as much from positive feedback as you can from criticism. Learning about your strengths can help you find new and exciting ways to approach your work or identify ways to use your strengths to address areas of challenge.

 

Accepting feedback is a choice.

Receiving feedback doesn't automatically require us to use it. While feedback comes from a useful place most of the time, there are times when you may decide to let it go. That's your choice, and there is nothing wrong with that. You may choose to thank the person for their input and leave it at that, or you may decide to provide additional information to address their perspective. Either way, feedback should always be responded to gracefully, even if you don't intend to make changes.

 

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Staci Daniels-Sommers is a licensed psychotherapist, educator, and diversity consultant, with over ten years of experience in higher education, nonprofits, and start-ups. She has led several large-scale civic engagement and community-based learning programs at both large and mid-sized research universities. She is also a trained intergroup dialogue facilitator and had consulted with K-12 schools and universities, supporting efforts to implement diversity and social justice curriculum. She has a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan with a focus on practice in the school setting.

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