How to Receive Feedback With Grace and Dignity

When You Properly Respond to Feedback, You'll Get Much More

Man and woman employees giving and receiving feedback with grace and dignity.
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Are you interested in hearing about how others view your work and your contribution? If you are, make it easy for them to tell you. If they think you'll appreciatively consider their feedback, you'll get lots more. And, that is a good thing, really.

Thoughtful feedback helps you grow both personally and professionally. Accurate feedback helps you with your lifelong career development, too. It's a gift that people who care about your personal and professional success can provide. But, they'll only provide feedback if you are approachable and allow them to feel comfortable giving you the feedback.

Once they are rebuffed, argued with, or subjected to your defensive behavior, coworkers and bosses are less likely to approach you again with helpful feedback. In the case of coworkers who have the same goals and direction as you, this is sad, as you all need to pull together for the good of the group.

In the case of your boss, your defensiveness is even sadder. This is the person from whom you need to welcome feedback. It's difficult enough to be a manager who is in a position wherein he or she must provide feedback—and it's already an uncomfortable role for many because they are untrained and ill-prepared. You would do well not to make the situation even more difficult for your boss.

How to Receive Feedback

These are the steps you need to take to receive feedback with grace and dignity.

  1. Try to control your defensiveness. Fear of hurting you or having to deal with defensive or justifying behavior make people hesitant to give feedback to someone else. If you can create an aura of approachability, people are more likely to return with more feedback. Defensiveness, anger, justifying and excuse-making will ensure that coworkers and bosses are uncomfortable giving you feedback.
  2. Listen to understand. Practice all of the skills of an effective listener including using body language and facial expressions that encourage the other person to talk.
  3. Try to suspend judgment. After all, in learning the views of the feedback provider, you learn about yourself and how your actions are interpreted and seen in the world. Noted consultant and author, Tom Peters, in a well-known quote, said, "Perception is all there is." That's true for your career growth and progress. How the world views you is an opportunity for continued growth.
  4. Summarize and reflect what you hear. Your feedback provider will appreciate that you are really hearing what they are saying. Rather than using the little voice in your brain to argue, deny, or formulate your response, focus on making sure that you understand the point of view you are receiving. You are also determining the validity of what you are really hearing.
  5. Ask questions to clarify. Focus on questions to make sure that you understand the feedback. Once again, focus on understanding the feedback you are receiving, not on your next response.
  6. Ask for examples and stories that illustrate the feedback, so you know that you share meaning with the person providing feedback.
  7. Just because a person gives you feedback, doesn't mean their feedback is right or widely shared by other coworkers and bosses. Remember that they see your actions but interpret them through their own perceptual screen and life experiences.
  8. Be approachable. People avoid giving feedback to those people who are grumpy and dismissive. Your openness to feedback is evident through your body language, facial expressions, and welcoming manner. You can also request feedback verbally asking questions such as, "John, how did I do on that presentation? Was I clear?"
  9. Check with others to determine the reliability of the feedback you have received. If only one person believes it about you, it may be just about him or her, not you. This is a major step as you always have the choice about whether to accept feedback and do something about it—or not.
  10. Remember, only you have the right and the ability to decide what to do with the feedback you have received. It is up to you to check it out with others, seek out examples, and then, decide if the feedback is worth doing something about.

Tips for Gracefully Receiving Feedback

Here are additional communication tips about how to receive feedback with grace and dignity.

  1. Try to show your appreciation to the person providing the feedback. They'll feel encouraged and believe it or not, you do want to encourage feedback.
  2. Even your manager or supervisor finds providing feedback scary. They never know how the person receiving feedback is going to react.
  3. If you find yourself becoming defensive or hostile, practice stress management techniques such as taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
  4. Focusing on understanding the feedback by questioning and restating usually defuses any feelings you have of hostility or anger.
  5. If you really disagree, are angry or upset, and want to dissuade the other person of their opinion, wait until your emotions are under control to reopen the discussion at a later date. Doing this at the moment of feedback is rampant with the potential for the whole conversation to fail.