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 more about how others view your work and your contribution? If you are, you need to make it easy for them to tell you. If they think you'll appreciatively consider their feedback, you'll get much more information. 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 for you. But, they'll only provide feedback if you are approachable and allow them to feel comfortable when 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 direct manager, your defensiveness is even sadder—and potentially a problem. 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 manager by exhibiting defensive or childish behavior in response to their legitimate efforts to give you developmental feedback.

Here are 10 steps you need to take to receive feedback with grace and dignity.

Control Your Defensiveness

Fear of hurting you or having to deal with defensive or justifying behavior makes 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 not comfortable giving you feedback.

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.

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 perceived 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 your continued growth.

Summarize and Reflect on What You Heard

Your feedback provider will appreciate that you are really hearing what they are saying. Rather than using the little voice in your head to argue, deny, or formulate your response while they are speaking, 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.

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. Your most appropriate response will frequently be a simple "thank you for letting me know."

Ask for Examples

Ask for these examples and stories so you know that you share meaning with the person providing feedback. When and where or under what circumstances did they perceive the actions about which they are providing feedback.

Keep Things in Perspective

Just because a person gives you feedback, doesn't mean that their perception is right or even widely shared by other coworkers and bosses. Remember that they see your actions or hear your words and interpret them through their own perceptual screen and life experiences.

Be Approachable

People avoid giving feedback to those 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?"

Check With Others

If only one person believes what you heard in the feedback about you, it may be just about him or her and their perceptions, not about you. For example, say, "Mary, Thomas told me that he perceived me as unwilling to engage in a discussion about the recommendations I made in our meeting. Did you share this perception? Or, depending on the openness of your workplace culture, "Mary, I received feedback that I was defensive about my recommendations during our meeting. What did you think?"

This is a major step in receiving feedback as you always have the choice of whether to accept feedback as valid and do something about it—or not.

Decide on the Reliability of the Feedback

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.

Other Tips for Gracefully Receiving Feedback

The following are additional overall 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 and they are rarely trained in how to communicate effectively.
  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 what you heard the person say usually defuses any feelings you have of hostility or anger.

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.