How to be great at getting feedback

Updated: Jun 21, 2019

How good are you at receiving feedback?

And is it easier for you to receive positive feedback than negative - or is it harder?

Last week’s blog covered how to give effective feedback (Part 1 of my Feedback Series).

This week we look at the other side - how to make the most of the feedback you’re given.

Again, there are three areas to this:

  • context

  • what to say (in response)

  • how to handle your emotions

1. Context


In Part 1, I discussed the importance of location to giving effective feedback. This is also true for being able to receive feedback well - and you do have a choice.

If you are uncomfortable with the location that’s being suggested, ask to change it.

If you’d rather do it in a more public place (eg a coffee shop) rather than an enclosed meeting room, ask.

Explain that you are very grateful for their time and effort in giving you feedback, and you want to make sure you receive it in the best way possible - so would they mind if you met in x, as you find that environment really helpful for these types of discussions.

They can only say no - and if they are trying to give you feedback in a constructive way, they are likely to say yes.


Some feedback is at defined intervals, eg annual performance appraisals or regular meetings with your boss.

However, you have the opportunity to ask for feedback in between these fixed moments.

You can explicitly ask for feedback after an event (eg a presentation or important meeting), or on a particular piece of work, if none has been forthcoming.

This type of immediate, issue-based feedback can be some of the most helpful.

Some questions you could ask:

  • how could I have done a better job on X?

  • is there anything you think I could have added, to make it even better?

  • how well did you think I handled that situation?

  • do you have any tips for me for the future?

  • do you have any suggestions on how I could improve X?

  • is there anything more I could be doing to help you/us get X results?

2. How To Handle Your Emotions

Avoid becoming defensive or emotional

The biggest challenge to handling feedback well is to avoid becoming defensive or emotional. This does not help!

In fact, it will make the situation much worse, leading to a tense and difficult conversation and discouraging the feedback giver to do so again in the future (to your detriment).

The problem is, our brain perceives criticism as threat, which triggers our fight-or-flight response, so we are very likely to respond emotionally.

To avoid this, take a deep breath, and focus on your feet being grounded on the floor to help take you out of your head.

Avoid placing yourself in the victim position by considering the other person’s point of view: say to yourself “this is not easy for them; they are trying to help me".

And suspend judgement about whether the feedback is “right” or “wrong”.

Your aim during the session is to make sure you understand exactly what the feedback is about, and what improvement is being recommended. If you want to, you can always ask others for their perspective outside the room.

And if you are finding it all too much, ask for time to reflect.

Say that you are very grateful to the person for pointing this issue out to you, and what you’d find really helpful is if you could go away to think about it, then to come back for a further conversation.

It is much better to give yourself a break rather than spiral into an emotional meltdown…

Watch out for negativity bias

Not all feedback will be good - but similarly, not all feedback will be “bad”.

Watch out for negativity bias - the way the brain automatically focusses on the bad stuff, and ignores the good stuff.

This is evolutionary - the good stuff can’t hurt us…