Receiving Feedback Well: Key To Your Professional and Personal Growth


Andrea Simon, Simon AssociatesOur Guest Blogger Cheryl McMillan, a Vistage Master Chair specializing in helping business leaders change, has written a fascinating blog about constructively giving and receiving feedback.

We chose to feature it because it ties in very well with the work we do with our clients at Simon Associates: helping companies and their leadership change — personally, professionally and corporately.

Enjoy the read.


Giving feedback to others should be part of your daily routine

Cheryl McMillanYou probably do it with confidence and a firm belief in your point of view. How do you feel, though, when you receive feedback? Do you agree with the giver’s perspective?

Your natural reaction when receiving feedback may be to quickly dismiss it. To be an effective leader, however, you need to actively evaluate it, regardless of who gives it and what they say. handsDouglas Stone and Sheila Heen, in their book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, define effectively receiving feedback as:

“…engaging in the conversation skillfully and making thoughtful choices about whether, and how, to use the information and what you’re learning. It’s about managing your emotional triggers so that you can take in what the other person is telling you, and being open to seeing yourself in new ways.”

There is always a gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us

Because it is nearly impossible to see ourselves clearly, feedback is critical to our continued growth and improvement. Most leaders claim to want feedback. However, it’s not easy to receive it because some comments can conflict with our two core human needs:

1) the need to learn and grow, and

2) the need to be accepted just the way we are.

When these conflicts occur, expect to be triggered. Stone and Heen define the three main feedback triggers:

  1. Truth triggers are set off by the content of the feedback. When assessments or advice seem off-base, unhelpful or simply untrue, you feel indignant, wronged and exasperated.
  2. Relationship triggers are tripped by the person providing the feedback. Exchanges are often colored by what you believe about the giver (“He/she has no credibility on this topic!”) and how you feel about your previous interactions (“After all I’ve done for you, I get this petty criticism?”). You might reject coaching that you would accept on its merits if it came from someone else.
  3. Identity triggers are all about your relationship with yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, it can be devastating if it causes your sense of who you are to come undone. In such moments, you struggle with feeling overwhelmed, defensive, or off balance.

To derive meaning from feedback, understand the other person’s point of view and separate helpful comments from unhelpful ones

To do that, it is imperative that you:

1. Listen empathically to understand the other person’s point of view and ask clarifying questions.

Don’t immediately react to any feedback, whether positive or negative. Many times the validity and value of feedback is not immediately apparent, so before you accept or reject it, make sure that you understand it. Be curious about the other person’s viewpoint. What is his or her expectation? What is the source of that expectation? Is there an unspoken fear of the feedback giver? Avoiding snap judgments and exploring the source of the feedback allows you to engage in a rich conversation that will benefit you and deepen the relationship.

2. Know yourself and your most common triggered reactions.

We all react to feedback in our own conditioned ways. For example, you may argue and reject it at first (but later accept it), you may become defensive and deny its validity, or you may even retaliate against the giver. Pay attention to when you are triggered, and instead of reacting, ask questions to try to understand.

3. Separate the giver from their comments.

It does matter who is giving the feedback! When a relationship trigger is activated, separate the message from the messenger and evaluate their comments as if a neutral person had given them.

4. Ask for frequent feedback.

Practice makes perfect. The more often you request feedback, the less likely your emotional triggers are to get activated. Give others multiple opportunities to give you real feedback. They will become more comfortable doing so, and you will become more comfortable receiving it. Do not be defensive to requested feedback; this sends the signal to the giver that you are unreceptive, and they will avoid giving you feedback in the future.

5. Thank the giver.

There is only one appropriate response to feedback and that is “Thank you.” Thank people for being honest with you, and let them know that you find their observations and opinions helpful (even if you don’t at first).

6. Be aware of critiqued behavior.

Think about your received feedback for a couple of days. Have other people said similar things to you? Observe your own behavior and try to see yourself as others may perceive you. Maybe your intent (who you are) and behavior (how you are perceived) are not aligned. Look for opportunities to correct and improve critiqued behaviors.

Your personal growth depends on your ability to receive feedback from others

Receiving valuable feedback requires managing your emotional triggers so that you are able to see its value. It may be hard to hear the truth about how you are perceived by others, but in the long run, it’s more damaging not to hear it. And knowing how you’re actually perceived by others is critical for you to become a better leader.