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Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important skills you can develop and can be one of the most difficult.  It’s a topic that’s often on peoples minds as we grow throughout our careers.  

Last week, I wrote about the skill of giving feedback in a way that is respectful and honors the person you are giving it to.  Nicely given feedback starts with the facts, then talks about impact.  It doesn’t make statements about who you are as a person, and it doesn’t include absolutes like always and never. 

When we are working on stretching ourselves we want to receive feedback in addition to giving it.  However, when we get feedback it is easy to fall into a trap of feeling badly about it or even getting upset or defensive.  We are human and emotions happen.  People even question the validity of positive feedback sometimes too.  (They said I did a great job but I don’t think so)

The quality of the feedback makes a difference.  Many times, feedback givers are nervous, frustrated, or scared and that impacts how they come across.  They don’t say things in a way that helps us to be open to hearing them.  That means there is a very very good chance that you will receive feedback that is not well delivered.  IT will increase the possibility of you feeling insulted, defensive, dismissive or angry about what was said.   This makes for two unhappy people.

Regardless of how you feel about the feedback, the truth is there is value in every statement, no matter how it’s shared.  

That skill of finding the value can be learned.  Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, if it felt disrespectful, It was ambiguous or it wasn’t given to you in a timely manner.  

Imagine my spinach example.  Someone might say:

  • “You are so gross with all that spinach in your teeth” .
  • “You always have spinach in your teeth.”
  • “You never consider your appearance out in public and it’s embarrassing.”
  • Or they might whisper to the person next to them about the spinach and look over at you with a negative expression. – but they never say it to you.

When you receive feedback you may have an emotion come up, but before you react or respond to that emotion I want you to pause.  Really hear it.  Find empathy and get curious.  Before you address it further, get yourself to a place of calm and curiosity in your mind. The key?  Say thank you and: 


Whether the statement is positive or not, say “thank you for telling me” and then pause and really consider what you heard.  Step out of defensiveness and really hear it.  What exactly was said or not said?  Take a few moments to breathe and while you are in the pause, bring empathy to yourself and the other person.  What is their perspective?  What may be going on for them?   Pause for as long as you need to so that you can approach the next steps calmly and with respect for the other person and for yourself.

Once you are calm and open for more, I recommend you apply the same guidelines I shared last week to dive deeper.  

Fact, impact, ask, consequences, follow-up.

Go ahead and ask the other person some questions.

Facts:  Not everyone knows to keep it to the facts first.  So consider what they said and ask yourself what the facts are of the situation.  Are the facts unclear?  It’s ok to ask followup questions.  “I wanted to ask a little more about what you said.  Can you tell me when you saw the spinach in my teeth and where it was?”.   Ask as many clarifying questions as you need to so that you can be clear about the factual circumstances.  “Can you help me with a specific example of when this happened?”

Impact:  From what they said can you see how the facts have impacted them?  Could it also have an impact on others?  If needed you can ask for more information.  “Can you tell me how this impacted you and others?”. Try to really understand their perspective objectively, and most importantly do so without judgment.

The Ask:. When you are clear about the facts and the impact they had on the other person, next you want to try to find out what they would like you to do about it.  If that wasn’t clear at first you will want to ask more questions.  “Can I ask you? When this situation comes up again what would you like for me to do instead?”. Or “What would you like me to do to improve this situation”?

Consequences: In some cases the person giving you feedback may have consequences if you don’t take the actions you have clarified with them.  Are those clear to you?  If not then you will want to ask about those too.  Again, if you are calm and respectful while asking them you are more likely to get the information you need.  “If I’m not able to do what you are asking, what will happen next?”  Understanding the consequences helps you to decide whether taking teh actions is something you are willing to do or not.  (Yes, taking the action or not taking it is totally up to you.)

Followup:  The final step is to make sure to follow up.  The next time the circumstances present themselves again, or after you have completed the requested action, then go back to the person and ask how it went.  “Have you seen improvement?”  or “ Is there anything else you would like to see me do?” 

If you follow these guidelines you will have the tools you need to get more information when someone shares feedback and that will empower you to decide how to respond to it.  

As another example, If your boss tells you that they feel you are disorganized, you will have the tools you need to clarify exactly what they mean.  You will know what they want you to do, and the consequences if you don’t.  When you have that information, you’ll be able to make effective decisions related to what you want to do about it.  You don’t have to take the actions, and you’ll know what will happen if you don’t.  That is empowering.  

This article did focus a bit on constructive (i.e. negative) feedback, but you can apply these concepts to positive feedback as well.  Often positive feedback is too ambiguous such as “That was great!” and “Nice work.”.  It can be worth it to dig a little deeper and ask for more specifics.  What specifically was great about it?  What was the impact and what actions should be kept?  What are the consequences or results of the actions and how can we followup to ensure we continue to keep great or get even better.   See what I mean?

So In summary

1. Receiving feedback well is a skill that can be learned.

2. The most effective approach to both giving and receiving feedback is with calm, empathy and respect, and you can do this even if the other person isn’t calm, empathetic or respectful. 

3. You can use the same guidelines for giving feedback and receiving feedback.  Those guidelines are:  Fact, impact, ask, consequence, followup.

The quality of the feedback makes a difference. There is value in every statement, no matter how it’s shared.

That skill of finding the value can be learned. The feedback giver may need a little help from you to get there.

The last thing I will share is that I want you to remember that you always have choices.  Try not to treat feedback as a personal attack, but instead an opportunity to improve communication and collaboration. By learning how to give and receive feedback effectively, you’ll be able to create better work relationships and improve your productivity.  You can also remember that just because someone gave  you feedback and has a specific ask – it’s your choice what to do with it.  Try to fully understand the consequences before you make your decision, but know that the response is 100% up to you.

Be well my friends.

Inspired Leader LLC – I offer life and career coaching.
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