Effectively receiving and being open for Feedback

Some time ago we published an article  on giving good feedback and motivating your employees. However, feedback sessions being valuable is not solely up to the one giving feedback. The more open the receiver is and the more actively he listens and uses the received feedback, the more effective retrospectives are in the long term.

Psychologists discovered that feedback is often perceived as criticism which threatens our basic need to feel safe and therefore, psychologically spoken, represents an actual threat to our survival. That is why it is so hard to receive feedback. An open and psychologically safe environment can facilitate employees to feel comfortable enough to accept feedback. We are not going into detail on how to create such an environment. We rather assume people envision their way of thinking, actively loosen up and try to avoid defensive mechanisms. If people are open for feedback – How do they receive feedback in a good and constructive manner?


Accepting the truth

Researchers (e.g. Charles Jacobs) found that when people are getting feedback they tend to alter the truth if it conflicts with their perceived self-image. Accepting feedback which requires to change yourself is hard. Psychologists found we rather change the perceived information than our behaviour or actions. However, if the value of feedback is understood, a “good receiver” not only acknowledges that retrospectives possess value in itself, but also that said criticism rather offers opportunity for improvements than being an attack on one’s personality.

Receiving feedback well does mean acknowledging that it is not meant to hurt you or your character, but rather to accept it for what it is meant to be: An opportunity to learn and develop.

Active listening can enhance the learning process and increase your feedback’s value. There are diverse techniques on how to listen effectively and understand what your conversational partner is telling you. Appreciative inquiry is one of them. Please feel free to check out our respective article for more details.

Anyhow if you need time to reflect, don’t be afraid to say so. To actively listen is one thing, but the other is to actually reflect and think about what you just heard. If you need time to do so, tell the other person and set time apart for another retrospective.


Be open to different views

That also means that we are open to other people’s opinions. If somebody perceives our actions as mistaken and our behaviour as misplaced, we should explore their underlying argumentation and reasons since there might be some truth about it. And even if they base their feedback on non-rational arguments, a good feedback receiver tries to understand the emotions connected to their statement.

Of course, feedback should be neutral, and fact based, but in reality, it not always is. However, that does not mean it is useless – non-rational feedback can offer interesting insights into someone else’s thinking.

Being open to another person’s point of view can create great value in itself and help developing a more productive team. When team members get a deeper understanding of each other’s emotions the whole team can become more cohesive and supportive as a group.


Do not perceive feedback as punishment

Due to a natural negativity bias negative feedback will be remembered more often. Hence, receiving negative feedback does always stick to our memory more easily than positive feedback and this makes us feel bad.

If you want to make use of feedback, try to view feedback as a valuable way to grow. Even if you feel like receiving way more negative feedback (which might be only the perceived truth) try to use it for yourself to enhance personal growth and boost your performance.

That does not mean that the criticism might not be adequate and true. Accept the fact that humans make mistakes and guess what – you are human. Making mistakes is normal and totally fine, and by the way: it is healthy for your development! Only via try, fail and learn growth is possible.

So, if you are perceiving to get a lot of ‘negative’ feedback don’t feel like being punished but rather be open and use it to become a better version of yourself.


Ask for Feedback often

A good start to overcome our natural negativity bias is simply to get used to receiving feedback by asking for it oftentimes. Begin with those people you trust and can easily communicate with. Ask them for feedback. Maybe you can even identify a mentor you feel safe with and who can help you through the process.

If you still feel uncomfortable you might want to prepare for a feedback session by formulating some questions which you’ll ask your peers and thereby actively guide the meeting. This can help you getting familiar with feedback and you can let go of the guiding questions over time when you have opened up for more thorough feedback.

Here are some examples for questions to be asked:

  1. How could I facilitate the success of our project?
  2. How could I help you get your work done more effectively?
  3. What can I do to further support our team?
  4. Do you have an idea on how to more easily time manage my commitments?
  5. If you were me, how would you handle task X (or: would you handle task X differently)?
  6. Who do you think should I consult regarding decision X?
  7. What would you prioritize as number one if you had my job?


Summarized it is all about your attitude towards feedback. Many of us already know its value, but in the heat of the battle forget about it.

A first step-by-step approach for you getting comfortable about receiving feedback could look like:


  1. Prepare yourself for feedback

Formulate questions or just emotionally calm yourself before a retrospective.


  1. Stay neutral while receiving.

In the beginning you don’t have to push yourself towards cheering for feedback. Just try to stay neutral first to avoid negative feelings.


  1. Bear in mind that feedback actually is a good thing.


  1. Actively listen to your conversational partner (the earlier in the conversation the better).


  1. Be open to the other person’s view and take it into consideration.

Even if it is your peer and you feel uncomfortable being ‘judged by your mate’ – if you really want to grow, who better to help you learn than somebody working with you every day?


  1. Stay calm.

Don’t let yourself get emotional during the talk. If you feel uncomfortable and you can’t take it anymore let the other person know about this.


  1. Ask for examples.

If you think a comment is not justified, ask your opposite party for examples and recommended ways for improvement.


  1. Take your time to reflect.

Growth is a step by step process. As said earlier: if you feel like you got enough feedback to process, take a moment to actively reflect on it and set a new date for another feedback session if necessary.


  1. Be grateful.

Even if you needed to end the session early, be thankful for the other persons’ time and insights. They don’t mean to hurt you but want to help each other grow and improve as a team.


  1. When reflecting accept yourself, failure and other’s way of thinking.

Neither beat yourself up (ugh, I’m such a looser) nor argue against any mistake done (The other one must have misinterpreted my doing!). Do not blame it onto others. Learn from it.


We hope this helps to start receiving feedback more effectively. Try to find your way of accepting and learning from feedback. Try, fail and learn – don’t be afraid to open up and face your mistakes! They were made for you to get even better! Or as psychologist Karrisa Thacker said: “Continual experimentation is the new normal” 😉

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