The Other Half of a Feedback Culture: Tips for RECEIVING Feedback Well

It seems like 'feedback' is a hot topic right now since as soon as we had sent off last month's newsletter notification of a brand new book arrived - Thanks for the Feedback: The Art and Science of Receiving Feedback Well (Heen & Stone, 2014). In fact that book is yet to be released (March 4) but an article by the authors, based on the book, appeared in Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review and it makes several important points about this often neglected half of the feedback conversation. A particular quote highlighted this:

"…improving the skills of the feedback giver won't accomplish much if the receiver isn't able to absorb what is said. It is the receiver who controls whether feedback is let in or kept out, who has to make sense of what he or she is hearing, and who decides whether or not to change."1

So much of our time it seems has been given towards helping leaders (and others) deliver feedback better and yet as this quote highlights ultimately the power to decide whether to act on any feedback remains with the receiver.

How then can we help build a culture that enables people to welcome feedback, discern its value and respond in constructive ways?

Some key points related to this were highlighted:

  • Be Aware of Your Response to Feedback tendencies
    Since feedback always comes as a bit of challenge we have often developed ways in which we tend to respond... defensively? Open to it outwardly but resistant inwardly? Initially wounded but over time more reflective about its value?

    Becoming aware of your 'response-to-feedback' patterns and making different, constructive choices about what to do with feedback is a helpful first step in receiving feedback well.

  • Bring a Future Focus Orientation
    A lot of feedback can be about things that have happened in the past – that by definition cannot be changed. People skilled in delivering feedback well will bring a 'feed forward' orientation to the way that feedback is presented; a focus on how it might be different in the future.

    Not everyone who gives feedback will do this but you can do it yourself by asking… 'How can this feedback contribute to doing this better next time?' In fact you might even ask for more information about what's wanted differently next time, from the feedback giver instead of concentrating any feedback conversation on the past.

  • Ask for One Thing
    Rather than just wait for feedback from others in formal reviews become an 'inviter' of feedback. Asking for feedback in this way influences the way others see you: it sends a message of humility, respect, desire for improvement. For these reasons when as a leader you might be looking to build a feedback culture it is important that leaders do this first.

    And when you do invite feedback it is much more helpful to ask 'What's one thing I might do differently in relation to…..? Rather than 'Do you have any feedback for me?' Specific and focused feedback works better than the broad and general variety.

  • Start Small Step Experiments
    In responding to feedback starting small and on lower-profile areas can be a good way to test out new behaviours and approaches. Low risk and high potential benefit steps are ideal but not always possible. In general, though small, experimental steps are best as they are easier to implement, can be modified more easily and they can often have a surprisingly big impact as well.

The article concludes….

"…you are the most important factor in your own development. If you're determined to learn from whatever feedback you get, no one can stop you." 1

Building a coaching approach into the way feedback is processed is one key way to help build constructive approaches to both giving and receiving feedback.

What might be some small steps you can take this month to start doing that?


  • 1Heen, S & Stone, D.(2014) Finding the Coaching in Criticism. Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb. pp.108-111.