On a couple of occasions recently, I’ve been challenged to listen to feedback that I did not welcome. In one case, it was a long-term member of an organization in which I hold a volunteer leadership role. This person was upset about a number of issues, and was airing some long-held grievances.

In the second example, we got some feedback at work that something we’d done wasn’t particularly helpful. A colleague and I had to figure out how to respond, even though our first reaction was, “What could he possibly mean?!”

When an idea is hard to hear, that’s when we need to work the hardest to tune in. Yes, feedback is a gift. But if we are to be truthful, sometimes we don’t want it, or we want to “spin” it to minimize its impact and keep ourselves comfortable.

How can you respond productively when your first impulse is to dismiss it or get angry?

Just listen. Resist the urge to respond right away. Think of yourself as a sponge, absorbing the message without judgment.

Seek to understand. Again, without assessing its validity, seek to understand the issue from the other’s perspective. Ask questions with the intent of learning more and seeing the issue from another viewpoint.

See the whole picture. MindTool’s Feedback Matrix is a great tool to help you break down the feedback into what was expected/unexpected and positive/negative. While unexpected negative feedback can be difficult to process, recognize we’re all on a path of continuous improvement. So, there’s something you need to work on….that’s OK. Understand that the feedback is not an indictment of your overall performance. Keep perspective and respond appropriately.

Take a break. When you are caught off guard by feedback, sometimes it’s best to take some time before responding. Say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m trying to absorb what you’ve said. Can we get back together tomorrow?”

Consider the source. If your feedback is from someone whose intentions are not constructive, seek a second opinion from someone who can give you an unbiased evaluation. Don’t go to a friend who will match your indignation and help you feel better. You may find that the “spiteful critic’s” feedback really was a gift.

Most feedback contains at least a kernel of truth, even if you find the majority of it to be inaccurate or unfair. Make it your responsibility to find some value in the message and take action to improve.


Got some “ouchy” feedback and don’t know where to proceed? Contact Humanergy.

Photo from iStockphoto.