Two colleagues talking

The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback

Written by Carol Bowser


Let’s be real for a moment. Feedback—giving it, receiving it—nobody really loves the process. In an ideal world, feedback would always be glowing praise, but more often than not, it feels like criticism.

Even when we intend to provide constructive feedback, we might think, “I’ll do it later,” and it never gets done. But, this process is critical. And yes, it’s a skill—a skill that can be learned and refined to ensure you come across as calm, confident, and fair, both when giving and receiving feedback, even if you don’t always agree with it.

Why Feedback Matters

Feedback is a fundamental skill, one that everyone is expected to have. Most of us think we do it well, but there’s always room for improvement. It’s certainly an area ripe for new insights and tools. One resource that stands out is the book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. The subtitle alone sold me: “Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood.” Now, doesn’t that just resonate?

Learning to Receive Feedback

One of the key insights from Stone and Heen’s book is the importance of receiving feedback well. It’s not just about giving it effectively; it’s also about how we take it in. This often-overlooked aspect of feedback can transform how we learn and grow. My high school English teacher, Mr. Poe, always emphasized reading with a pen in hand to truly understand an author’s intent. I apply the same principle to understanding feedback, underlining and circling key points, reading them multiple times to grasp the essence.

Stone and Heen stress that receiving feedback well involves engaging in the conversation skillfully and making thoughtful decisions about how to use the information. It’s about managing emotional triggers and being open to new perspectives. They highlight a crucial point: living or working with someone who shuts out feedback or responds defensively is exhausting. This toxic emotional climate can lead to disengagement and frustration, undermining team morale and productivity.

Engaging with Feedback Thoughtfully

Receiving feedback well means being able to step back, manage our emotional responses, and approach the feedback with curiosity. This mindset shift can open up new ways of understanding ourselves and our work. It’s not just about accepting criticism; it’s about seeing feedback as a tool for learning and improvement. For instance, my husband would probably tell you I’m not always the best at taking feedback. (It’s something I continually practice 😁)

Creating a Positive Feedback Culture

A positive feedback culture is essential for any team or relationship. This means fostering an environment where feedback is not only given but also received constructively. Authors Stone and Heen suggest that the way we handle feedback can influence our professional and personal relationships. When feedback is delivered with fairness, compassion, and insight, it helps build trust and respect. Similarly, being receptive to feedback, even when it feels off base or poorly delivered, can enhance our flexibility and resilience.

Enhancing Feedback Skills

Improving our feedback skills involves both giving and receiving feedback effectively, so here are some practical tips:

  1. Be Specific and Constructive: When giving feedback, focus on specific behaviors and provide constructive suggestions for improvement. Avoid vague or generalized comments.
  2. Stay Calm and Objective: Approach feedback with a calm and objective mindset. This helps in delivering feedback without letting emotions cloud your judgment.
  3. Practice Active Listening: When receiving feedback, listen actively without interrupting. Acknowledge the feedback and ask clarifying questions if needed.
  4. Reflect Before Responding: Take time to reflect on the feedback before responding. This helps in managing emotional triggers and responding thoughtfully.
  5. Seek Continuous Improvement: View feedback as an ongoing process of learning and improvement. Regularly seek feedback from others and use it to enhance your skills and performance.

Embracing Feedback for Growth

Feedback, both giving and receiving, is a critical skill that requires continuous practice and refinement. By approaching feedback with an open mind and a willingness to learn, we can enhance our personal and professional growth.

So, here’s to embracing feedback in all its forms, and using it as a tool to build better relationships and achieve greater success.