Give and You Shall Receive, or Will You? The Art of Receiving Feedback

Famous author Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” but the value of feedback is only realized if the person on the receiving end truly acknowledges what is shared. Often, business and HR leaders focus heavily on the ways in which they can effectively provide feedback to others, which is certainly an important component of performance development. However, the second part of the equation – the ability to effectively receive that feedback – is very often overlooked.

Arguably, the ability to take feedback to heart is even more difficult than the art of delivering it. Why? Because inherent in receiving feedback are several “personal” triggers that can influence how each of us perceives feedback, particularly in the workplace. And, many of us are triggered to ignore, become defensive or even anger at the hint of criticism or constructive feedback due to the way in which the person communicates or behaves when providing the feedback. 

Avoid Feedback Triggers by Knowing Your Communication Style

As is the case with many areas of performance development, the first step in improving your ability to receive feedback is to be self-aware. Each of us has different preferences in the way we communicate, and are communicated to, and knowing what those are can help derail feedback failures. 

In order to see feedback as it is – a gift that can allow you to see through your own blind spots.

For example, you may determine that your communication style is more informal, casual and social. Meanwhile, your boss may be more direct, blunt and business like. Understanding that his or her communications style is as such, you can expect their feedback to be more of a serious tone, they may be blunt (but they aren’t trying to be rude), and the way in which they provide feedback will be much more formal. More and more organizations are turning to talent assessments and team coaching to help employees improve both ends of the equation – giving and receiving feedback. This data-based, objective insight into the behavioral and communication style of your subordinates, managers and co-workers – and yourself – opens the door to better feedback programs and performance.  or better see how your behavior impacts others – gain a clearer understanding of your own communication style and that of others. 

Knowing this, you can prepare yourself to receive this feedback more effectively and openly by remaining business-like yourself, asking more questions to get at specifics or examples and remembering to separate the message from the messenger – and the way in which they deliver that message. 

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Know What Triggers You

Once you are more aware of how communication styles can influence the way in which you receive feedback, it’s also important to know what may impede your ability to truly take it all in. According to Shiela Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback, there are three common ways in which we can be “triggered” when receiving feedback:

  • Truth triggers are set off by the content of the feedback. When feedback may seem off base, unhelpful or simply untrue, we feel indignant, wronged and exasperated. 
  • Relationship triggers are tripped by the person providing the feedback. Exchanges are often colored by what you believe about the giver and how you feel about your previous interactions. So, we reject coaching that we might accept on its merits if it came from someone else. 
  • Identity triggers are all about your relationship with yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, it can be devastating if it causes your sense of who you are to come undone. In such moments, we struggle with feeling overwhelmed, defensive or off balance. 

Get Better at Being on the Receiving End

Remember, feedback is essential in any workplace. Employees desire it, managers need it and organizations must have it in order to grow their leadership pipeline. Taking a good, objective look at your current feedback culture and practices can help in addressing pitfalls and moving the dial on employee performance, engagement and satisfaction. 


If you’re looking to improve feedback and performance, learn more about XBInsight’s talent and development assessments and solutions.