Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
It’s performance appraisal season, and that means many of us will soon be getting essential feedback. While much advice exists about how to give tough feedback, there seems to be less instruction on how to receive it. Yet receiving critical feedback gracefully (then figuring out how to learn from it or apply it) is a hallmark of successful professionals.
Relationships flourish and thrive when participants can both deliver and accept critical feedback, so this is a crucial skill to develop. Receiving tough feedback well isn’t just about “taking it,” either. Successful professionals carefully navigate these conversations with poise and master these moments. Here’s how I’ve seen them do it.
1. Start by recognizing that feedback is a gift and express gratitude
Many of us have had a boss who gave us little (or no) feedback. If we’re getting any feedback, even negative feedback, we’re already better off than those who get none. It takes time and can be hard work for others to give us feedback, so if we’re receiving it, there’s a good chance the feedback provider cares about us and wants to help us develop and grow.
Giving critical feedback can be uncomfortable; many people worry about how it will be received. So, take time to say “thank you” and express how much you appreciate the candor and honesty. This ensures your audience will give you feedback again and that means you’ll always know where you stand with them. As tough as it might be to hear negative things about yourself, you can’t grow or evolve without that kind of information, so remember that being able to absorb this kind of information sets you up for future success.
2. Ask for more information
We must understand the feedback we’re getting. If you’re being coached on some aspect of your behavior, it’s helpful to get specific examples of it, because then you’ll know exactly what to change. You can ask for more information in an inviting and friendly way. You can start by saying that your goal is to grow and develop, so you’d like to learn more about your behavior and how it comes across to others.
Having specific examples allows you to think back on the moments in question and make self-discoveries. Perhaps you were viewed as curt or rude on a day you fought with your spouse before coming to work. Perhaps you were viewed as short or abrupt in a meeting that coincided with a major deadline on another project. Getting specific details allows you to make sense of the feedback as you digest it. Perhaps you’ve got blind spots, but it’s also possible others are missing information, too.
3. Sit on it
Oftentimes, the decisions we regret most are the ones we make in the heat of the moment. Almost always, we choose better when we allow ourselves some space to think about how we want to respond. Before you jump to conclusions and decide the feedback you’ve received is unfair, take some time to process what you heard. Ask yourself: “Is it possible there’s any truth to this?”
Also, recognize that people are allowed to interpret and experience you differently than you experience yourself. Sort through what parts of the feedback, if any, really do feel unfair to you and what parts could be valid. Expect and understand that new and unexpected feedback can sometimes hurt. Remember it’s okay to feel hurt by someone else’s words.
As part of your reflection, consider the source and intent behind the feedback. If you decide the feedback is coming from someone who routinely mistreats, disrespects or verbally abuses you, you’ll probably decide to ignore it or pull back from the relationship. But, if you feel that the feedback came from someone who has your best interests at heart and cares for you, it might be worthwhile to pause and absorb it, even when it stings. If the feedback is coming from your boss, remember that their wisdom and years of experience might put them in a position to see things you can’t yet (but will someday).
4. Prepare for a follow-up conversation
Once you’ve had time to process your initial reactions, it can make sense to go back and continue the conversation, especially if this is a relationship you want to continue (or must continue) and you feel confused or misunderstood. Perhaps you feel portions of the feedback are incorrect or unfair. Getting a chance to say so (respectfully) will give you psychological oxygen. You can start by saying, “I’ve spent some time thinking about what you said, and I hope it’s okay I share what my intentions were and/or what my perspective is now.”
It’s critical to be respectful and kind as you share what you’ve thought about the feedback and see things differently. Sharing that you wanted to speak up because it felt important to be honest and truthful about your viewpoints can help your audience not feel attacked or dismissed.
5. Come to an agreement on next steps
Especially if you see the feedback differently, you must work to come to an agreement on what should happen next. You might ask, “What would you like me to do differently so we’re not in this situation again?” or “What can I/we do to resolve this?” If you care about the relationship, others need to know that you value their opinions and are open to change. As part of this process, you might also have a few asks of your own. Perhaps you ask your friend to be more patient when you’re a few minutes late or ask your boss to give you more notice when assigning last-minute projects.
Getting critical feedback isn’t often fun, but if you practice these five steps, you’ll find it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience and you don’t need to walk away licking your wounds. If you remember that honest feedback makes you stronger, you might even begin to look forward to these conversations.