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Receiving feedback

4 May, 2016 - 17:12

While giving feedback is extremely important, receiving feedback and changing one’s characteristics to reflect that feedback is just as important. Often, employees become defensive when they are receiving feedback on their performance. Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager states, “[t]he reason a lot of people get defensive with feedback is they don’t distinguish feedback from reaction. While they are listening to the feedback, they have a reaction to the demand for action that your feedback implies” (Blanchard, 1996). For example, when a boss is telling an employee the aspects of the job the employee needs to work on, he may only focus on the negative points and not the positive.

Receiving feedback should not only be looked at from a downward point of view, such as a boss giving his employees critiques; but it should also be studied in an upward way. According to Richard Reilly, James Smither, and Nicholas Vasilopoulos, authors of A Longitudinal Study of Upward Feedback, “upward feedback (that is, subordinates rating the performance of their immediate supervisor) is growing in importance as a tool for the individual and organizational development” (1996). Upward feedback allows management to see the effects they have on their employees. It is then up to the managers to act on that feedback. Atwater, Roush and Fischthal found that “follower ratings of student leaders improved after feedback was given to leaders and that leaders receiving ’negative’ feedback (defined as self-ratings that were considerably higher than follower ratings) improved the most” (The Influence of Upward Feedback on Self and Follower Ratings of Leadership, 1995). This shows that there is a bigger reaction when the upward feedback is negative instead of positive.

In order to effectively receive feedback, a person has to be ready to understand that they may hear critiques that they do not want to hear. Jan B. King, the former President and CEO of Merritt Publishing states that an individual is ready to receive feedback when he:

  • wants to know him as others see him and he is clear that this is their perception, net necessarily what is true about you inside.
  • trusts his co-workers to care enough about his development to risk hearing their opinion.
  • has a place outside work where you can talk it through.
  • has opportunities for additional feedback so he gets validation of the changes he has made (Receiving Feedback Gracefully is a Critical Career Skill).

If an individual is not ready to constructively receive feedback, then the feedback he does receive will not be effective. King continues to state that individuals must remember this about feedback, “it is one opinion coming from another individual’s unique perspective” (Receiving Feedback Gracefully is a Critical Career Skill). Just because one person views another individual in a particular way does not mean that the rest of world views that person in the same way, but it is a good way for an individual to find out what others think of him/her that is not known.

There are several tips that an individual can use when receiving feedback. These tips include:

  • Try to show your appreciation to the person providing the feedback. They will feel encouraged and believe it or not, you do want to encourage feedback.
  • Even your manager or supervisor finds providing feedback scary. They never know how the person receiving feedback is going to react.
  • If you find yourself becoming defensive or hostile, practice stress management techniques such as taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
  • Focusing on understanding the feedback by questioning and restating usually defuses any feelings you have of hostility or anger.
  • If you really disagree, are angry or upset, and want to dissuade the other person of their opinion, wait until your emotions are under control to reopen the discussion (Heathfield, How to Receive Feedback with Grace and Dignity).

These tips are helpful in becoming a better receiver for feedback, but they will only work as long as they are practiced on a regular basis.

With the above facts and figures workers can see that giving and receiving feedback does not have to be scary. As long as people give and receive feedback in a constructive way and practice their feedback skills it will eventually become second nature to the employees. It will also show that feedback provides benefits for both the individuals that work for the company, and the company itself.

For further investigation:

For information on Ken Blanchard, his Book One Minute Manager, and various facts on feedback visit:

For more information on the findings of “A longitudinal study of upward feedback” visit:

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Click on this link to find an exercise to practice effective ways to receive feedback: