Feedback: Take It or Leave It, but Don’t Defend Yourself Against It

April 1, 2015

It was my first performance review in my first professional job—and I was nervous. My manager sat down with me in a tiny conference room to review the 360-degree feedback I had received from my co-workers. Most of the feedback, in fact almost all of it, was positive, even the so-called “opportunity areas.”

But there was one review that was not positive. I knew who had submitted it and exactly why he had made those comments—and felt it was massively unfair. I tried to explain to my boss what had really happened and why the feedback was unreasonable, but she stopped me and said, “Feedback is a gift. Receive it as such and then you can decide what you want to do with it.”

I found it to be an incredibly empowering thought—people may give you all kinds of feedback, but it’s up to you how, or even if, to act on it. Feedback takes time, thought and often comes from a place of genuine helpfulness, so it probably shouldn’t be completely ignored. But not every person giving commentary has the right motivations, the appropriate expertise or even the personality or style to give useful feedback. Knowing that, you can listen to all feedback cordially, thank the giver and avoid being defensive.

No matter what role I’ve been in—direct report, manager, external consultant, mentor or mentee— I’ve found the ability to receive and act on feedback appropriately has been fundamentally important to my success. It is a mark of emotional maturity and professional confidence to be able to accept critiques graciously.

A perfectly acceptable response to someone else’s input can be a sincere, “Thank you for that feedback.” You don’t have to explain or defend yourself, but if you find value in the feedback, be sure to let the giver know.

And if you really want to impress them, let them know what specific actions you are going to take in the future based on that feedback. If you’ve really thought about it and do not find the feedback to be helpful, feel free to just leave it with a simple thank you to acknowledge that you heard and understood the comment.

I have personally found a delayed response to feedback to be a valuable approach. There have been times when I have received feedback and my immediate reaction was to want to justify or explain myself.  But, by just accepting the gift and thinking about it more later, I’ve been able to pull out valuable pieces of input to apply to my work or approach. An instant response can be an emotional one and taking time to think about it may lead to a more rational evaluation.

When someone gives you a critique, consider it; evaluate whether it is true, whether it is applicable and how—or if—you should act on it moving forward. You always have the option to ignore the feedback (if you’re willing to accept the consequences), but don’t reject the gift.

Not getting any feedback at work? Check out 3 ways to harness the innate power of self-assessment. 

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