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How to Receive Feedback More Effectively

August 1, 2022

5 science-backed strategies to help you grow from feedback. KEY POINTS Know the type of feedback you want and ask for it clearly. Self-compassion will help you have less emotional reactivity to interpersonal feedback. Remember context: You don’t have to apply every piece of feedback you receive. When someone says, “Can I give you some […]

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Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

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5 science-backed strategies to help you grow from feedback.

KEY POINTS

  • Know the type of feedback you want and ask for it clearly.
  • Self-compassion will help you have less emotional reactivity to interpersonal feedback.
  • Remember context: You don’t have to apply every piece of feedback you receive.

When someone says, “Can I give you some feedback,” do you wince? Do you become defensive or run when feedback comes your way? If you’ve received harsh criticism or unskillful feedback in the past, it makes sense you wouldn’t be receptive to it. We all avoid uncomfortable things. Yet, when you experientially avoid feedback, you miss out on an opportunity to grow and learn.

We’ve all heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule popularized by his book Outliers—it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. But what if you practice 10,000 hours with no feedback?

For example…

  • What if you were a massage therapist for three years, but no one said anything about how it felt? Would you get better?
  • What if you were a therapist and, after a few sessions, clients said they were feeling better and left. How would you know what was helpful?
  • What if you were married to the same partner for 10 years and they never told you about what they like in bed? How good would your sex life be?

You need feedback to improve. More experience makes you a more experienced masseuse, therapist, or partner, but not necessarily a better one. The key ingredient in learning is corrective feedback about what is or isn’t working.

5 Steps to Receiving Feedback

Whether it’s your squat form or your cooking, there is always room for improvement. Here are some science-backed strategies to get better at receiving feedback so your practice leads to growth, not stagnation.

1. Know what you want and ask for it. When it comes to receiving feedback, are you looking for appreciation and accolades? Or do you want coaching on how to improve? In their book, Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe three types of feedback:

  • Appreciation
  • Coaching
  • Evaluation

If you are looking for ways to improve at something, but only get told, “You are doing a fantastic job,” you may be disappointed. At the same time, if you want appreciation for your hard work but are told, “Here’s what you could do better,” you might feel discouraged. Get clear on the type of feedback you want and communicate it. Tell your friend you are looking for more gratitude, and tell your boss when you need more coaching. Be clear and direct.

2. Choose a challenge mindset. When someone approaches you with feedback, it may activate your threat system. When you are in a new or uncertain situation, your amygdala detects threats and sends out neurochemicals to signal your body to be on alert. You may notice your heart rate increase as the body prepares for an unknown situation. However, it’s how you interpret these sensations (with higher cortical brain areas) that will impact your experience. If you interpret feedback as bad or dangerous, it likely will create a fear response (fight, flight, freeze), but if you see it as a challenge and remember feedback can help you grow, you can use the uncertainty as an opportunity. Next time you notice your body tensing with feedback, say to yourself, “I am here to learn and grow. This is what growing feels like!”

3. Slow down and take a note. Feedback is only effective if you fully download it. Get out of the commentary into your head to receive feedback. One way to do this is to pause and address the person, “Hold on, can I write down what you’re saying so I can make sure I’ve got it?” Take a note on your phone or piece of paper. This communicates you are listening and fully present. Then, reflect back what you are hearing and check to see if you interpreted their feedback correctly.

4. Remember context. You don’t have to apply every piece of feedback you receive. Feedback is as much about the person giving it to you as it is about you. For example, your mother’s feedback on your clothing style says a lot about her preferences and generation, and you may not choose to apply it. But you may choose to apply her feedback about your tone of voice when talking to her if it is harmful or harsh. Take in the bigger picture of who the feedback is coming from and the situation it is given in. Check your personal goals and take in the bigger picture before applying or rejecting feedback.

5. Practice self-compassion. We can feel vulnerable when we receive feedback from others. With self-compassion, we remind ourselves that our self-worth is not based on our performance or others’ opinions of us. If you notice vulnerability arising, try turning toward it with kindness and care and remind yourself that you have worth just by being human. Research shows that self-compassion will help you have less emotional reactivity to interpersonal feedback and can help you have less negativity in response to ambivalent feedback.

For more tips and examples of feedback, listen to my Your Life in Process Podcast with Dr. Abby Diel on How to Give and Receive Effective Feedback.

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