As a leader or business owner, one of the most important things you can do to improve is to be open and receptive when it’s time to accept constructive feedback. On top of that, understanding the mindset and skills it takes to be effective at receiving feedback will also help you coach your team in this critical skill.
But for many, a typical reaction is to be blinkered and only see one side of feedback – delivering it to others, whether it’s positive feedback or critical feedback. So if the idea of receiving constructive criticism makes you feel uncomfortable – or even somewhat attacked – you’re not alone.
I think it’s important to note that many times we intellectually ‘get’ that feedback is necessary. But in the moments we’re actually receiving it we often (me included) respond with resistance. That might be experienced as internal resistance or active external resistance – rebuttal or defensiveness.
The reality is, being great at receiving actionable advice is just as important as being great at giving it.
So, in this article, I’m going to cover how you can learn to accept constructive or negative feedback gracefully, without feeling defensive and use it to fuel your growth process as a leader.
Plus, watch out for a follow-up ‘Level 2’ on how to create a deliberate and regular practice to actively seek out feedback in a later article.
The Benefits Of Accepting Constructive Criticism
The best way to learn how to accept constructive feedback without feeling defensive is to understand that everyone needs it in order to grow and improve – even you.
Being able to accept and integrate honest feedback from others helps us with personal development, relationship building, it increases our knowledge and improves how we do things in the workplace. And let’s be honest – it’s a fundamental life skill.
Feedback gives us a window into understanding how our behaviours and actions impact others.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you become skilled at accepting constructive criticism as helpful feedback, you will …
- Become better at what you do
- Make changes that can have a positive impact on business results
- Increase your own self-awareness which, in turn, makes you more confident
- Earn the trust of your colleagues and employees because they know they can approach you with issues or concerns
- Get better at working with your team
- Become more effective at understanding the needs of each of your team members
So, now that you know some of the many benefits of feedback, how do you go about practising this skill?
How To Accept Constructive Feedback With A Growth Mindset
Before accepting any kind of feedback, it’s important you approach it with a growth mindset.
You can achieve this by asking yourself how you would treat feedback if you had no preconceived notions about how good or how bad it is?
When you have a fixed mindset, you are unlikely to integrate any critique you may receive because your view of the world is that everything is how it’s meant to be – there’s no way it can change.
But when you have a growth mindset, how you think about feedback changes. Because you know that everything is malleable and with the right guidance, learning, and effort, we can improve how we do things or how we are perceived by others.
This makes us more inclined to be open to any kind of constructive feedback and assess what is useful so we can improve. It also makes our initial reaction much more favourable.
We become more receptive to the opportunities the feedback holds, which in turn shows up as a more positive initial reaction to others. All of this creates a trust loop where the person giving the feedback feels more open in providing you with feedback.
Before receiving feedback, try practising simple belief statements that can help create the right growth mindset to accept it:
- I can always find a way to consistently improve
- I am committed to growth and consistent improvement, and feedback provides me with important information for my development
- Feedback provides me with an opportunity to grow
- I’m receiving this feedback because they want me to improve and be a part of the team
- If I want to improve, feedback provides external perspectives I can leverage
Tips To Not Be Defensive When Receiving Feedback
When we are criticized about how we do things or how we behave, it can feel like a personal attack even if that isn’t the intention. It’s easy to feel defensive.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to hear criticism. Nobody wants to hear seemingly negative things about themselves – especially if they might be accurate.
But even if you think there’s no way what they are saying is true, listen anyway. Because being able to accept negative feedback means you can make positive changes and translate that into changes in your behaviour and you actions to help you find new levels of performance.
The bottom line is that learning how to be open to feedback that feels negative without getting defensive is necessary in order to continually improve as a leader within the workplace.
To help you develop this crucial skill, here are some tips to accept constructive criticism without getting defensive.
Use deep active listening skills and give the conversation your full attention without making any assumptions about the giver’s intentions. Focus on absorbing what is being said rather than waiting for your turn to make a rebuttal.
You might be tempted to just listen, say thank you, and go on about your day. But if you can be truly open to what you are hearing and ask questions to help you understand more deeply the criticism, you are more likely to fully digest it and put it to positive use. Saying “Tell me more about that” is a great way to open up the feedback to understand the other person’s perception and feedback.
As human beings, we interpret things in different ways and we tend to delete information. For example, I might receive some feedback about being more assertive. But what does assertive actually mean to the person giving me feedback and in what context?
So asking them to define what assertive might look like with questions such as, “And to give me a little more information about being more assertive Brian, could you describe what would you see me doing or hear me saying that would demonstrate being more assertive?”
I can’t tell you how many times the interpretation of feedback is not what was originally intended.
Most of us are not that great at remembering everything we’ve heard – especially when what we’re hearing makes us uncomfortable. This is also an important note to remember when you’re the one giving feedback.
People can get flooded by emotions and then thoughts created by the feedback they receive. When this happens, their comprehension and retention of the feedback are reduced for the rest of the session.
We’ve all been there where we’ve received some negative feedback and then all you hear in your head is your own critic or a defensive voice listing all the reasons the other person is wrong.
So when you’re receiving feedback, make sure you can remember and respond to the feedback you receive. Don’t be afraid to take notes.
And if you’re giving feedback – don’t overload the receiver with too much information. Choose one area to focus on and ask them if they want to take notes, allowing them to digest and revisit the feedback with you.
Be aware of your mindset and emotional state
Remind yourself that feedback is not a reason to get upset. Remember that it’s an opportunity to help you improve performance and get better at what you do.
Consider the other person’s point of view
If receiving critical feedback feels awkward for you, it’s likely the same for the other person, too.
Being mindful that the conversation is uncomfortable for both of you can help reduce your own feelings of defensiveness.
How To Take Constructive Feedback On Board To Improve
Constructive criticism can seem scary. But it’s how you respond that’s truly important.
If you can, remain open to what you hear and view the critical feedback as something to help you improve. When you do, you are more likely to achieve your goals and improve your performance as a leader for your team or business.
I find that being conscious of and watching your response as you receive feedback can help you regulate your emotions. That may mean being conscious of your breathing rate or perhaps your facial expressions.
But how do you actually go about ‘taking on’ constructive feedback? There are lots of different frameworks out there but try this simple six-step process:
Step 1: Let it sit and allow reflection time
Never respond to feedback right after you receive it. It’s easy to say how wrong the other person is and how they just don’t get you, or the situation, or how their suggestions won’t work for whatever reason.
But this does nothing to help you grow and improve. So take some time before you respond – even if that means waiting a day or two. Give yourself ample time to absorb what you’ve heard and to determine how you feel about it.
I find that journaling about your thoughts and feelings about the feedback is incredibly useful. It helps to unpack some of the internal resistance we might have and uncover beliefs about the feedback we might not have been aware of. You can begin with your initial thoughts and feelings and then transition into ‘what might be true within this feedback that I have not been aware of?’.
Step 2: Ask how you can improve
A great way to truly take on feedback is to ask how you can use it to become better at what you do. The feedback giver usually has observed some behaviours or actions from you and has interpreted that in a certain way in the context of your role, the project/task, or the business.
Often they have some advice on a different approach. If the person giving you feedback has ideas about how they think you can improve, consider how they came up with that idea and how it might be helpful for you to set a goal or make a plan.
Step 3: Thank them for their time
Even if you don’t agree with how they see things, thank the other person for taking the time to give you feedback. They took the time to provide you with valuable insight, so it’s important to acknowledge that and thank them for their time.
Step 4: Decide if you agree or don’t agree with what was said
If you don’t agree with how the person sees things, that’s fine. You don’t have to change how you approach your responsibilities or how you work if you believe it truly works for you and is creating the impact, performance and results for you, your team or the organisation.
But – consider if there are any valid points within the feedback. Think about how those things could help improve how you do what you do.
Step 5: Determine what changes you may need to make
If the other person pointed out ways you can improve, how can you implement these insights going forward? What changes will it take for you to be a better version of yourself?
Identify the potential obstacles you might encounter as you begin to make these changes. Behavioural change is challenging. So being cognisant of the patterns or structures that created the behaviour in the first place is important when are ready to change it.
Step 6: Create an action plan for yourself to move forward
Create a plan for how you can take this actionable feedback and truly make it work for you. With a plan in place, you can set goals and start to adjust how you approach your responsibilities and tasks to put these insights into action.
It’s also important to define how you will measure the changes going forward. Without measures and reflection, it’s difficult to know whether those changes are truly being experienced by those we work with or for.
For example, if the feedback was about running more effective meetings, you might define what running a successful meeting looks like with the key inputs and outputs and how it is run.
You can then share that with the person who gave you the feedback and ask them to attend the next few meetings to assess how well you implement these changes. If necessary, schedule a follow-up meeting to further explore these insights.
Accepting Constructive Feedback For Growth
Receiving constructive criticism can be challenging, but the key to success is to remember that it’s how we achieve professional and personal growth and improve how we do things.
Almost always, feedback of any kind is ultimately intended to inspire a positive change and outcome.
So, if you can keep a growth mindset, take notes, and ask how you can improve – you’ll be able to put the feedback to good use. Thank the person who gave you the feedback and determine if there are any changes you need to make in order to better yourself.
With a plan in place, you can start making positive changes today.
Download my free eBook for more on both receiving and giving constructive feedback, including helpful frameworks and worksheets.