What do you do when someone gives you feedback you don’t like? When they criticise or disagree with your behaviour, actions, or words?

Do your hackles rise? Does your back straighten?

Is your immediate response to their offence, defence?

Do you shoot the messenger?

Very few people enjoy receiving negative or ‘constructive’ feedback. Even when you know the other person is right, it can still be tough to hear.

But being able to receive feedback is a vital skill for personal and professional success. It allows you to improve and develop, and is a sign of high emotional intelligence.

While receiving positive feedback is always welcomed, it’s usually the constructive words that are more valuable.

Here are my top six tips to help you receive feedback effectively:

1. Listen to understand, not to respond.

Very few of us truly listen when another person is talking. Instead, we half-listen to what the person is saying and use the rest of our brain to focus on formulating our response.

The result? We don’t really hear what the person is trying to tell us because we’re too busy focussed on our come-back.

Listen first to understand the other person’s point of view.

Really hear what they’re saying and where they’re coming from so you can decide whether the feedback is valid or not.

2. Drop the defence.

Most people give feedback with good intentions, so drop the immediate defensive response. Be open to hearing what the person has to say. Instead of viewing feedback as an attack, see it as an opportunity to learn, develop, and improve.

This can be tough, as many of us go straight to deny, blame or justify (the DBJs) when pushed outside our comfort zone or confronted with feedback we don’t like.

Fight against that response and instead be open to listening.

Note: This does not mean you have to agree with the feedback the other person gives you. In fact, be absolutely prepared to say you disagree and why. But be open to receiving the feedback in the first place.

3. Be curious.

Ask questions and be curious about how a person came to their point of view. If someone thinks you’re a jerk, ask them why. You need more information. What is it about your behaviour that made them come to that conclusion? Why do they think like that? Is their feedback grounded in fact and reality, or have they made assumptions about you?

4. Ask for specific examples.

Just like it’s important to give specific examples when delivering difficult feedback, it’s also important to ask for them when you’re the one receiving feedback.

If someone thinks you’re a jerk because you’re ‘always rude to other people’, ask them to give you a specific example of a time you’ve done this to demonstrate what they’re talking about.

This will help avoid confusion and ensure a shared understanding (even if you disagree) of what they’re referring to.

5. Put a pause between your reaction and your response.

If you get angry or upset when confronted with difficult feedback, when possible, ask for a break or more time rather than responding in the moment when your emotions may boil over and negatively impact what you say and how you say it.

Instead, say something like: “You’ve caught me a bit off guard. Can you leave that with me for half an hour (or a few minutes; whatever timeframe you need) so I can have a think about it and get back to you?”

Then, go away and let your emotions out in private before composing yourself and thinking carefully about how you want to respond. Go back and have a conversation calmly and rationally, making sure you communicate your key messages clearly.

If taking a physical break isn’t possible (perhaps you’re in a performance review or job interview), put a pause between your reaction and response by taking a drink of water or saying something like “let me think about that for a moment” or “I’m just letting that sink in”. Even a few seconds to consider your response may mean you handle the situation better than if you just launched into a reply with your heart and not your head.

6. Be grateful.

Even if you totally disagree with the feedback you’ve received, be grateful the person gave it to you. No, you don’t have to be grateful for what they said, but rather the fact they had the courage and decency to say it to your face rather than behind your back. Knowing how someone perceives you or your actions can be valuable information to have.

Often times, constructive feedback is a genuine gift. It can open your eyes to blind spots and give you an opportunity to improve. Treat it as such.


Dealing with difficult feedback is not fun or easy, but it is important. Follow these steps and do your best to be open to hearing it.

Leah Mether is Managing Director of Methmac Communications, a communications consultancy and professional speaking company.

Leah works with businesses, organisations, community groups and individuals to improve and deliver their communications.

To find out more, visit www.methmac.com.au