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Derek Irvine

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Blog: 3 tips for better feedback reception


Recognise This!  – How you receive feedback is as important as how you give it.

We can’t be great 100% of the time. Yes, we all work hard and want to do a good job, but sometimes we miss the mark. Or perhaps the “mark” moved on us and we didn’t adjust in time. Frankly, sometimes our personalities are a poor fit. And in those instances, we need honest feedback on how we’re doing in order to improve.

Yet in today’s culture it seems far less likely we’ll have people around us – especially in the workplace – willing to give us the constructive feedback we need when we need it. Jason Lauritsen has had a few posts appear on TLNT recently around this topic (here, here, and here), but I particularly agree with this statement:

“Very few people are skilled at receiving feedback. Even when it’s delivered perfectly, by the book, a person getting unexpected negative feedback is likely to react in a way that they probably won’t be proud of later.”

Let’s be honest. We love to hear positive feedback and recognition that tells us what we do well and should continue doing. But constructive feedback that tells us what we can improve or change – that’s far more difficult to accept. It’s not surprising. At our core, we want to do good work, we think we are doing good work, and yet we know sometimes we don’t. Knowing others noticed our “failure” isn’t easy.

That’s why these three tips to giving constructive feedback can make it easier for others to accept your criticism for what it is – a desire to help them improve.

1) Make it timely: The annual performance review is flawed for many reasons, not least of which is many managers use it as an excuse to delay the “tough conversations.” When someone hears “You did this poorly six months ago,” it’s easy to see why they become frustrated, especially if they know they’ve continued in that error without correction. Timely criticism is easier to accept, easier to fix and easier to move on from.

2) Make it specific: General feedback like “You’re too negative” doesn’t give the recipient any indication of what you want them to change, improve or stop doing. Specific details such as: “In the meeting with the MacGuffin Company the way you addressed their current approach came across as negative and potentially insulting” gives your employee clear context for how they behave that may need to change.

3) Make it actionable: Closely related to specific feedback is actionable feedback. Give recipients a clear path to change. Tell them “In the next client meeting, present alternative approaches to achieve their goals in a more positive light be giving the client a perspective on the benefits they can realise with our approach.” Tell employees what you want to see and make it clear you know they can deliver. Give them the confidence to change.

Ironically, these are the same three tips for making positive feedback and recognition more effective, too. Timely, specific and actionable praise has far deeper, long-lasting impact than a casual “great job” or a performance bonus given months later.

What’s the worst feedback you’ve received? How could the same message have been delivered more effectively? What about the best recognition you’ve received? What made it so good?

One Response

  1. great post.

    When receiving criticising its important to try and be as magnanimous as possible. When you are in the position when you have to criticise others, there are some great points laid out in the post. Humility is important as as empathy when giving criticism to others. In order for criticism to actually be effective, it needs to be something that the person can actually improve on and is able to access the tools to change otherwise it comes across as personal. 


    David Evans, commercial director, at accessplanit, specialising in learning management system and training administration software


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