Handling Tough Feedback with Grace and Tact

So how do you learn to back off the defensive and calmly handle receiving tough feedback? Here are a few ideas that just may help!

1. Stop Your First Reaction. Take one second to process the situation and avoid a dismissive facial expression or negative response. Remind yourself to stay calm.

2. Remember the Benefit of Receiving Feedback. Openly hearing constructive criticism is allows you to consider it and then make the decision on changing a particular behavior—namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships—that likely will help you meet the expectations others have of you.

3. Listen for Understanding. Allow the person to share his/her complete thoughts, without interruption, and then repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to…Is that right? Avoid questioning the person’s statement; instead, focus on understanding his/her perspective.

And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express his or her ideas perfectly.

4. Say Thank You. Empathetically thank him/her for sharing feedback with you. Say something like, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the comments, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort this person took to share his/her thoughts.

5. Ask Questions to Process the Feedback. Ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them. For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:

  • Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
  • Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You’re right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
  • Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
  • Seek specific solutions to address the feedback: “I welcome any ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”

6. Request Time to Follow Up. If appropriate, articulate what you will do going forward, and thank the person again for the feedback, and then close the conversation. If it’s a larger issue, ask for a follow-up meeting to process the feedback, seek advice from others, and consider solutions.