Understanding a Six-Step Method of Receiving Feedback

Most of us can recall a time when feedback went rogue. It seemed to inflict pain and stands in our minds as a moment you would not like to remember.

I can recall the first time someone made a professional comment towards a project I had completed at work. To say the least – it hurt. A lot. I was defensive and felt passionate about the project. I worked hard and had a sense of pride in my work. I expected people to take notice and congratulate me on the passion, diligence and expertise. Nothing was as I expected. The feedback I was given was like nails on a chalkboard.

But feedback is a gift! Although sometimes it can be uncomfortable, it remains an important part of communication. Whether you’re receiving it, giving it, or just in the room – it can be looked upon as good. It requires trust, respect and relational integrity. It cannot be undermined or given outside of a call of professional and responsible duty.

Feedback is also a chance to learn; a “do-over.” Business executives who train their staff to receive constructive criticism have a chance to learn what went wrong and what could have been better. Athletes of all kinds use feedback as a way of honing their skills. Children learn how to write, read and play with others with this gift of feedback. Cooking for your friends includes the feedback process. Feedback, when well received, strengthens the bond between giver, others in the group, and you.

Finding Your Way in Feedback

Feedback involves acknowledging mistakes, sincerely apologizing (if necessary), learning what could have been better options and moving on to do the job better next time. There are six steps to receiving feedback, and it can be your breakfast of champions each day:

  1. Accept the feedback – open your mind and heart to improve in areas where growth is needed. Listen and thank those who offer constructive suggestions that add something to your life. A supervisor once told me to “find the golden nugget in all conversations and pitch the rest.”
  1. Acknowledge intent and impact – discipline yourself to recognize what was being said, with less focus on how it was said. See the person’s passion and recognize that sometimes feedback can be misled by the “fire of our opinion.” Choose to see past the delivery. Offer feedback later if it was offensive.
  1. Apologize (if appropriate) – Nothing sets a tone for healthy relationships better than forgiveness. If there was a wrong done (whether blatantly or inadvertently) confess it to the person as quickly as you can to preserve the value of relationship and learn from it. “I appreciate you sharing this with me. I am sorry for…” are some of the most powerful words in the English language.
  1. Ask questions for clarification – Because feedback can be ambiguous at times, call for clarity and understand with specific questions. Statements like, “what specific example” or “can you share more about…” helps lead the feedback to specific conclusions and if needed, reconciliation.
  1. Adjust/Change – As the person receiving feedback, it’s important to interpret what the feedback means and if appropriate, make needed alterations to your work. It’s a clear sign you have accepted the feedback and don’t want to repeat the same offense.
  1. Move forward – Recovery should be a quick process; no need to linger in whether something needs to be done. In most cases, moving forward is simply accepting a wrong or making clarifying adjustments. Be responsible for your own forward motion and let people take their own steps to move on as well. Avoid instructing people to “move on” or “get over it” as that only places blame and shame on individuals.

Some helpful phrases to use when confronted with constructive feedback:

  • Oh! I am sorry. My intent was to… but that didn’t happen. Here is what I was trying to do/say.”
  • Holy Smokes! I didn’t mean to sound so… I’m sorry for…”
  • “Let’s back up! Can you help me grow from this experience…?”
  • “I can tell I have broken a rule or missed a step in the process of following our procedures. I’m sorry for not paying closer attention.”

As a speaker and trainer in several types of scenarios each year, I am sometimes confronted by people who misunderstood something I said in the group and they took offense. Receiving feedback is an important part of my job because if I assume a position of “I’m right all the time,” I will never learn anything from anyone.

In the business world, we work with people, and sometimes people misunderstand things. Sometimes it’s a process that needs to be changed or clarified. Either way, it’s easy for people to get their feelings hurt or for an offense to be taken.

Receiving feedback is a gift. It’s the breakfast of champions!

A Bonus Thought

At the end of each day, settle in your mind any interactions with people that have gone rogue, been challenging to take in, or offenses that have been received. Move towards giving and receiving forgiveness so that the work that everyone is employed to be doing is done in the best possible fashion. Letting things go unsettled usually end up being employee discipline write ups, resentment, additional grief and/or possibly a termination.

Steve Sewell
Pastor and Speaker

Steve Sewell has served as a pastor and speaker for over 20 years and spends most of his time equipping and encouraging leadership and strengthening teams during times of change, adversity, and loss. For more information about Steve or to schedule him to speak at your next event, visit www.stevensewell.me.