Receiving Feedback

April 22, 2014 Nic Werner

Receiving Feedback

Here at Pivotal, we’ve spilled much electronic ink about giving feedback, so let’s take a seat on the other side of the table.

Receiving feedback can be tough. We all feel vulnerable when someone is pointing out mistakes we’ve made, or outlining ways we can improve. But you can turn these events into a positive outcome, growing your career and team interactions.

Here is an easy framework for when someone gives you feedback.



“Can I give you some feedback?”

When a co-worker asks if they can give you feedback, or it’s review time with your manager, it’s crucial to show that you’re paying attention. Put down everything you’re working on, lean forward and make eye contact. These are all signals that you are focused on your conversation, and that your mind is receptive to hear their thoughts. Remember that giving feedback isn’t easy (nobody likes giving criticisms!). Having a blank expression, or even worse, wincing, sets the tone that whatever your manager or coworker is about to say will most likely not be considered.


This conversation isn’t a debate. Never in the history of giving feedback has someone said “Oh, you’re totally right. When you insult people in a meeting, it’s all part of your tough-love master plan.”

Nope. Never.

When you do get feedback, “you were rude to the CFO in that last meeting”, your first thought will be to defend yourself. Don’t. Grind your teeth, bite your tongue, do whatever it takes to keep quiet. Why? By interrupting to explain your viewpoint you’ll immediately appear defensive and not willing to accept the viewpoints of others. You run the risk of branding yourself as not open to future feedback – a slippery slope for your teammates and manager. “We tried talking to him in the past about an issue, but he just rolled his eyes and laughed. I don’t know why he’d listen to us now.” This label will stick to you just like a first impression.

Look at it from the other side of the table: The person giving you feedback is not there to be convinced of your viewpoint – they are talking to you because they want to encourage future behaviors. This person wants to help you grow. So instead of sitting back and fuming about why nobody understands your actions, you should……


Put that chair into an upright position and focus on their words. Don’t write anything down right now, just pay attention. Pay even more attention to specific examples or situations. Don’t interrupt, don’t lean back, don’t fidget. Just listen.


No matter the words or incorrect the situation, always calmly thank them for their feedback. “Thanks for sharing that with me.”Thank you for your candor“. “I appreciate you taking the time to let me know right after this happened“. Life is unfair, and even if you don’t share their conclusion, you demonstrate maturity when you calmly give thanks.

And now……now is the time you can….


Remember that this person wants to see you grow. At this moment in the conversation the floor is yours, and how you react cements their impression about your maturity.

Take the high ground. Here are two ways:

“Can you give me a more specific example?”
Not all feedback is perfect. When the feedback is vague, “You’ve been rude to the team lately“, then this is the time to ask for specific situations. “Can you tell me about a specific time when I was rude to the team?” leads to “When you interrupt people in meetings, it is perceived as rude“. Now you’re talking about a behavior (interrupting) – something you can modify.

Do you have any advice on how I could handle that situation in the future?
Now that you’ve listened patiently and expressed gratefulness for their time, be humble and ask for advice. Again, lean forward and listen.

Receiving feedback can sting. But when you show that you’re open to different viewpoints, you show your manager and team that you’re open to all kinds of discussions. Swallow your pride, learn how you can improve and move on!

Did you like this post and find it insightful? If so, please share the knowledge with others!

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