Dealing with constructive feedback

Receiving feedback is a vital way for employees to reflect on their performance at work and take steps to develop and improve it. Unfortunately, the process doesn’t always operate as smoothly as that. According to Kluger and DeNisi, feedback only leads to change in one of the three occasions it’s offered. These undesirable outcomes are particularly likely when the feedback in question is constructive. Constructive feedback often invites all manner of hostile reactions that cause the feedback to be rejected and does nothing to change behavior. So, how can you best use constructive feedback to your advantage and that of your organisation?

The problem with constructive feedback

The main issue with constructive feedback is that the recipient normally processes it by applying the negative content to themselves as a person, rather than relating it to the task under discussion. Regarding the feedback as a threat to your self-image, and not simply a comment on a workplace issue that needs addressing, often means that you’ll reject the feedback, especially if it doesn’t seem to correspond with how you see yourself.

How should you deal with constructive feedback?

Start by interpreting the feedback as objectively as you can, separating it from you as an individual, and use the following methods to train yourself to become more welcoming of, and at ease with, constructive feedback.

When you receive constructive feedback, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How am I feeling?
  2. What story am I telling myself?
  3. What’s the actual feedback?

Concentrating on these questions keeps you focused on the feedback being given, rather than your feelings and the stories you tell yourself which are related to the feedback. Start by recognizing how you feel, and then isolate the feedback from the narrative you’ve created.

Another technique involves imagining someone was given the same constructive feedback as you and reflecting on the advice you’d give them. This approach can help you become more receptive to feedback and decide how to adapt your behavior as a result. Similarly, you could put yourself in the place of the person offering you the feedback, forcing yourself to consider the situation from their perspective.

Your mindset will also determine your response to constructive feedback. Adopting a growth mindset allows you to accept the feedback more readily, since you view it as a chance to develop and improve.

The next stage

Having reviewed the constructive feedback, give yourself a period of reflection before you decide on your next step. Organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich has underlined how rarely people allow themselves enough time to learn from the feedback: “Where so many of us pressure ourselves to push past our emotions and respond right away, these highly self-aware people gave themselves days or even weeks to bounce back from difficult feedback before deciding what to do next.”

Feedback shouldn’t be a one-off event, but more of a continual discussion. Accept the feedback and, once you’ve reviewed it, adapt your behavior accordingly. If necessary, ask the person delivering the feedback to clarify areas of uncertainty and see if they are willing to suggest your next course of action. Analyse how well you responded to the feedback and resolved the problem being discussed.

In conclusion

When receiving constructive feedback, try to:

  1. Listen to the positive comments first;
  2. Concentrate on feedback that is actionable;
  3. Remember to adopt the other person’s perspective;
  4. Maintain a growth mindset;
  5. Keep your feelings and stories separate from the actual feedback.

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Always give yourself some time to reflect on the feedback before deciding what to do about it.

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