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When Feedback Does Not Feel Like a “Gift”

Published on September 30, 2022.

Feedback is one of the building blocks for learning and growth—it helps build self-awareness, improve skills, and deepen our understanding of the impact of our actions. When people share feedback, it provides an opportunity to course correct to reach desired outcomes. Despite all the benefits of feedback, it’s difficult for many of us to receive and act on it. To continue growing, all leaders need strategies and techniques to really hear and benefit from the feedback they receive. To get you started, we’ll dive into why its difficult for most of us and steps to take to build your feedback skills.

Receiving feedback is challenging

Hearing others point out gaps in our leadership is difficult for most of us because:

  • It can feel personal. Critical or negative feedback can feel like our competency, character, or other identifying qualities are in question. Take the time to understand how and why specific feedback triggers a strong response. If you can identify your triggers, or why you are upset, you will be better positioned to pause and focus on the specific problem or situation that is being brought to your awareness.
  • It feels like criticism. Maybe the person giving the feedback does not know the full picture, making the feedback inaccurate, or the way they are giving feedback feels evaluative. Whatever the reason might be, it’s tempting to start telling your side of the story while focusing on finding something wrong with the feedback in order to ignore it.
  • We take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the information being shared. In receiving feedback, some managers feel pressure to either fully accept or fully reject it right away. 

Three tips to use feedback for growth

Feedback provides valuable information to leaders about how they or their teams are performing when others take time to share their thoughts. Here are three tips to use when you receive feedback to ensure that it’s a productive conversation: 

  1. Listen without judgment. When receiving individual feedback, separate listening to the feedback from deciding if you agree with it or thinking about who is sharing the feedback. Some techniques to help you do this are reflective listening (Quick Guide to Building Trust) and the emotional management techniques of delayed response and using non-reactive statements (Quick Guide to Managing Emotions) to allow you to focus and listen.
  2. Pause and unpack the feedback. Seek to understand the intent of the feedback-giver, this will help you see connections between their intentions and the impact. It can also be helpful to talk to people who know you well and you trust to be honest with you. It’s also important to not seek out those who will simply agree with you and will defend you, but look for those who will help you find the useful aspects of the feedback. 
  3. Address the feedback. Addressing feedback does not mean accepting and acting on it in a certain way or immediately. Focus on acting on pieces of the feedback that are useful and helpful, and give yourself permission to ignore the rest. The more you feel in control of this process, the easier it will be for you to approach feedback with an open mind and the more you will get out of it.

Look for more information next month on how to effectively use group feedback. This can be particularly useful since supervisors who have enough faculty and staff respond will receive their department results for the upcoming Employee Engagement follow-up survey in November. 

Upcoming Events


Feedback and Coaching (Self-Paced Course)

Receiving feedback well is an important skill for managers, as is giving the feedback. The self-paced two-hour course outlines the best practices for giving feedback and how this practice supports employee coaching. This course counts toward the Supervisory Development Foundations Certificate. Register for the Feedback and Coaching course here.

Employee Engagement Follow Up Survey

Benefits-eligible faculty and staff will receive a short Employee Engagement Follow Up Survey that will be open from October 10 to 28. The goal of the survey is to gather employee perspectives on the action taken so far on the 2021 engagement survey results, as well as what they would like to see before the next employee engagement survey in 2023. You can learn more about the follow-up survey questions and how to share your results, gather feedback, and take action.