Giving and Accepting Feedback with Grace

In November we have a lot for which to be thankful, not the least of which is for those people in our lives who inspire and sometimes spur us on to better versions of ourselves. I have been doing a lot of speaking on image and leadership lately and am sometimes stunned and sometimes inspired by the ways I hear people giving and receiving feedback. Whether it’s to a friend, a colleague or your boss, learning to give and receive it gracefully is one of the trickiest things to do. Here are a few tips to make it a little easier as you grow into new roles in your career:

For Giving:

1. Privately, especially for critical feedback and in sensitive situations. Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her excellent book “Executive Presence” details an incident where a disastrous business decision impacted a large company’s employees. The leader gathered together the business lead and the team, listened carefully, outlined a solution and then privately let the business leader know he was completely accountable. Like parents, a united front with colleagues for the public presentation and disagreements aired behind closed doors are best. If it is positive feedback you wish to make public, it’s respectful to ask the person ahead of time if you have permission to acknowledge them publicly. 

2. Directly with context. It doesn’t help to beat around the bush or cloud your message, but it does help to provide context for the feedback, both for negative and positive feedback. The impact of the issue, the situation where it occurred and how the person in question was perceived can all be helpful for providing perspective. 

3. Kindly. In both positive and negative feedback situations, emotions can run high for both the giver and the receiver. Paying careful attention to the way you deliver the message, using a neutral tone and body language can go a long way to softening a hard blow or managing an unexpected response to the feedback. It’s also a very good idea to make sure that it’s appropriate to give the feedback – any comment on someone’s personal appearance or performance where you’re not in a directly evaluative or responsible position may not be useful or welcome. 

For Receiving: 

1. Responsibly, not reactively. Even if the feedback was unwarranted, unclear, critical or otherwise shocking to you, take a breath before doing anything else. If the comment has created a strong feeling, take three. Sometimes the best thing you can say is “Thank you for noticing.” See if there is a truth to the comment minus the sting and if you can use it constructively, great. If you perceive the feedback to be negative or untrue, still take a quick look at it, but feel free to disregard it if it’s not helpful. 

2. Graciously. One of the most interesting habits of people, particularly women, is to brush off praise and to downplay their achievement. This may be cultural or personal but if you want to be perceived as gracious and confident, a simple “thank you” with direct eye contact and a smile will suffice. Brushing off a compliment devalues it as well as devaluing the person who gave it. You would be unlikely to brush off a gift; treat praise the same way. 

3. Consciously. Enjoy the feedback you receive and evaluate all of it to determine its purpose in your growth. Even if feedback sometimes stings or feels extravagant, the people who give it help us refine our vision, make different choices and achieve different results. Without it, we don’t shift, grow and reach our potential; learning to embrace feedback along the way helps. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What has been your most memorable feedback?