Modeling How to Receive Feedback

Walking the talk as a leader

Think back to your last experience receiving candid and constructive feedback. What happened? How did it feel? Would you volunteer to do it again?

Receiving feedback is hard and uncomfortable. We wrap it up in feedback sandwiches, translate it into ratings, avoid it altogether, and dump it all at once in a year-end performance review. We want to make it comfortable, but then it loses power to impact change.

Is feedback important in your work and growth?

We say ‘Yes!’ is all the formal places. The website, the employee handbook, the performance assessments, the strategic goals. But do the day to day actions and culture align with the words? Are you walking the walk?

As a leader, part of the job is to give hard feedback, right? Sure it is. I’d say the more important — and harder — part of the job is inviting feedback on the regular. And consistently modeling how to receive it and integrate it into your behavior and actions. Lead by doing. Lead by learning to model the feedback behavior you want to see in your team and company.

Is feedback important enough to your growth as a person and in your work to invite the uncomfortableness in and sit with receiving it?

So, how can you model the feedback behavior you want to see?

Strengthening Feedback Culture

Imagine you are the director of a Pixar movie. Or are building your dream house. You are the one with the big picture vision of the story you want to tell or the house you want to build. You’ve got your hands on the overall plan, the details, the schedule, and the budget. There are teams of specialists coming in to support you as you build your vision. And you are giving feedback on all the things, making decisions right and left.

How do you strengthen the culture of feedback so you get the candid and constructive feedback you need to make your vision real?

You model the feedback behavior you want to see by inviting it, receiving it, and integrating it.

Invite feedback explicitly.

This does not mean to just make an open-ended statement about how your door is always open to all the things. That can be too unstructured.

  • Set up a constant container (a meeting, a one-on-one, a call, etc.) with the sole goal of inviting and receiving feedback from your people about a specific topic.
  • Ask for specific feedback.
  • Give permission (and encourage) diverse opinions and inputs.
  • Send out prompts beforehand and ask that people come with feedback.

Receiving feedback

This is your time to shine and model how to respond to feedback. The simplest and easiest way to respond is to simply say “Thank You”. Don’t try to explain or defend, this is not the time for that. Moreover, keep in mind that listening is a tool for clarity and understanding and does not equal agreement.

I would also recommend practicing responding to feedback with something simple so it will be easier and more familiar when the feedback might be more intense.

Responses to keep handy:

  • “Thank You”
  • “Thank you. I will take time to process that feedback and would like to continue the conversation at another time.”
  • Asking for more information with “Will you tell me more about _____?”
  • ”I’d like to check my understanding of your feedback. I heard you say ______. Is that accurate?
  • “What are one or two specific things you want me to do differently related to ______?”

Integrating feedback

Now you have the feedback and you need to decide what are you going to do with it. This is the most powerful part of the feedback process.

Take the time to process your feelings that rose up as you received feedback — the feeling that makes you want to defend your choice, or explain why you make this decision. In some cases, it might be productive to follow up and explain why you decided to reorganize the overall plans for the story, or why you chose to add the solar panels. It also might be a distraction to defend a choice.

Next, look at the feedback you got and think about what changes you might make. Do you need to communicate in a new way with a team to be effective? Or maybe rethink the strategy you are putting a lot of time and money into? What actions or behaviors of your might need to change?

Finally, share what you learned and what feedback is being integrated. Show that you heard and understood what people were saying.

Now What?

Leading by modeling the feedback behavior you want to see will strengthen your skills as a leader, and improve the culture of growth in your team and business. It will be uncomfortable at times to walk the walk. And there will be the occasional trip-up. The question to keep asking yourself is if feedback is important enough to your growth to keep inviting it in?

Rachel is a writer, podcaster, and self-employed designer and visual facilitator. She lives in NC with her dog, Devin. Learn more at

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