Receiving feedback at work can fill even the highest performing professionals with dread. After all, no one likes to be judged.

Yet feedback is essential to your career success. Without knowing what you need to work on and develop, you could be spinning your wheels or worse yet, falling behind.

That’s why some people even call feedback a gift.

Feedback is something you’ll receive throughout your career whether it’s part of a formal review process, an impromptu conversation or something in between.

To help you make the most of it, here are 7 things I wish I had known about receiving feedback:

  1. The “worst” feedback is often the best feedback
  2. The feedback giver can be just as uncomfortable as the receiver
  3. Getting defensive is a feedback killer
  4. Don’t take all feedback as “the truth”
  5. Look for the nugget
  6. You can always come back later
  7. Don’t dwell on the feedback

1. The “worst” feedback is often the best feedback

Feedback that’s hard to hear is usually the most important kind. While getting positive feedback is wonderful for your ego and confidence, it doesn’t help you grow and develop in a substantial way.

Instead, it’s the mistakes you’ve made and the things you could do better that provide the greatest learning and opportunity to improve. And remember, if you’re not improving, you’re standing still or even falling behind those who are getting the hard feedback and doing something with it.

The harder the feedback is to take, the more you probably need to hear it.

2. The feedback giver can be just as uncomfortable as the receiver

This is especially true if it’s “constructive” (aka negative) feedback. That’s why you won’t always get the [ongoing] feedback you need to ensure continued career success.

So when you do encounter someone willing to give you that tough feedback, it’s your job to react in a way that encourages them to keep giving you feedback in the future.

The best way to receive feedback is to say “thank you” and if you’re not clear on how to improve, ask a clarifying question or two.

You’ll gain a reputation for being “safe” for others to give feedback to. And that means you’ll get all kinds of helpful feedback to catapult your career onward and upward even faster.

3. Getting defensive is a feedback killer

The opposite of being “safe” to give feedback to is getting defensive. It’s a feedback-giver’s nightmare. They’ve gotten up the courage to tell you how you can improve, and their reward is an argument. How likely do you think that giver will be to give you any feedback in the future?

But getting defensive is easy to do. When I was a teenager, my father observed that I was very conservative. Since no self-respecting teenager wants to be seen as “conservative” – it’s the time in life when you’re expected to be a rebel! – I got defensive and argued with my father.

That’s when he made a second observation: “The more upset or defensive you get about something, the more it’s because you know it’s true.” Ouch. My father was right. Since then, I’ve made it a practice to notice when I’m reacting defensively to feedback and to stop myself from taking it personally.

4. Don’t take all feedback as “the truth”

It’s important to look at feedback objectively and assess which parts make sense and which don’t before you go off and internalize it or act on it. This is because whoever is giving you feedback is doing so from their own perspective. Just as someone who’s 6 feet tall will see me as short (I’m 5’2”) while a toddler might see me as tall.

In that sense, feedback is 50% about the giver. The important thing is to use your judgment and get multiple data points so you can make an informed choice about what you want to do with the feedback.

5. Look for the “nugget”

Not everyone is good at giving feedback in a way that’s easy to take in. Some might blurt out the feedback without considering how hurtful it sounds. Others give the feedback so indirectly that you could easily walk away without hearing the true message.

Whatever their style, it’s in your interest to look past their delivery for the nugget that’s going to help you in your career.

For the “tell it like it is” giver, resist the urge to take things personally and focus on the substance of what they’re trying to say. For the indirect giver, have the presence of mind to ask clarifying questions to help draw their message out.

6. You can always come back later

Sometimes it’s hard to take in all the feedback right away. So don’t feel you have to react on the spot. You can say, “Thanks for this feedback, I need a little time to digest it. I’d like to come back a little later to continue the conversation.”

That buys you time to think, reflect and regain your composure. You’ll also have the chance to discuss the feedback with someone you trust. Then you’ll be able to come back and have a constructive conversation when you’re at your best.

7. Don’t dwell on the feedback

Feedback is simply information. Like any other data, it’s up to you to decide what, if anything, to do with it. Once you’ve decided on the action you want to take, you can take those steps and move on.

Dwelling on negative thoughts won’t help you improve. Instead, it hurts your confidence and affects your mood, especially if you ruminate on it and keep turning it over in your mind.

Harness feedback to benefit your career

Feedback is a gift. It will help you advance more quickly in your career and keep you growing into the best version of yourself.

Learn to appreciate and encourage feedback, whatever form it takes. Extract the nuggets, learn the lessons, and move onward and upward by remembering the following:

  • The “worst” feedback is often the best feedback
  • The feedback giver can be just as uncomfortable as the receiver
  • Getting defensive is a feedback killer
  • Don’t take all feedback as “the truth”
  • Look for the nugget
  • You can always come back later
  • Don’t dwell on the feedback

I hope these ideas will help you handle the feedback you receive and use it to create the most amazing career that you’ll excel at and love.

Which of these strategies will help you the most when receiving feedback?

Leave me a comment – I’d love to know.