What would you do if you saw a way that your colleague could improve? Would you say something?

For most of us, the answer is “it depends”.

On the one hand, you think, “I’d want to know if it was me.” On the other hand, it feels awkward to give this kind of feedback.

Maybe you don’t know each other well enough, or you’ve got a favor to ask later and don’t want to upset them. Most of all, you can’t be sure how they’ll take it. In fact, they might take it the wrong way.

The Key to Success

But it’s exactly this kind of crucial input that can make or break our careers, and put us on a very different trajectory than the one we desire. After all, we all have our blind spots and we rely on others to point them out so we can improve.

When it comes to getting the feedback you need, you might think that all it takes is asking. But in my experience, asking is not the key success factor.

Instead, the key to success is receiving that feedback well. When you show you’re a pro at receiving feedback, three great things start happening:

  • You’ll get a lot more feedback and input to help you improve
  • The feedback you get will be more honest and useful – the kind you can do something with and see results
  • You won’t need to ask for it all the time – people will share it with you willingly

When you get lots of useful feedback, you can accelerate your progress toward that successful career and life you’ve always wanted. Without it, you’ll languish.

How to Receive Feedback Like a Pro

Receiving feedback well is a crucial skill when it comes to advancing your career, and it involves the following three steps.

1. Be “Safe”

The first step is to make yourself “safe” to give feedback to. That is, make it a positive experience for others when they take the time to give you their thoughts on how you can improve.

Feedback is priceless stuff that can propel your career onward and upward. And the giver probably had to think long and hard before bringing this to your attention, including worrying about how you’re going to take it.

I’ve found that the best way to make it “safe” for others to give you feedback is to simply say, “thank you.”

Yep, that’s it.

And whatever you do, don’t argue with them or debate what they’ve said, even if you disagree.

All that said, it’s okay to ask a clarifying question to make sure you’ve understood what they’re telling you.

Your part of the conversation might sound like this: “Thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to share that with me. Just to make sure I understand what you mean, can you give me an example?”

Once they answer, you say, “thank you” again. And that’s it.

2. Do something with it

The second step is to decide what you want to do about this new information, and then do it.

Of course you’ll want to start by examining the feedback. After all, feedback is in the eyes of the beholder and it’s just as much about their perspective as it is about what you’ve done or said.

Here, I find it can be useful to triangulate and get views from others that you trust. But then, it’s key to act on portions that make sense. Since not all advice is good advice, do some experiments where you’re not sure.

When you take action, it shows people that it’s worthwhile giving you the feedback. In fact, I get really excited when I see someone take input from me or others and apply it and, best of all, get results. That makes me want to help them again and it lets me know I’m not wasting my time.

3. Let the giver know

Sometimes, it will be obvious that you’ve taken someone’s feedback on board and improved your performance. But that won’t always be the case. You may operate in different circles or geographies, and your paths might not cross regularly.

That’s when this third step of “closing the loop” with the person who gave you the feedback is an important touch point. I know I always appreciate knowing what happened after sticking my neck out to give someone constructive feedback.

And even if it’s obvious that you’ve taken their ideas on board, it’s still a great move to tell them what you’ve done and to thank them. It encourages them to give you feedback again, gives you a chance to further build that relationship in a positive way, and creates a virtuous cycle where they’ll feel good about helping not only you but others as well.

Common Mistakes When Receiving Feedback

While it’s crucial to your success to receive feedback well, it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. In fact, here are four common mistakes people make when it comes to receiving feedback.


When you disagree, or there are other circumstances that you feel compelled to explain, it puts up a barrier to further feedback.

When someone gives you feedback, it’s not an invitation to debate. They’re trying to do you a favor by letting you know how they think you could improve.

Remember that it can be a stressful time for the giver too, and your attempts to set them straight will likely leave a negative impression and even backfire. Instead, you’re probably better off thinking it over and coming back to it at another time.

Getting emotional

This is a tough one as it’s hard to control our emotions in the moment. But whether it’s crying or lashing out in anger, those emotions can work against us if we want to improve our career prospects.

If this is the situation you find yourself in, then one way to address it is to figure out why feedback puts your emotions on high alert, and what kinds of feedback situations trigger that emotional response. Then you’ll have a better chance of reframing the situation and replacing your reactions with something more matter-of-fact.

I find that it also helps to make getting feedback a regular and frequent event. That way, it’s no longer a big deal – like brushing your teeth or commuting to work. It becomes just “normal”.

Taking it personally

It’s human nature to perceive feedback as criticism. Worse yet, to feel like it’s criticism directed at you as a less-than-adequate human being. You must resist that urge.

To help you do this, it’s useful to remember the parenting adage that you’re not a bad person, it’s just “bad” behavior.

The other point to remember is that at least 50% of feedback is about the giver. They’re simply conveying their point of view, which is drawn from their experience base and context. And maybe they had a bad day themselves which has colored their viewpoint.

In the end, your job is to receive the feedback and see how you can use it to your advantage. If you can’t, then don’t worry about it. If you can, then make it an asset that helps you win. Either way, it pays to strive never to take feedback personally, even when it’s directed personally at you.

Holding a grudge

While it can be hard to put some distance between your ongoing relationship with the person who gave you feedback and how the feedback made you feel, it’s worth working on this.

In fact, they’ll be looking to you for cues on how to behave after giving you the feedback.

When you behave as though everything is okay, it gives the other person permission to behave that way too. And that’s the surest way to get back to a normalized relationship that will serve you both better.

What It Means for Your Career

When you’re not “safe” to give feedback to, your career can really suffer.

No one tells you the simple changes that would really move the needle. So you languish in your career, then wake up 3-5 years from now and wonder what happened and why you’re still stuck in the same place while others around you have moved ahead.

My most successful colleagues were the ones who got loads of feedback from seniors, peers, juniors and clients. Having the luxury of that input helped them improve their performance. That, in turn, helped them advance in the organization.

And the second-order benefit of being great at receiving feedback is immense. When you handle constructive criticism well, you demonstrate that you:

  • Are a good listener
  • Care about improving and advancing
  • Are resilient (and not “brittle”)
  • Can self-manage and handle a tough message, rather than crumble or become combative.

These are all indications that you can be a great leader who will be ready to take on the toughest client situations, and handle internal pressures with grace. They’re also important skills that will help you succeed in your career and life.

So when it comes to feedback, what kind of receiver are you? And how can you make yourself “safer” to give feedback to?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.