Receiving productive feedback

7 ways to get the very best feedback you can

By Dina D'Avirro Varacalli

Receiving productive feedback

Feedback is a good thing. If we stop thinking of feedback as criticism, but instead see it as an opportunity to grow and learn we’d be one step closer to being the best we can be and happier in our day to day life. Here’s specifics of why feedback is so important.

Imagine getting back a math test in high school with only a grade at the top and not a single red mark anywhere else. You wouldn’t have known what was right, what was wrong or where you were on the right track but just messed up the calculation. That teacher may not have had a job much longer and you may never have made it into that calculus class later. Or what if your parent never told you to take a deep breath before going to apologize to the kid on the playground; would you be able to handle conflicts calmly now? Feedback can help you grow, not only at the task you are charged with but personally as well. When you are young there are people charged with teaching you things, and you pretty much have to listen. But learning doesn’t end with a diploma, it’s a life-long adventure and feedback is a key tool.

Here’s 7 ways to elicit the best feedback and get the most out of it.

1. Control your emotional response.

If you are approachable, you’ll continue to receive feedback. If you get your hackles up and become defensive, angry or make excuses, you turn people off and they’ll stop commenting. If your coworker comments that you are running up on your deadline for a task and you tell them to shove off, they’ll likely leave you to drown and you now have strained a relationship with a teammate. If you truly disagree and are angry; take a break, get your emotions under control then get back to the conversation.

2. Understand the feedback.

Be an active listener and give the person your full attention. If you can listen to the person instead of just hearing the words, if you can focus on the meaning instead of thinking of your response you will be able to appreciate their message. When someone comments that you seem distracted lately, don’t just brush it off by responding that you’ve been tired. Try to understand what “distracted” means, getting examples would help too.

3. Asses before coming to a conclusion.

Think about what’s being said to you before you decide to either blow it off or act accordingly. When your teammate comments that you fidget a lot when you talk, instead of simply responding that it’s just your way, try to understand that your fidgeting is distracting to your coworker and diminishes the impact of what you’re saying.

4. Ask questions.

Asking questions helps you to understand the feedback and positively reinforces your listening. When your teammate says you’ve been distracted lately try asking what they mean by distracted, ask them for examples of times they thought you were distracted. The feedback could be less about your sleep habits and more about your recent focus on budget constraints instead of your project results.

5. Reflect back what you’re hearing.

Part of being an active listener is making sure the person giving you feedback knows that you understood the message they were giving. When your teammate says you fidget too much and you can verbalize that they are probably distracted by your pen clicks; they know you understand. Your teammate feels appreciated and heard, they’re likely to give you more comments in the future.

6. Be approachable.

Your entire demeanor, not just your verbal responses affect how people will interact with you. Facial expressions and body language can be worth a thousand verbal responses. You know how frustrating it is to talk to that person who never looks up from their screen, or the one who stands to the side with their arms crossed ready to bolt from the group, or the one who’s face would probably crack if it were configured in anything other than a scowl. These subtle (and not so subtle) signals create barriers which are hard for others to break through. So look up, drop your arms and try on a smile. Let others know that you are open to feedback.

7. Check the reliability of the feedback.

Feedback isn’t always right. The person giving the feedback is perceiving your actions or behaviors through their own lens, whether distorted, rose-colored or realistic. Once you’ve heard and understood the feedback, if it just doesn’t sit well, go ask someone else. Get some corroboration. It might actually be them and not you. Think of that one person you know who thinks Matrix 3 is the best movie ever made because Keanu is so vulnerable and looks great in that mandarin collar and it just makes the universe make sense. You listened, asked, assessed and understood, but in the end, you decided they were wrong – after all, we all know there was never a sequel worth of the Matrix title actually produced.


Receiving feedback well is a very important tool, it helps us grow and learn, both personally and professionally. Learning how to use that tool to get the best feedback possible is paramount. Giving good feedback is a whole other discussion. But even though you may do everything to get the best feedback possible, you always have the right and ability to decide what to do with what you are given. It’s always up to you to decide which feedback is right, which you want to dedicate time to and how you’ll go about it. Now you have the tools to know to put down that clicking pen, smile and interact happily with teammates, but never, ever watch any Matrix sequel again.