How to Respond to Feedback: Do’s and Don’ts

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What do you do when someone gives you feedback? Do you want to know how to respond to feedback?

Feedback is a useful tool to achieve your goals because it can tell you when you’re getting off track and need to correct your course. Instead of feeling criticized, think of feedback as an opportunity to learn and adjust accordingly. 

In this article, you’ll learn about different types of feedback, why we aren’t always great at responding to it, how to respond to feedback better, and how to use it to achieve your goals.

Two Types of Feedback: Positive and Negative

There are two main types of feedback:

  1. Positive. Positive feedback is the kind we like and prefer—it shows us we’re on the right track. Examples include praise from a boss or feelings of happiness and satisfaction when we do something we like.
  2. Negative. Most people don’t like negative feedback because it means we have to change or do something differently. Some examples of negative feedback include not getting a promotion and feelings of despair or loneliness. 

Reactions to Negative Feedback

Though negative feedback can be upsetting, reacting to it in a positive way can help you grow and achieve your goals.

Here is how not to respond to feedback that is negative:

1. Getting upset at the source. When you receive feedback you dislike, your tendency may be to attack the person who gave it to you. For example, if your coworker reminds you to be on time for the next team meeting, you may respond by angrily telling them it’s not a big deal. As a result, they’ll be less likely to give you feedback that could be helpful in the future.

2. Ignoring it. When people give you negative feedback, you may choose to ignore it, even if it means that you risk failing. For some people, it may be because they value their own opinion over everyone else’s, or they’re convinced they’re doing the right thing. However, listening to what others say instead of ignoring it could improve their life.

3. Giving up. When some people receive feedback, they give up on what they’re doing, rather than adjusting and doing something different. 

How to Ask for Feedback

People are often reluctant to give feedback because they don’t want you to react in one of the negative ways listed previously. To benefit from feedback, learn to ask for it and accept it graciously. Though you may be afraid of what you’ll hear, the benefits outweigh the downsides.

Ask these two questions:

  • In what ways do you see me holding myself back? When you ask this question of people who know you well, it can illuminate specific habits or behaviors that when corrected will help you achieve more.
  • On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate (BLANK)? This question can be used in any number of personal or professional situations. For example, you might ask your partner, “On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate our relationship in the past week?” If the person replies with an answer of less than 10, ask, “What would make it a 10?” Often, the person can suggest specific things you can do to improve. Canfield asks this question weekly of his wife and coworkers.

When you get feedback, look for patterns. If you’re hearing the same thing from multiple people, chances are it’s true. Work to respond to the feedback constructively rather than choosing one of the three negative responses.

What to Do When You Fail

If all of the feedback points to the fact that you’ve failed in some way, follow these steps to grow from it:

  1. Thank the feedback givers. Be kind to those who give you feedback. It helps put the feedback giver at ease and helps them feel safe in giving you feedback in the future. If someone gives you angry feedback, consider the most useful parts and don’t take their anger personally.
  2. Resolve lingering issues. Apologize and send any other communications necessary to resolve upsets. Acknowledge the failure rather than trying to hide it.
  3. Recognize that you did the best you could with the resources available to you—information, skills, and awareness.
  4. Recognize that you survived the experience and will survive its consequences, too.
  5. Document what you learned from the feedback. Consider how you could approach things differently next time. Read it often. This will help you get more comfortable with the feedback and remind you to avoid similar pitfalls.
  6. Review your successes. Despite this failure, remember that you’ve had more successes in your life than failures. That helps put this instance in perspective so you can learn from it and move forward.
  7. Surround yourself with supportive people. These could be colleagues, friends, or family who can remind you of your worth and dignity. 
  8. Adjust your plans, as needed. Use the feedback to plan how you’ll adjust your goals or practices. Then, do it.
How to Respond to Feedback: Do’s and Don’ts

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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