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The value of being great at receiving feedback

Have you ever been in the situation where a colleague asks for feedback and you break out in a cold sweat? Just thinking about what to say that won’t put them in an emotional free fall has you shuddering at the thought of following through with this seemingly innocent request.

The truth is that while most of us are uncomfortable with giving feedback, we’re even worse at receiving it.

When you’re great at receiving feedback and actually embrace it (yes, perish the thought), it becomes a powerful communication skill that many underestimate and most avoid practicing. 

Harvard Law School lecturers and husband-and-wife team Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone have explored how, when you find the coaching in criticism, it helps you close blindspots that previously prevented you from moving up the corporate ladder or just gaining important self development skills.

If people are hesitant to give you feedback or when your brand is such that you stink at receiving it, it becomes as embarrassingly painful as giving a keynote presentation with a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth and no one felt they could tell you. 

You may ask yourself why. 

You may even want to blame others, but who is really responsible? 

The more we are willing, open, and receptive to feedback, the more we have the ability to learn, grow and succeed.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want you to believe you must accept feedback from just anyone. It is from the people you trust and respect who make the feedback process more valuable and palatable. Listen to them. Find the nugget of truth in their words, especially if it is painful or uncomfortable to hear. In fact, especially if it is uncomfortable because that means something they said triggered you. According Heen and Stone, there are three triggers that stop us from receiving feedback well: 

  1. Truth triggers: We can be set off by the content of the feedback if we think it is unhelpful or untrue.
  2. Relationship triggers: Do we trust and respect the person? Do we think them credible?
  3. Identity triggers: The feedback makes us feel unsure of ourselves.

The more we invite feedback and ask for one specific item with an example to provide content, the greater the likelihood we’ll get truthful and valuable feedback. It also helps to know our behavioural tendencies and have the awareness to disentangle the what from the who. For example, we might not like the person providing the feedback, but what they’ve shared is worth considering.

Take it slow and start with people you like and trust. Ask for one piece of feedback and explain why you’re asking for it and what it is that you’re working on improving. Let them know that whatever they share, you’ll be thankful to them and you won’t be upset. You might need to ask some clarifying questions, but avoid getting defensive.

Make time to reflect on the emotional triggers attached to the feedback you receive. Learn how to extract the value from what’s been shared with you. If you’re experiencing a negative internal response, consider why even if it feels like your emotional buttons are being pushed.

For more communication tips to support your professional development, please contact me at Here’s to your success, prosperity and well-being.

By Susan Cranston, BA, CEBS, ACC, Certified Leadership Coach & Small Business Consultant.

With more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience in HR, group benefits and marketing, Susan leverages her coaching and consulting skills to help clients identify goals and harness methods for attaining their professional potential. Susan is a certified evidence-based coach, published author and former television and radio talk show host. See