How To Respond to Constructive Feedback in 7 Steps

Updated June 24, 2022

Regularly giving and receiving feedback can help organizations promote change, efficacy and growth across their teams. In particular, constructive feedback—or the type of feedback that provides useful suggestions and observations to help support personal progress—can be invaluable in helping you understand your performance and commit to developing your skills further. Despite this, though, responding to constructive feedback respectfully can be uncomfortable for many, since doing so often involves a certain level of vulnerability. In this article, we outline why feedback is important and how you can respond to it effectively in seven steps, including example responses.

Related: How To Ask for Feedback

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Why is feedback important?

Receiving and giving feedback are important processes for helping teams succeed and produce high-quality work. When feedback opportunities are a regular part of a team's workflow, it can help organizations monitor overall effectiveness and encourage growth in leaders, employees and peers alike. With this, not only can feedback help you understand your individual performance, but it can give you vital insight about what you do well and how you can further develop your skills to succeed in your role. Here are a few examples of what feedback can help accomplish in the workplace:

  • Provoking change and inspiring growth

  • Showing appreciation and celebrating successes

  • Maintaining accountability in the workplace

  • Improving workplace engagement

  • Providing clear goals and setting benchmarks

  • Inspiring excellent performance overall

  • Building healthy working relationships

  • Promoting growth-oriented mindset

  • Preventing stalls in productivity

While feedback may be incredibly helpful, processing and responding to instances of critical feedback can be a challenge for many individuals. This type of feedback can make many people feel vulnerable and illicit immediate feelings of defensiveness. While these feelings are natural—especially if you're surprised by feedback—during such moments, it's important to remember that colleagues often offer feedback with good intentions. They may do so as a way of helping you achieve expressed goals and grow in your role, as constructive feedback can be highly valuable in helping you advance your career.

Since feedback is a crucial part of driving forth your professional development, it's a good idea to develop the ability to receive feedback gracefully, even if you may not always agree with your colleagues' perspectives. While receiving critical feedback can be uncomfortable, try take the feedback you receive into serious consideration. It may help you improve your performance and collaborate more efficiently with your colleagues.

Related: 4 Ways Feedback Improves Performance in the Workplace

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How to respond to feedback

There are many ways that you can respond to feedback, and the exact path that you should choose will depend greatly upon your particular situation. Despite this, though, there are a few fundamental principles you should follow as you respond to constructive feedback that can help you grow both professionally and personally. Here's how you can effectively respond to feedback in seven steps:

1. Listen

When somebody is giving you feedback, it's important to listen carefully to what they're saying. Explaining your actions might be your first instinct, but such efforts aren't necessary and likely won't prove helpful in the long run. Colleagues often give feedback to help you improve your performance, so try to let them explain their perspectives completely by avoiding interrupting them or interjecting with your own opinions.

While listening, try to make a note of the major components within their particular feedback. Understanding the intention behind their feedback and what concrete recommendations they're making for growth will help you form your response more effectively. This is especially true for colleagues you trust and find reliable—it's likely you'll learn something from their feedback, so you should listen actively. You can make a mental note or even write down your thoughts as they speak in order to keep your ideas organized.

Related: Growing Your Career: Learning from Negative Feedback

2. Wait to react

Once you're done listening to your colleague give you feedback, you should give yourself some time to react to what they've said. Instead of diving right into a conversation about the feedback and how you can implement it, you should take a few minutes to thank your colleague for their comments.

From here, you can internally practice mindfulness and self-affirming techniques. You might take a minute before processing and reacting to remind yourself that you are valued by your organization and devoted to your role. These types of affirmations—which can help you feel more secure in vulnerable situations—may give you the ability to put your colleague's feedback into perspective and ground your thoughts as you prepare to respond to their thoughts.

3. Ask for more information

Once you've taken stock of your colleague's feedback, you might consider asking them for more information and clarifying exactly what they said. Perhaps you have questions about the specific instances where you exhibited the behavior they're describing, or you might be curious about how your actions have affected your team's overall efficacy. Regardless of what information you'd like to clarify, getting more data on feedback can help you truly understand your colleague's perspective and figure out how you might grow from learning such information.

It can also be helpful to ask your colleague to forward their feedback to you more formally so that you may refer to it and solicit clarification as needed. They may be able to send you a written copy of their thoughts through email or some other platform. Here's an example of how you might make such a request:

I really appreciate the time you've taken to think about these issues and give me constructive feedback. I was hoping you might clarify a few things for me, especially regarding the first point you made and how it affected our team. With more explanation, I might be able to implement your feedback better when similar situations arise. Would you be able to send me a copy of your feedback and clarifications via email later today? It would be great to have a written copy to reference as I process your thoughts.

4. Request time

After you've asked for clarification and taken a moment to be mindful of your response, it's a good idea to ask your colleague for some time to think about their feedback. Unless the feedback you've received can be implemented on the spot, requesting time to process your colleague's thoughts can be very beneficial in the long term. Not only does this tactic help defuse a potentially uncomfortable situation, but it gives you more time to form a proper response to the feedback you've received.

Even further, asking for more time can help show your colleague that you're taking their feedback seriously and considering what they've said carefully. This is especially important, as it's likely that your colleague is seeking affirmation regarding their feedback. From here, you can even begin the process of analyzing exactly how you might implement their feedback. Here's an example of how you might request more time after receiving feedback:

I appreciate your feedback and that you've taken the time to speak with me. It means a lot to me that you can come to me respectfully and trust me with your perspective. Because of this, I'd like to give what you've said serious consideration and reach out next week to plan a sit-down meeting. Then, we can talk about how I can implement your feedback and improve my performance. How does that sound to you?

Related: 16 Ways To Improve Your Feedback Skills in the Workplace

5. Create an action plan that starts with visible change

While you take time to consider your colleague's feedback, you should start working on your actual response in the form of an action plan. Even if you don't agree with everything they've said at first, try to visualize the situation from their perspective and locate at least a few things they identified in their feedback that you're willing to work on. From here, you can create an action plan on how you'll implement their feedback into your day-to-day duties. To help you organize your action items, you can write down your plan and share it with your colleague during your next check in.

Your action plan should start with implementations that result in visible change. This can help your colleague see your improvement tangibly while you commit to other, less visible professional development processes. It's likely they'll immediately notice your efforts and appreciate the initiative you're taking to grow as an individual. As you progress through your action items, refer back to your colleague's original piece of feedback and try to find additional ways to improve.

6. Find an honest confidant

Often, receiving constructive feedback and going through implementation processes can be challenging to do in isolation. Therefore, you should find a confidant—a friend or colleague you can trust—that you can talk to honestly and openly about the feedback you just received.

While you might be tempted to tell them how the feedback made you feel, you should instead take this opportunity to examine the feedback items with somebody who isn't closely involved or invested. This type of dialogue might be able to give you valuable insight about whether the feedback is valid and how you might process such information. Even more, your confidant may be able to give you additional ideas about how you can take action and implement the feedback in your daily work.

Related: Giving and Receiving Feedback: Definitions and Examples

7. Follow up in the long term

It's important to understand that receiving and responding to constructive feedback effectively is a long-term process. Change doesn't happen overnight, so give yourself time to implement change and schedule intervals to follow up with your colleague on a semi-regular basis, such as 30 or 60 days after receiving the feedback. Following up can help you keep yourself accountable to growth and show your colleague that you've considered their feedback carefully. Here's an example of how you can follow up with your colleague in the long term:

I've given a lot of thought to the feedback you've given me and the action items we identified in our second meeting. Over the last 30 days, I've made some significant changes to my workflow processes and I hope that you've noticed my progress. Would you like to meet to discuss my progress?"

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