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The Art of Managing People, Part Two: How to Receive Feedback

Published: November 4, 2016       Updated: May 13, 2024

4 min read

Did you know that 65 percent of employees say they want more feedback in the workplace? OfficeVibe, an anonymous survey service that monitors employee satisfaction, discovered that this kind of manager/employee exchange has a direct influence on motivation and retention.

In a previous post, we addressed how managers can provide the most effective and influential feedback to employees. In this post, we will look at the other side of the coin and shed light on how to absorb, implement and build upon this advice.

You’ve received feedback. What does this mean?

Positive comments make you feel warm and fuzzy, appreciated and motivated, but even slightly critical ones can sting. It’s easy to focus on the negative and assume any constructive criticism means you’re failing in an area of your professional life. However, the truth is most managers give feedback because they care about you and your future.

I once had a very busy and very tough boss who revealed that she didn’t waste time providing feedback to those who she didn’t see going anywhere career-wise. She was happy to maintain status quo with those employees. It was the high-potential direct reports that received the most feedback from her—both praise and criticism—because she felt she could groom them to take on bigger projects, tougher clients and more high-profile work. 

Giving feedback can be uncomfortable and time-consuming. If you are receiving praise or constructive criticism, it’s a direct sign that your manager is invested in you.

How do you respond?

Constructive criticism can feel like tough love. We all have someone in our life who tells us like it is. It may be hard to hear but, after a day or two, we come around and even appreciate their feedback. Treat difficult interactions at work the same way. It’s natural to take your manager’s comments personally and shut yourself off. Instead, try to listen with an open mind and view it as a learning opportunity. Consider the following: 

  • What is my manager’s goal in communicating this to me?
  • What are the short- and long-term effects of implementing this feedback?
  • How does this feedback help me grow as an individual, contribute more to the team and better serve my clients?

Feel free to weigh in when necessary but take care not to appear defensive. It’s a good idea to focus on listening so you can fully absorb what your supervisor is telling you and why. A good manager will give you room to respond, provide context and offer a solution.

Remember to separate your character from your action. Everyone makes mistakes, particularly when they are growing and taking on new challenges. Your manager may address a misstep or opportunities for future improvement, especially if it will put you on track for future career advancement. In some cases, the feedback may be related to your colleagues’ or clients’ perceptions of you. This can be more difficult to hear, but is a good opportunity to ask your supervisor for advice and discuss recommended adjustments. 

What steps do you take moving forward?

You’ve talked to your boss. What now? First, take a day or two to absorb her comments. Then it’s time to take action. Identify peers or more senior-level employees who excel in the areas you’d like to improve in and ask them for advice. You’ll likely find that they have a strategy, perhaps based off of their own learning experiences and constructive criticism.

It’s also helpful to do some research by identifying tools you can use or best practices you can follow. At Idea Grove, we subscribe to Lynda so our staff can take online courses on everything from PowerPoint to project management. Although not all companies invest in such resources, you’ll likely find that your manager is willing to provide training if you ask for it. As a PR professional, I also follow newsletters related to PR and marketing. PR News Daily is my favorite, as it provides daily tips related to media relations, writing and editing, social media, content creation and more. 

Finally, if you didn’t discuss it during the initial feedback session, follow up with your manager to establish what the expectation for improvement is. What are their immediate and long-term goals? Ideally, you’ll establish an ongoing dialogue with your manager so you can come up with a collaborative plan that will transform the conversation into action. 

Remember that a healthy stream of feedback leads to better communication with your boss and a fulfilling and productive workplace. Although you can and should learn from all senior level people you work with, the input you receive from your manager provides benchmarks for improvement and can guide you to career advancement. What’s more motivation than that? 

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