Feedback has a negative connotation for many people: things that I did wrong, places where I did poorly, people who I disappointed. It’s often associated with a moment where a person did not perform their best. But what would happen if rather than seeing feedback as a mechanism for focusing on our faults, we saw it as an opportunity for growth instead?
We are constantly receiving different forms of feedback in the workplace; it might be as direct as a performance evaluation from your leader or a review left on Google or as innocuous as a change in tone in response to something you said. Feedback is always being offered, and it is up to us to decide what to do with it.
Constructive vs. Destructive Feedback
Although some people view all feedback as damaging, there is a difference between destructive and constructive feedback. Destructive feedback, also known as criticism, does not offer solutions; the person giving it solely seeks to point out flaws. In contrast, constructive feedback is designed to help people make improvements and typically involves proposing solutions or opportunities for deeper dialogue. Rather than simply pointing out flaws, a person giving constructive feedback identifies areas where the feedback recipient could improve processes or make progress within their role. In business, constructive feedback is critical for gaining alternative perspectives and increasing productivity—and when leaders and individual contributors understand and take advantage of its power, they will continue to grow and develop as people and professionals.
5 Helpful Tips for Accepting Constructive Feedback
Here are five strategies for differentiating constructive feedback from destructive criticism and ensuring you can use it for your personal development and growth.
1. Accept the process.
When we feel like we’re being criticized, we can get angry or defensive. A contributor’s work is personal, and when it isn’t accepted or received well, the contributor can feel like they themselves are being rejected. It’s important to remember that the focus of feedback received in the workplace is your professional performance and contributions, not you as a person. By accepting that receiving feedback is inevitable, demystifying the process, and understanding the differences between feedback that is helpful and that which is not, you will be more willing to listen to what the other person has to say and be able to use it to your benefit.
2. Listen to understand.
When we are initially confronted with feedback, we frequently attempt to deny, excuse, or respond. A person’s actions are always justified to themselves, so sometimes a contributor will spend the whole feedback session focusing on what they want to say next and how they might counter the feedback rather than really listening to what is being said. By listening to understand rather than listening to respond, we are showing respect to the other person and giving ourselves the chance to see our actions and behaviors from another perspective.
3. Ask clarifying questions.
Along with listening carefully and openly to the feedback, make sure you ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understand what the other person is saying. Each person brings their own filter and set of experiences to the conversation, so it’s easy to make assumptions, allow important things to go unsaid, or think that the feedback has been given and received in exactly the way we’d intended. Take note of what the person is communicating and keep track of any confusion or misunderstandings. Through engaging with the other person and asking questions, you will convey both your interest and your dedication to growth. One important consideration: make sure that your clarifying questions do not come across as hostile or defensive. Your goal is to try to understand where the other person is coming from, not to justify your choices.
4. Look for what is actionable.
Receiving feedback can feel overwhelming. Not only is it difficult to accept the feedback process, it can also be challenging to decide what to do with the information. You can discard some comments immediately, like anything that is beyond your control or irrelevant to your growth; what you are left with then is actions or considerations. Look for external changes that you can make right now, like the formatting of a document or how you answer the phone. Other processes and changes are going to take longer and may require more innovation or a deeper commitment from you.
5. Move forward.
Put the feedback into practice and let the moment go. Dwelling on past hurts is not helpful, especially if the feedback you received was constructive—but it will also not help you to ignore the feedback entirely. Accepting feedback means committing to a growth mindset. No matter how uncomfortable the experience of receiving feedback may have been, it enabled you to gain a new perspective and improve in your workplace and role within your team.
If you are interested in mastering the skills of both giving and receiving feedback in a short time frame, we encourage you to look into CMOE’s digital module on Feedback. This is a self-directed course which allows you the freedom to learn whenever and wherever you choose.
About the Author
Hannah joined the CMOE team in 2022 and brings both her unique expertise in writing and her prior teaching experiences to the Design Team and CMOE clients. She earned her Master of Arts in Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah. Hannah works with the Design Team to provide innovative learning solutions to meet the needs of each organization.