Receiving Feedback – Sitting Down & Enjoying the Meal


In Parts 1 and 2, we spoke about how to give great feedback. We compared it to serving a great meal: first setting the table, to then creating and serving the meal. In this last part, we look at how to receive feedback. In other words, how to sit down, eat and enjoy our meal.

If someone comes to you and asks if you are open to feedback, what happens? Do you get nervous? Angry? This is the place we’re looking at. How not to take it personally. Easier said than done, you might say? Sure. But how can we get there?

In her groundbreaking book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams distinguishes between our place of learning and our place of judgment. So often, we may beat ourselves up for something we did – we judge ourselves harshly. What happens? We end up stuck – at times not knowing what to do next, afraid to take action and make another mistake. But when we’re in a place of learning, mistakes are part of the equation. In fact, they’re seen as trying to get it right – to have the end result be the best it can be. Ms. Adams offers that when we use questions-based thinking and ask ourselves the right questions, we have the opportunity to be in that place of learning rather than judgment and paralysis.

Getting to this place of learning is the secret to receiving feedback. This is where we separate our sense of worth as a human being from our behavior or work product. Feedback has nothing to do with who we are as human beings. And everything to do with producing the best our companies can offer.

Here are a few things you might try when you’re given feedback. See what you think.

1. Begin by assuming positive intent. It’s not about your worth as a human being. No one is out to hurt you. What if this were just about the company producing its very best? And you are an integral and necessary part of that.

2. Choose to be in a place of learning. Questions you might ask yourself include: “What are the facts here?” “What is this about for the company?” “What am I responsible for?” “What can I learn?”

3. If we find ourselves starting to take it personally, choose to catch yourself. You might try asking: “Am I judging myself?” “What assumptions am I making?” “How else can I think about this?”

4. If you believe the feedback is more than just about the project at hand, ask about it. “I notice you seem really upset. What’s going on?” Again, the purpose to feedback is to create a conversation. Find out what is at stake. Repeat back what you hear to create beginnings of mutual understanding. This is possible from a place of learning with your self-worth intact.

5. Find the commonality. Make it about the company, not about you. What do you both agree on? What is this really about for the team? What are you on board with? What questions do you have?

Now there may be situations where, sadly, the culture of the company or team essentially does not support an atmosphere of learning. In this place, we still have an opportunity to be in a place of learning – that is, to build our muscle of self-worth and self-forgiveness for our mistakes. Ultimately, we get to take responsibility for our behavior. We get to choose. We get to decide if we are aligned with the company’s mission and purpose, and whether that is a worthwhile endeavor.


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