5 Tips To Help You Receive Feedback : Life Kit Receiving feedback doesn't necessarily have to be terrifying, according to Shanita Williams, a feedback coach, professor and author of Feedback Mentality.

In this episode, Williams and Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a writer and editor, provide five tips to make receiving feedback a little less scary and something that's just part of doing the work.

Receiving Feedback Doesn't Have To Be Scary. Here's How You Can Get Most Out Of It

Receiving Feedback Doesn't Have To Be Scary. Here's How You Can Get Most Out Of It

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1030659507/1033446164" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR
Photograph of a bright blue plastic suggestion box with a person putting in a "suggestion" form. The suggestion box is lit from behind in front of a pink background and sits on an orange surface.
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

I don't know about you, but if somebody at work asks me, "Hey, can I give you some feedback?" my blood turns to ice. And at the mere mention of annual reviews, I find it hard to take a deep breath! But receiving feedback doesn't necessarily have to be terrifying, according to Shanita Williams, a feedback coach, professor and author of Feedback Mentality.

"I think that's where we get it wrong, is that we think any bit of information is meaning that we are less than as a person or that we are unworthy or unfit or incapable," Williams says. "When really, feedback is just information, and you have the power to decide what you do with it."

Explore Life Kit

This story comes from Life Kit, NPR's family of podcasts to help make life better — covering everything from exercise to raising kids to making friends. For more, sign up for the newsletter and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter

Another expert in receiving feedback is Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a writer, editor and all-around boss. In the teams they lead, Ishmael seeks to create a culture where giving feedback is constant. "What I try to do is kind of normalize the idea that feedback is ongoing because performance is ongoing." And like so many of us, they're not a fan of annual reviews.

"I think that they are the worst is because nobody should be hearing something from you for the first time in this super high stakes, very formal environment in which there, in some cases, continued employment or a promotion or a raise or something else that's really meaningful to them is tied to that," Ishmael says.

Both Williams and Ishmael have a lot of great ideas for how to make the process of receiving feedback something that's just part of doing the work.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR
Photograph of a pile of suggestion forms with a pen on top. The forms are stacked on a dark pink background.
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Remember that you don't have to use every bit of feedback that comes to you

As our (very) old pal Captain Planet used to say: the power is yours. Williams says: "You get to take full ownership of what you do with that information and have a plan on what you're going to do, either use it or not."

So if you get some feedback that you don't think is relevant? You don't have to take it in. Remembering that can help you not panic so much when your manager calls you into their office and asks you to shut the door.

Remember the acronym SIFT

Consider the source, impact, frequency and the trends of the feedback so that you can make a decision about how you want to incorporate it (or ignore it.)

  • For the source, consider if the person giving you the feedback is somebody whose opinion matters to you, or if it's somebody whom you don't have a lot of context about. 
  • The impact is about the scale of the feedback — is this about shifting your whole relationship to your work, or is it about changing your email signature? 
  • Frequency is how often you're hearing the feedback. "Is this something I've heard once  or am I hearing this every week?" Williams says. 
  • Trends are about where the feedback is coming from over a longer amount of time. "Is this showing up just at work or is it at home or school? Is it right in the community? Where else are you hearing that?" Williams says.

Ask for time and take notes to review later

Ask plenty of questions. Ask for time if you need it so you can process the feedback you're getting. And take notes, or ask the other person for notes so that you can revisit the feedback later on.

"One of the things you can absolutely say is 'thank you so much. I would love some time to think about this,'" Ishmael says. "'Can we have a follow-up conversation, or can you send me your notes on this? I'd love to be able to review them, and then we can talk again.'"

Practice active listening

Ishmael recommends checking in as the feedback is coming by repeating back and affirming what you've heard. "One of the phrases I use so often is 'I'm hearing this. Can I repeat that back to you to make sure I understand?' " they say. Active listening gives you a break to process so that you can hear the truth that might be in the feedback without getting so defensive, Ishmael says.

Stay OPEN

Observe, probe, express how you feel, and then decide on the next steps. Check in on how your body is feeling. Ask follow-up questions that can clarify the path forward. Express how you genuinely feel (and also some gratitude, Williams says.) Then, decide what the next steps are for you.

That moment when a colleague wants to give you some feedback may never be your favorite moment of the day, and it can be uncomfortable. But with this advice from Ishmael and Williams, maybe the next time you sit down for a feedback meeting or even if you decide to read your own podcast reviews, you can SIFT, stay OPEN and stave off any panic.


The podcast portion of this story was produced by Clare Marie Schneider with engineering support from Kwesi Lee.

We'd love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.

If you love Life Kit and want more, subscribe to our newsletter.