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Receiving and Accepting Feedback

written by Keely Johnson, M.A.

As the fall semester has come to an end and the New Year is beginning, feedback from professors, supervisors, and training sites may be underway. You may have experienced receiving feedback before based on your performance in multiple areas of your life such as from coaches for sporting events, reviews at work, from teachers and professors, and possibly within interpersonal relationships.


Receiving constructive feedback on ways to improve your abilities can prompt feelings of annoyance, frustration, hurt, and possibly defensiveness. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when receiving constructive feedback regarding how well you are performing can evoke the feelings of imposter syndrome or phenomenon and thoughts of “I just got lucky” or “I feel like a fraud.” You may feel uncomfortable or you may experience feelings of joy or excitement. Your body may also have a physical reaction to the feedback. Some people have experienced a racing heart, muscle tension, sweaty palms, or a rise in blood pressure. This may be a sign that the fight, flight, or freeze responses are kicking in. Take a moment and reflect about how you respond to feedback physically, mentally, and emotionally.


Did your mind wander towards the feedback about ways to improve your abilities or critical feedback? If so, you are not alone. Humans tend to focus on negative stimuli or events rather than focusing on the feeling of joy that can be evoked from praise or positive events. This is known as negativity bias. This is why bad first impressions can be difficult to change. Often times the negativity bias can skew our interpretations of critical feedback. For example, if someone was provided feedback for a strong performance in a course or at training site, the person may fixate on the few comments about areas to improve and grow. In response, the feelings of hurt, frustration, annoyance, or anger can occur. Research has shown that often times it takes five positive comments to balance out one negative comment.


Motivation can also be impacted by the feedback received. Oftentimes feedback can triggers an emotional response which can impact the motivational aspect of receiving feedback. To put it simply, if you experience negative emotions after receiving feedback, you may lose motivation while positive feedback encourages you to continue to improve. However, it is important to note, that some people are motivated by negative feedback. It’s helpful to reflect on how you are impacted by feedback and what is most helpful for you to foster motivation.  


Here are some strategies for receiving and accepting feedback:


  • Sometimes feedback can be perceived as harsh and this perception may be correct. If this occurs, try to take a step back and reframe what was said and sort out the constructive pieces of feedback. 
    • If you are unsure about what was said, get a second opinion and run it by a trusted colleague or friend.
  • Change negative self-talk. Consider what you have learned from the feedback provided and how you might apply this to your work in the future. Remind yourself this is an opportunity for growth and change.
  • If you are experiencing a physical response, focus on your breathing to help calm your body and mind. (Click the link below for a short, easy to follow video!)
  • For those in the moment feedback sessions, thank the person who is giving you the feedback. If you don’t know what to say, let them know you will respond at a later time.
  • If you need to respond immediately, focus on the positive takeaway messages of the interaction.
  • After receiving the feedback, do something nice for yourself. As you are going through your program, constant evaluation is common. Take a moment to treat yourself for the work you have put in thus far.
  • Take a moment to savor the positive moments and feedback. This is a helpful strategy for challenging the negativity bias.
  • Rather than waiting for feedback, seek it out. It is can be easier to receive the feedback when it has been invited.