5 Tips for Receiving Feedback Responsibly

For some, even the word “feedback” causes anxiety. How to productively process a critique of your work performance. 

Perspectives. Connect conversations. Opportunity talks. And now,  “feedforward discussions.”

Yes, “feedforward” is a play on the word “feedback,” and it’s the latest term some companies are using for what everyone used to call a “performance review.” But the word feedback can spawn anxiety. Employees can get so upset or panicked about performance reviews that some companies are now offering training on how to properly receive them.

Still, performance reviews, whether they’re called feedforward discussions or anything else, aren’t going away, and experts say employees have an obligation to receive them responsibly. “Listen to understand, not to respond, explain, or defend yourself,” says Korn Ferry Advance career and leadership coach Tiffinee Swanson

With that in mind, here are five tips Korn Ferry’s career coaches use to help their clients feel less stressed about getting feedback from the boss.

Ask for it in writing, or in person, or however you prefer.

Just as some students freeze up when taking tests, some employees simply shrink from face-to-face interactions with authority figures. Moreover, the pandemic and subsequent shift to remote work reduced interpersonal interactions so much that today, being around colleagues in-person again is one of the biggest causes of workers’ anxiety. More companies are now asking employees for their preferred mode of receiving feedback—via email, phone call, or video. If your company doesn’t ask up front, make a request. “Assess which method resonates most effectively with your growth and development, and ask for feedback that way,” says Frances Weir, an associate principal with Korn Ferry Advisory.

Don’t kill the messenger.

Performance reviews are often as stressful for managers as they are for employees, and—hard as it may be—it’s important to separate the review from the reviewer, says Swanson. “Focus on the content of the feedback, not the person,” she says, noting that performance reviews typically incorporate the thoughts of lots of different people. “It’s not easy to give open and honest feedback, so don’t view it as a personal attack,” she says.

Reflect rather than dismiss.

Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, don’t ignore it. Realize that an issue or action you think is trivial could be experienced differently by colleagues or customers. Ask for specific examples and restate what you’re hearing to make sure you understand what is being said. Run the feedback by others you trust to see if it’s an outlier or an indicator of a blind spot. “Take time to reflect on how you can turn feedback you don’t agree with into an opportunity,” Swanson says.

Get concrete.

If the feedback is valid and actionable, develop a plan to address areas for improvement. Set clear goals and establish timelines for implementing changes. Integrate the feedforward trend by asking, “What exactly would ‘good’ look like?” Ensure your manager has a front row seat to the changes you are making by providing regular updates on your progress. “Make your improvement visible,” says Weir.

Keep a healthy perspective.

Negative feedback doesn’t mean you are a terrible employee who is about to get fired. Nor does positive feedback mean you are the boss’s favorite and about to get a promotion. Feedback should be viewed for what it is, says Swanson: “an opportunity to learn and grow.” Instead of thinking in terms of criticism or praise, think of feedback as a snapshot of where you are currently in your professional development and what you have to do to reach your goals.


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.