Rules for Receiving Feedback


“You don’t listen!”

“You don’t have to pretend like you know all the answer.”

“One day your mouth is going to get you in a lot of trouble.”

“When I talk to you, you act disinterested.”

“You need to learn more about your audience before you start making suggestions on their behalf.”

“Put a smile on your face and act like you actually care.”

“You ramble too much. Just get to the point already!”

How’s that for some feedback? Those are just a few of the things that family, friends, coworkers, and bosses have told me over the years. Some of the feedback I got was fair and helpful. Others, not so much. But as I’ve matured personally and professionally, I’ve learned to genuinely seek and welcome constructive feedback. Doing that has made me better in my relationships, my work performance, my confidence, and everything in between. But from time to time, I still slip into old habits, rejecting feedback as a “them” problem and not a “me” problem.

To help me keep my focus where it should be, I follow 5 simple rules to ensure that I’m open to and continually seeking and receiving feedback. Here they are:

  1. Understand that you have blind spots. By being open to feedback, we find that other people will show us a different view of ourselves, which we cannot see. We all have blind spots, but we don’t know what they are until someone tells us. If you’re not open to feedback, you’ll continue to be blind to how others view you.
  2. You have to initiate feedback. Think about the people closes to you: spouse, significant other, business partner, best friend. I guarantee you that they know the things you need to work on. They’re just keeping to themselves because you haven’t asked them what those things are. So to start a conversation, you might ask a simple question: “What is one thing that I could do better?” By asking the person to name just one thing, you’re keeping their feedback focused and productive. That said, depending on who you ask, just know that you might get 2-3 things they think you need to work on anyway!
  3. Analyze the message, not the messenger. Here’s one I’ve struggled with over the years. Too many times, I’ve dismissed constructive criticism due to the timing of the feedback or the person giving it. When you get disquieting feedback, take a deep breath, catalogue the criticism, and then, when you’ve overcome the shock, analyze the feedback with yourself honestly. Ask yourself what is true and what is not. If you’re struggling to answer those questions, seek the advice of a trusted mentor, colleague, friend, or family member. Ask them which parts of the feedback are accurate. But with any feedback, keep in mind that there are some people in our lives who are just plain toxic, and live to make others miserable.
  4. You do not have to accept all feedback as true. Listening, being open-minded and objective, and analyzing feedback you receive doesn’t mean you have to take the feedback at face value. After thoughtful consideration, and checking in with someone else you trust, you might decide there isn’t enough truth to what was originally said. Ultimately, you have to decide what you think is valid and what isn’t. However, to get to that point, you have to make sure you’ve gone through the process honestly, dissecting the feedback with yourself and those you trust.
  5. Don’t dismiss positive feedback. It’s natural to put constructive or negative feedback on a replay loop in your mind, playing it over and over again. While it feels great to receive positive feedback on things I’ve done well, I also tend to dismiss it quickly, opting to instead go back into that negative feedback loop in my head. Force yourself to take inventory of the positive feedback you receive. Ask yourself how it can help you improve the areas you’ve being challenged in, and use that additional energy from positive feedback to work through the constructive feedback you receive.

Will Adams

Will Adams is the GM for Small Business Services for Will leads the company’s efforts in serving small business owners and their employees through consulting, software, education, employee training, and advocacy. Will is also the co-founder of a successful Software as a Service (SaaS) business that currently serves small museums and family offices throughout North America. In addition to his business interests, Will serves on the board of Atlanta Children’s Foundation, connecting individuals, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of children in foster care.