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How to Ask for and Receive Feedback Like a Pro

If there is something that makes almost everyone feel a little uncomfortable, it is receiving feedback. Because it is most often associated with negativity, the word alone can conjure up fear and discomfort. Which means, many people avoid asking for feedback.

The problem is that many internalize feedback as a commentary on who they are as a person instead of information to enhance their performance.

Also, many just don’t know how to ask for feedback or what to say when they receive it. This leads to avoiding it. But when we do that, we miss out on opportunities to take our work to the next level.

Receiving feedback can be a turning point to something great.

Asking for feedback and receiving it well is a cornerstone of professional maturity and it is a competency for anyone who wants to advance their skill set and their career. It can also enhance the performance of the whole team.

Understanding why asking for and receiving feedback matters as well as doing so in a predictable way enables individuals and teams to not just perform their best, but also create work environments we all crave.

Read on to learn more about why asking for feedback matters and how to do it in a way that yields specific and genuine information intended to enhance your performance.

Why asking for feedback matters

Leaders and teams perform best when a learning mindset is fostered. This means everyone on the team can ask questions and listen (obvious learning behaviors) but also invite disagreement, share wild ideas, report mistakes, challenge each other and be willing to be challenged. These behaviors create psychological safety or a sense of confidence that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In other words, you won’t be shut down or laughed at for being candid.

When this type of environment is created, people feel more secure which means, if you ask someone for feedback, they are more likely to share something helpful with you. Harmony is not the goal, rather openness and commitment to the work is. This results in creativity, innovation, and higher levels of performance, both for the leader and the team. To learn more about psychological safety, read here, here, and here.

While the person most responsible for creating a psychologically safe environment is the supervisor, the team bears responsibility as well. When a colleague demonstrates asking for feedback and receiving it in a non-threatening and supportive way, they model that it is safe and productive to engage in the discussions.

Finally, it cannot go unsaid that feedback is also about positive performance. Teams should not dismiss the importance and benefits of compliments and recognition of success, whether personal or team based. Asking for positive feedback is not an ego-stroke either. Rather, it affirms the actions that produce results. Everyone benefits from knowing what they should continue doing.

Reframe feedback by using different words

Some organizations have a culture where the word feedback is neutral, or even positive. When someone says, “I received some feedback today”, the response is not “Oh no. What did you do?” Rather, it is considered information that will improve the person’s performance or the results of the work. Many view feedback as a gift.

However, the opposite is true too. The word feedback is negative and implies something went wrong. Those who work in organizations like this benefit by reframing “feedback” by using a different word entirely.

Amantha Imber’s position of asking for advice instead is helpful. She writes that feedback is backward-looking and “…tends to be less actionable.” While advice is future focused and “…people are more likely to think critically and specifically about strategies the person could do to improve.”

If the word “advice” is more palatable, use it. Other words might be debrief, recommendations, suggestions, etc. Really, any synonym for advice or feedback.

That said, the word itself is less important than the process.

Give advanced notice and be specific

Feedback is much easier to give and receive when it is expected. This means, the person from whom you are requesting feedback knows that you are going to ask this of them, and they are given time to prepare. This applies to a specific activity or for recurring discussions.

Specific Activity

If you would like feedback on how you facilitate a meeting, deliver a presentation, or prepare a report, then give that person a heads-up that you would like them to observe you do this. Here’s an example:

“I’m trying to improve the way I demonstrate curiosity in meetings. Can I get your help? At the next project meeting, I’d like you to observe if I ask clarifying questions first before stating my opinions. I’m trying to practice being more curious so that I have a more accurate picture of the problems that are presented. Your insight and perspective will be helpful to me.”

This way, the person is prepared for what to observe. Then, the feedback you receive is valuable. Moreover, you are now demonstrating what it looks like to ask for feedback.

Recurring Discussions

Making feedback sessions routine and expected takes the fear out of them. The cadence depends on the team and the work. Some teams will have weekly debrief sessions, other teams may do so quarterly. If a team is new to debriefing or exchanging feedback with each other, it may take two or three rounds to get comfortable with it. Everyone (the team and the leader) will need to feel certain it is psychologically safe to do this.

I worked for a boss who conducted quarterly feedback sessions on his and our performance. We asked each other:

  1. What is one thing I do well that benefits the team or our work together?

  2. What is one thing I can do to be more effective?

  3. What can I stop doing?

This was a valuable exercise because it felt like we were on level playing fields and equally dedicated to performance.

That said, this exercise can also be conducted between colleagues or within a team. Because it is routine and expected, it diminishes the discomfort of feedback exchanges. Each party has the space to prepare for exchanging feedback and are ready to hear something that will improve their effectiveness. Colleagues, jointly, make it safe to ask for and receive feedback.

Prepare to receive feedback

Getting yourself ready to receive feedback is as important as being prepared to give it. Some people might say that it’s easier to give feedback than to receive it.

Giving feedback? You feel like an expert sharing knowledge and advice! Receiving feedback? You run the very real risk of feeling like a dummy.

But with preparation, receiving feedback can be more valuable than giving it. Here are some tips:

  • Consider it an exercise to help you get better and an opportunity to influence others with your own behavior. This means demonstrating how to receive feedback openly and professionally.

  • The person giving you feedback may be nervous. Make them feel comfortable.

  • Say thank you. In fact, this is the only thing you say after someone gives you feedback. There is no need to overtly agree nor disagree. It may sound like, “Thank you. This is helpful and I appreciate you sharing this.” Certainly, speak up if you need clarifications or examples but don't get defensive or argue.

But what if the feedback is hurtful, wrong, or you simply disagree with it?

Say thank you. The last thing you want to do is respond in a way that deters giving you feedback in the future. You do not have to agree. Responses in these situations might sound like:

  • “Thank you for your candor. You’ve given me something to think about. May I have some time to process it?”

  • “Thank you for raising this. I wasn’t aware and I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.”

Then, seek other viewpoints. One person’s feedback is a single data point. Drawing conclusions or making decisions on a single data point is short-sighted. Go to two or three other people and ask for the same feedback. If you receive multiple, confirming opinions, then you have better insight and something to improve upon.

If this person’s opinion remains an outlier, keep it in mind because it is their experience. Their experience is valid. You might need to adapt your actions or work to be more effective with them.

Asking for and receiving feedback is a skill, which means it requires practice. Consider where you want to take your work to the next level and identify a trusted colleague to partner with you. Employ the guidance here to ask them for feedback and then model how to receive it well. You will certainly benefit, and so will your team.


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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