Find the Coaching in Criticism, the right ways to receive feedback


Find the Coaching in Criticism, the right ways to receive feedback

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Feedback is crucial in the development of people. It solves problems, aligns expectations and improves performance. However, in many organizations feedback doesn’t work. An assumption often made is that the person who gives feedback is in charge of making sure the feedback is effective. Good feedback though is only useful if the receiver is able to absorb it in the right way. It’s the receiver who decides whether he’s going to reject it or accept it and do something with it. In the article the authors analyze why feedback doesn’t work and point out six steps to becoming a better receiver. Want to know more? Read here.


Find the Coaching in Criticism

The right ways to receive feedback 


The psychological triggers of feedback

The authors analyzed why feedback doesn’t register and found out that feedback strikes at the tension of two core human needs: the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are. Feedback can sparkle an emotional reaction, inject tensions in relationships, and bring communication to a halt if the receiver feels it’s not right. The good thing is that you can learn to receive feedback. If you identify and manage your emotions that trigger it, feedback can be very valuable. In their study, the authors defined three different triggers that can cause anger in the receiver: Truth triggers (if the content is unhelpful or untrue); Relationship triggers (linked to the person who gives the feedback); and Identity triggers (linked to the relationship with yourself). The solution isn’t to pretend you don’t have them, it’s to recognize what’s going on and learn how to benefit from feedback despite the triggers.

Six steps to Becoming a Better Receiver

Receiving feedback is a process of filtering and sorting the different aspects that are important and the triggers that define a pattern on how you will react to certain feedback. The six steps the authors point out in the article will help you as the receiver to put things into perspective and get the most out of the feedback which is given to you.

  1. Know your tendencies: if you understand how you react and what your standard operating procedure is, you are able to make better choices about how to deal with feedback.
  2. Disentangle the “what” from the “who”: if the feedback is on target and the advice is wise, it shouldn’t matter who delivers it. Learn to separate the messenger from the message and then consider both to get the most out of the feedback.
  3. Tend towards coaching: feedback can be an evaluation, telling you where you stand. For example, a rating or a coaching can show what you need to improve to play at a higher level. When in doubt, people tend to assume the worst and put even well-intentioned coaching in the evaluation bin. When possible, tend towards coaching; you’ll see feedback as a valuable advice rather than an indictment on how you did things.
  4. Unpack the feedback: your view on things may be different from that of the person giving the feedback. Before rejecting or accepting the feedback, analyze it, have a conversation about the perceived best practices and you’ll see what the valid and useful aspects in the feedback are.
  5. Ask for just one thing: don’t wait until you receive feedback but find opportunities to ask several people over several moments about one thing you can improve. As such you’ll be able to find out, but also influence the way people see you.
  6. Engage in small experiments: to find out what advice will help and what won’t, test it out, design small experiments and see if you can tweak them, try another approach or end it if it doesn’t work out.



In the article the authors show that criticism is never easy to take and that feedback can activate psychological triggers. The six steps can help you put feedback more in perspective and handle it in a better way. Your growth depends on the ability to pull value from feedback and on your willingness to seek out even more advice and coaching from others. They conclude “if you’re determined to learn from whatever feedback you get, no one can stop you”.

Authors Info:

Sheila Heen is an American author and lecturer in law at Harvard Law School. There she spent the last fifteen years in the Harvard Negotiation Project, to develop negotiation theory and practice. She is founder and CEO of Triad Consulting and author of the best-selling books “Difficult Conversations” and “Thanks for feedback”.


Douglas Stone is Managing Partner of Triad Consulting and worked with Sheila Heen on the Harvard Negotiation Project. As consultant he has worked for major international companies and with mediators and journalists from all over the world. Douglas is co-author of the best-selling books “Difficult Conversations” and “Thanks for feedback”. He is also Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches Negotiation.