Mike McMahon AUSD
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Principles of Receiving Feedback

Source: Coalition of Essential Schools

There may be a time when the person giving you feedback does not know or does not follow feedback guidelines. In these cases, you can help the person reshape their comments or criticism into constructive feedback. In all cases, when receiving feedback:

1. Breathe. This may seem overly simple but remembering to do it can make a difference. Our bodies are conditioned to react to stressful situations as if they were physical assaults (e.g., muscles tense, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. etc.) Taking full breaths will help your body to relax and your brain to focus.

2. Specify the behavior about which you want feedback. The more specific you can be about the feedback you want, the more likely you are to be able to act upon it. For example, if you want to know how students reacted to an assignment, ask, "What did the students in the small group you observed do after I finished answering their questions?" rather than "How did it go?"

3. Listen carefully. Don't interrupt or discourage the person giving feedback. Don't defend yourself ("It wasn't my fault...") and don't justify ("I only did that because...").

4. Clarify your understanding of the feedback. You need to get clear feedback in order for it to be helpful. Ask for specific examples, e.g. "Can you describe what I do or say that makes me appear aggressive to you?"

5. Summarize your understanding of the feedback. Paraphrase the message in your own words to be sure you have heard and understood what was said.

6. Take time to sort out what you heard. You may need time to think about what was said and how you feel about it or to check with others before responding to the feedback. This is a normal response but should not be used as an excuse to avoid the issue.

7. Check out possible responses with the person who gave you feedback. A good way to pre-test an alternative approach to a situation that has caused problems for you in the past is to ask the person who gave you feedback if he/she thinks it will be more effective. That provides a first screen, and makes the feedback-giver feel heard.

Adapted from "The Art of Feedback," by S.C. Bushardt and A.R. Fowler. Jr., in The 1989 Annual: Developing Human Resources, edited by J.W. Pfeiffer, 1989, San Diego, CA: University Associates and The Team Handbook by Peter Scholtes et al, 1988, Joiner Associates, Madison, WI. revised 6/96

Receiving Feedback: Summary

  1. Be specific about the feedback you want
  2. Be open to the feedback
    • don't ask for it if you don't want to know
    • avoid defensiveness
    • don't justify
  3. Clarify/check your understanding of the feedback
  4. Summarize your understanding of the feedback
  5. Share your reaction to the feedback

Additional Guidelines for Receiving Feedback

These are techniques to help you deal with your own defensiveness so that you can make use of criticism when it is offered to you.

How to Receive Criticism

  • Listen carefully. Don't interrupt or discourage the person.
  • Think about what has been said. Do you understand why the person feels the way they do?
  • Ask for specifics if the statement is general. "Can you tell me what I do or say that makes me appear so aggressive to you?
  • Let the other person know that you have heard and understood what they have said, whether you agree with it or not.
  • Paraphase the criticism in your own words.
  • Empathizing with the Criticism is helpful for understanding the other person's viewpoint and reducing defensiveness: "I can see how my statement could make you feel upset."
  • Ask what you could do differently in the future if you are not sure. Be sure you know why their suggestion would be better.
  • If not sure, ask for time to think about it. "That's heavy. I need a moment to think about it." Do this whenever you need to (but don't use it as an escape hatch).

How to Evaluate the criticism

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I being asked to change something I am capable of changing?
  • Am I willing to work at changing it?
  • What is true in what the person is saying? What is not true?
  • What are the consequences of changing and of not changing?

How to Respond

  • Don't deny it.
  • Agree with the truth in the statement. "I find certain things you say to be quite true."
  • Agree with the odds. "I suppose there is a chance of having an accident."
  • Agree in principle. "I guess I do lose my temper a little too easily.
  • If nothing else, agree that the criticism is their perception. "I can see that you see me as domineering."
  • If you agree and are willing to make changes, say so.
  • Apologize if appropriate but don't beg forgiveness.
  • Then try to change the situation and enlist the other person's help if you want.
  • If you disagree with the criticism, say so and explain the situation as you see it.
  • Maintain an open atmosphere and try to problem-solve a solution that meets both your needs.
  • Get a third party to help if necessary.

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Last modified: June 2, 2004

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