3 Things to Help You Get Feedback Without Getting Upset!

During the “Black and White” gala celebrating the end of my previous life (my retirement from the Air Force), I got roasted pretty thoroughly. There was video with “actors”…my car had a starring role. Whenever the audience’s laughter lagged, there was a laugh track…featuring me.

My own laugh was the laugh track to my roast!

Prior to the event, two young officers infiltrated my office for the sole purpose of making me laugh so they could record it.

It was pretty funny.

And I understood the power of my laugh as I watched people who didn’t laugh at first, laugh at me. I also understood why some people hearing me laugh wanted/want to know “What IS that noise?”

It was great feedback for me about something that is such an authentic part of who I am. And while I can’t change the sound, I can be sensitive to and conscious of my impact on others in a way that doesn’t suppress my natural exuberance for life.

Which brings me to the real topic of this blog (no, it is not #LaughingWhileBlack)…Feedback!

I thought of my retirement party during last year’s Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit where self-awareness and feedback were frequent topics of discussion.

The presentation by Shelia Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback (a sentiment most of us have a hard time feeling, let alone expressing), particularly resonated with me. Heen reminded the attendees that since we don’t get to hear our voices, see our faces or feel the energy others feel emanating from our persons as we present ourselves to the world, feedback can be very helpful if we can receive it well. In fact, the ability to receive feedback is crucial to effective leadership.

“People have info about you that’s invisible to you.” Shelia Heen. Tweet this now!

But feedback often triggers reactions that make the giver uncomfortable, ensuring needed feedback will be withheld in the future.

You won’t get feedback unless your team believes you can hear it. Tweet this now!

And it’s not just the negative stuff we have a hard time hearing; studies show that even comments that would be considered complimentary are hard for most of us to accept. That’s because most “people actively seek to verify their own perceptions of themselves, whether those are positive or negative.” So even a comment intended as a compliment can gets pushback if the receiver doesn’t agree with it.

The problem is we all want to be loved and accepted for who we THINK we are. Most of the time, we’re not intentionally choosing behaviors meant to elicit negative reactions. So when the reaction is other than what we expect, we get frustrated, defensive, and unable to hear.

I experienced this a few time in my previous life where feedback was vital part of the promotion process. Annual performance evaluations helped determine who stayed on active duty in the “up or out” military promotion system. Feedback sessions to establish performance goals and analyze progress were an informal, then formal part of the process.

Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear but it gave me a glimpse as to whether what I thought I was projecting was actually being perceived in the way I intended. I had to work on not being defensive and just listen to the lesson and then decide if and how to incorporate it into how I led. Every new assignment was a new chance to be a better leader with a team not influenced by my previous mistakes.

“People who are willing to look at themselves are just easier to work with and to live with.” ~ Shelia Heen. Tweet this now!

My experience receiving feedback in the Air Force has helped me learn to take a minute, understand what the feedback means and if and how to incorporate it in my performance. Heen introduced some language around the types of feedback that I wish I had during my time on active duty. She described the three types of feedback as Appreciation, Coaching and Evaluation.


We all want to be seen and heard and know that what we are saying and doing matters; expressing appreciation is a way to say “Thank You” and affirms to the listener that his contributions to the team are known and necessary. This is so important the Profit Pathway team sets aside time during what we call Affirmation Friday to express appreciation for the gifts and talents we each bring to the enterprise. It encourages each member of the team to really look for ways the others are contributing they may have missed initially.


Helping others discover ways to grow and develop is what coaching is all about. Being focused on your continuous growth can make it easier to for you to receive feedback; the feedback is not necessarily about what you did wrong but what you can do better.

Or maybe it is about something that went wrong; coaching feedback can help you find the lessons in the mistake.


An evaluation is like an assessment. In a work environment, your performance is usually being evaluated against a standard or against others doing the same or similar work. My military evaluations contained high points from the previous year as well how my performance ranked among that of my peers. My evaluations helped me assess my standings, my chances of being promoted and earning more responsibility.

The person receiving feedback has the power to determine the effectiveness of the feedback. Having a growth mindset helps…so does knowing how to ask for the type of feedback you want and learning to recognize the type of feedback being given.

“Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.” ~ Shelia Heen Tweet this now!

from Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well is by Shelia Heen and Douglas Stone.

Something to think about:

  • How well do you receive feedback?
  • What type of feedback impacts you negatively?
  • What can you do to change how you receive feedback?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked