ATD Blog

A-C-T: 3 Tips for Receiving Feedback

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. And as such, we need to thank people when they deliver it to us.

Case in Point

This point came home to me the other day in a conversation with an entrepreneur who asked me to look at his website and offer suggestions. I noted a few things, for which he thanked me, and then he continued to probe, making our conversation very open-ended. So, when he asked me for any final thoughts, I complimented him on his openness to receiving feedback and his willingness to listen and consider what I had said.

Too often, people ask for feedback when all they really want is praise. A friend of mine who is a clinical professor of pediatrics in a major university made this point to me when we talked about giving feedback. All his students—medical residents in pediatrics—want feedback, but when the conversations becomes critical they shirk. It is almost as if these young doctors, all of whom have experienced great success academically, are not prepared to accept that anything could be possibly wrong, especially not with them. After all, their demeanor cries out, they are special.

Give and Receive

We coach managers to prepare the ground for giving feedback by opening with an affirmative before offering criticism. Managers need to be specific as well as constructive. That is, focus on specific behaviors, not nebulous notions like “attitude.”


Perhaps, we also need to teach managers to how to accept feedback so that they, in turn, can set the right example for how to receive it. Good managers I know do this when they invite their direct reports to deliver feedback. It can be dicey for a subordinate to deliver feedback, but savvy managers create conditions for employees to do so.

Indeed, there is much discussion on how to give feedback, but relatively little on how to accept it. That’s why Goldsmith’s advice to say thank you is so telling.

Enter ACT


Good managers ask for feedback. More importantly, when they receive it, they smile and say thank you—even when it stings! So, for starters, here are few quick tips for how to accept feedback. Call it the ACT model: Accept, Clarify, and Thank!

Accept. This demonstrates that you are open to new ideas and willing to listen. Have a conversation about the feedback. Use open-ended questions to facilitate conversation.

Clarify. Ask for specific examples so that you understand what the other person expects of you. For example, if your boss says you need to communicate more concisely, ask him or her to give you an instance when you were not concise. You can even ask for tips or techniques to be more clear or more brief.

Thank. Consider the individual who delivers feedback as one who is taking time to help you. This may not always be true, but if you act open minded then you position yourself as a professional.Someone who fails to accept feedback is one who cuts him or herself off from learning. But not every piece of feedback is valid, and so the credibility of the person delivering it must be considered. If the feedback is coming from a trusted source—even if we don’t like that individual—it should be considered. If the feedback is valid, then the recipient should consider how it applies to them. Change may be warranted.

About the Author

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach, and speaks throughout North America and Europe. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead With Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide, and his books have been translated into 10 languages. He has also written more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications, including Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Bloomberg Businessweek. In 2015, Trust Across America named John to its list of the top 100 most trustworthy business experts for the second consecutive year. In 2014, listed him as a top 50 leadership expert and top 100 leadership speaker. Also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked him number 11 on its list of global leadership experts. John is chair of the leadership development practice of N2growth, a global leadership consultancy. His leadership resource website is  

1 Comment
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Ouch! This is a great piece. I received extremely disappointing feedback recently and did not handle it as well as I would have liked. I wish I had read this article prior to the meeting! I look forward to remembering it, hopefully in time, in the future. Thank you!
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