Listening to Feedback (Doing it Well)

In the last twelve months, I have delivered thousands of hours of workshops, presentations, and seminars. I am reaching over ten thousand hours of presenting information to audiences in my lifetime. I still don’t see myself as an expert. In each seminar, I try to be better than the last.

Last week one of my clients reached out to me with feedback from one of their participants. It read, in part, “This information provided in this seminar is wasteful and does not support HR Standards, policies or procedures. I patiently listened to the presented discuss his family, his mom, is and other experiences that I do not feel appropriate or support of my success in my role.”


It is still hard to read today. And my natural reaction is to defend my work. But this isn’t a story about what I did right or what I did wrong. It is about how we listen to feedback.

The thing about feedback is it is an opinion based on the individual’s expertise and expectations. All of us have received constructive feedback in our careers from our bosses, coworkers, teams, family, and at times from experts in our fields. It can be disheartening, especially if we think we did a fantastic job.

How should we listen to feedback?

  1. Do you know it already: The most brutal feedback I have received reinforced what I was thinking. If I delivered the presentation and I didn’t feel like I had gotten my point across and someone commented that they were confused, it hurt the most. If you are aware of this weakness in your performance, say thanks and ask for suggestions on how you can improve.
  2. Consider the source: All feedback is not the same: the source matters. Think of the difference between a child giving feedback on your cooking and Gordon Ramsey. Whose is most important to you? If it is your child, they may be more important than Gordon Ramsey; however, if it is just a random kid…well, you get the picture.
  3. Consider the Source (2): Feedback expresses a person’s opinion based on their expectations. It is not gospel. Each of us has biases based on our life experiences that shape how we think things should be. Is that person a reliable attributor of what is correct and what is wrong? How much do you want to weigh their feedback in your decision-making? Do they have the technical knowledge and skill to be a good judge of what you did? Do they understand the purpose of your actions?
  4. Intentions of the Deliverer: What purpose does this feedback serve the deliverer? Are they trying to help you, or are they trying to hold themselves up? Not all intentions are equal, sometimes people want to knock you down, and other times they want to help build you up. Other times they have their own agenda, and it has nothing to do with your performance.
  5. Think of it as a gift: Feedback is a gift in its purest form. It provides an outside perspective to how others are seeing our behaviors. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this feedback or what is useful in this feedback. If it is not applicable, regift it.
  6. Put it in perspective: If one person told you they didn’t enjoy your presentation, and twenty-five others did. Focus on the positive. Enjoy the admiration and move on.  When I worked at a television network, our on-air hosts would get rave reviews one day and knocked down the next. The smart on-air hosts ignored both and concentrated on the feedback that would make them better at their job.

When I read the above feedback, I was defensive and maybe, maybe just a little annoyed (read that as very annoyed). For the next twenty-four hours, I was obsessed with what the participant had said. I reviewed the presentation. I reviewed their participation. I wondered why the client would tell me this when they never pass on good feedback. It was an endless cycle of self-doubt.

Until I remembered what one of my mentors told me about feedback. Feedback, she said, is like a pair of shoes; if it doesn’t fit, then throw it out.

Feedback is a tool to improve our performance. We must get a broader perspective on how our performance affects others, and the only way we do that is to ask for it. But we must listen with a keen ear and only keep those things that will make us better in the long run.


PS: I work with managers, supervisors, and coworkers to teach them how to provide feedback to help others perform better effectively. If you are interested in improving your organization’s feedback culture, don’t hesitate to contact me at


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