C-Suite Agenda

6 steps to help your team better receive feedback

Bernard Desmidt

The ability to both function as a team and learn from other team members are areas that have been very difficult to do effectively over the past few years with so much time spent away from the office.

One of the most distinguishing attributes of a high performing collaborative team, is the openness and willingness members bring to learn with and from one another. To learn means being willing to admit to what we don’t know, being open to seeing what we are blind to and recognising the gap between our aspired and actual levels of performance. Learning happens in conversation; it is a social process that involves reflection and dialogue.

Being open to asking for and receiving feedback, and committing to learning from it, is at the core of being an effective learner. For teams to learn, a safe and supportive space must be created. Only then will team members give themselves permission to be vulnerable to seek and courageously offer feedback. When team members are open to what they ‘don’t know’ and curious to ‘want to know’, learning is possible. In our increasingly competitive world, the constant need to know, to be right and to win could paradoxically become our undoing. 

How to be more open to give and receive critical feedback 

I invite you to declare yourself a ‘beginner’. This in no way ‘illegitimises’ what one knows; rather, it opens us up to learning about what we don’t know.

Feedback is crucial. Feedforward is vital. While much has been written and taught on how to provide feedback, less is offered on how to receive feedback. Learning happens in reflection: through feedback from others’ assessment of one’s past behaviour. To learn from feedback requires us to be vulnerable.

Learning also happens from recommendations: feedforward from others. Feedforward enables us to assess a situation differently or understand what different ways we could deal with or manage a difficult situation. To learn from feedforward requires us to be curious. 

The following six steps help team members to receive feedback better: 

  1. Observe the tendencies
    Are team members prone to being defensive or arguing about the method used to collect the feedback? Do they default to making excuses or striking back at the feedback? Do they first reject it but later consider it and accept it?
  2. Disentangle the ‘what’ from the ‘who’
    Do team members attack the messenger or attend to the message? It doesn’t matter who delivers the message; what matters is the message that’s sent. It’s critical that team members separate the message from the messenger.
  3. Sort towards coaching
    Some feedback is evaluative; it is based on ratings and on others’ judgement. Both matter. Do team members see the value in others’ assessments and are they open to being coached by their peers?
  4. Unpack the feedback
    Sometimes the message is hidden or lost in translation: how we hear it is not what the person delivering it intended. Do team members seek clarity or do they act on untested assumptions based on what they ‘knew’ the other person meant? Are team members proactive? Do they test how the message has been understood?
  5. Ask for just one thing
    Less is more. Do team members offer or seek the most important or beneficial learning others could provide?
  6. Engage in small experiments
    Learning happens in action. Nothing changes until something changes, so take action. Do team members share their intentions (what they could, may or possibly do differently) or their commitments (what they will or have done differently)? Learning happens through action, not intention.

The gifts of 1’s and 5’s

Most of us consider ourselves above average. This is more so the case when we assess ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10. Why is this so? Well, psychologists call it ‘illusory superiority’. David Dunning, author of Self-Insight, believes that illusory superiority ‘… happens for many reasons, two of which are others are too polite to say what they really think and incompetent people lack the skills to assess their abilities accurately.’ 

One of the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of illusory superiority and to ensure feedback is of the greatest value is to share the gifts of 1’s and 5’s. A rating of 3 on a 5-point scale is often a meaningless and unhelpful rating of oneself or another. It says nothing. There’s no learning in rating average. Learning happens at the edges: where a rating of 1 represents the greatest opportunity for change and improvement, and 5 represents a strength to be leveraged. So, when you are next asked to rate yourself or are invited to rate another, share the gifts of 1’s and 5’s. 

This is not to suggest that every indicator ought to be rated a 1 or a 5. If a questionnaire has 20 indicators, find at least three gifts each of 1 and 5. When sharing feedback, provide examples to illustrate what you mean and how you came to the rating. Ensure the other person understands the language you use to explain the rating.

As Arie de Geus, author of The Living Company, reminds us, ‘An organization’s ability to learn faster than its competitor is the only source of sustainable competitive advantage.’


Written by Bernard Desmidt.
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Listen Up! Five Ways to Be a Super Communicator by Dr. Monica Vermani.

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Bernard Desmidt
Bernard Desmidt, author of Team Better Together, is a renowned leadership coach, facilitator, and trainer. As a team coach, his expertise is in helping teams transition to become more collaborative, high-performing teams so they access more of their collective capacity and capability to achieve the greatest things possible.


Bernard Desmidt is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.