Feedback is an important part of our professional development. After all, no one without experience starts a new job knowing all the ins and outs. But not everybody handles criticism as well as they should. So, let’s go over how to prepare for feedback at work.

A lot of people don’t have a great relationship with workplace feedback. Maybe you’re one of them. But it’s not necessarily your fault. Too many employers fail to invest in effective methods. Proper feedback should be two-way. And it should also be meaningful and timely.

But, today, we aren’t here to talk about the feedback you give your manager. We’re here to talk about the critiques they give you, and how to get the most out of them.

Why you need feedback at work

It’s important to be able to engage with feedback for it to be useful. Especially when it’s critical in nature. Of course, nobody likes having their flaws or failures pointed out. But, if you don’t face up to your shortcomings, you’ll never overcome them them. Feedback is essential, whether it’s a performance review, 1:1 or a brief conversation.

The benefits of critical feedback include:

Continual self-improvement

Work can feel more meaningful when you’re able to take pride in it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of mastering a skill. And a good manager is there to help you find your optimum working rhythm.

Ongoing feedback builds a dialogue. And it gets employees like you invested in the process. In fact, 2021 Gallup research shows that employees who had “meaningful feedback” in the past week were up to four times as likely to be engaged at work.

Aiming to improve can help you to thrive at work. And, in the long run, it’s the kind of thing that will keep you from getting bored and disengaged. Having something you’re working towards is a vital part of self-motivation.

Career development

Some people are content in their positions. But most want to work their way up. We all like the idea of earning a bigger salary, or getting more of a say around the office.

But, if you have career ambitions, knowing how to prepare for feedback at work is essential. Especially when it comes from someone in a position you one day hope to occupy.

Long-term stress management

Even the best, most fulfilling jobs in the world come with their share of stress. And it’s how you handle job stress that can determine how long you stay in a given role.

A lot of stressors are outside your control. Annoying colleagues, bad bosses, or distracting environments. But there are plenty of stressors you’re directly responsible for. Like inefficiencies in your work habits.

Ways people struggle with feedback

Gallup has previously found that only around a quarter of employees strongly agreed that feedback helped them. But, as noted, this is often down to systems for feedback being subpar.

But it’s also true that some people struggle with accepting feedback. Not everyone handles criticism in the same way. But, you must be prepared to receive feedback at work if you want to actually benefit from it.

You’ll need to get past these hurdles:

1. Reacting negatively and getting defensive

This is the most immediate roadblock managers can encounter when trying to give feedback to an employee. And it can be a difficult habit for some employees to shake.

But bracing for criticism is an important part of how to prepare for feedback at work.

What makes it so tricky is that, sometimes, you’re right to disagree. Perhaps the feedback isn’t timely, and your old bad habits are no longer a factor. Or you might have a manager who doesn’t pay attention to your actual achievements.

The trick is not to go straight to those assumptions. You need to hear your boss out and reflect on your work before you go on the defensive.

2. Focusing on some elements while ignoring others

A way of giving feedback that we’ve been critical of in the past is known as the “feedback sandwich” or sandwich method.

The sandwich method means bookending negative feedback with positive feedback. In other words, it goes, compliment, criticism, compliment.

The problem is, people tend to focus too much on one side. The positive, or the negative. And, sandwich method or not, this is something to watch out for as an employee too.

Your shortcomings don’t detract from your successes. But, equally, your achievements don’t excuse your mistakes. If you want to know how to prepare for feedback at work, start thinking about the big picture.

3. Difficulty applying feedback to their work 

Even if employees are willing to take feedback, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. It’s one thing to understand your manager’s point in a performance conversation. But another entirely to apply is in a real-world setting.

But don’t worry. Even if applying critical feedback is something you struggle with, it’s still a skill like any other. And that means you can improve.

Tips on how to prepare for feedback at work

The first step is to recognise that even negative feedback is good for you. Despite how it may make you feel in the moment. But consciously acknowledging that and putting it into practice are two very different things.

So, here’s our advice on how to prepare for feedback at work.

Hear them out before you react

It can be so frustrating when people view you as defensive. You know any attempt to disagree will get you painted as such. So it can end up feeling like you can’t self-advocate properly. So, how can you do so without being labeled as defensive?

Honestly, the best thing you can do is not be quick to respond. For one thing, it makes you seem less reactionary. But, more importantly, it lets feedback givers make their full point without hurrying. And it gives you time to think.

As your boss (or whoever) fleshes out their feedback and you mull it over, you might find they actually have a point.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you struggle with criticism, your first response might be to shy away from it. To give it token acknowledgement, end the conversation and move on. But you’re making a mistake if you do that.

Asking questions is an important part of the feedback conversation for a few reasons. For one thing, it fills gaps in your understanding. You know, the thing questions are supposed to do.

But it’s also active listening. It shows you’re taking the feedback seriously, and not just writing it off. And, by asking questions, you can even challenge a feedback-giver’s assumptions in a non-argumentative way.

Start developing a strategy for applying feedback

If you struggle to apply feedback, then it’s best to start thinking about it right away. Even better, start planning with your boss during the performance conversation.

Self-reflection may be important. But it’s also possible to overthink feedback. And all those variables can be what makes it difficult to apply.

Use feedback to create a concise list of habits and performance goals. Then you can tick them off throughout each workday.

Find examples of your self-improvement

Ideally, your performance management should be ongoing. So it’s also worth thinking about your next conversation. Especially if your manager uses a system for regular feedback, like an employee check-in.

Say, for example, that you’ve been criticised for your turnaround time for certain tasks. You could start timing yourself doing those jobs to see how much you can speed up.

Being able to document your own self-improvement isn’t just a matter of pride. It’s a way of proving to people that you’re growing as an employee.

Keep engaging your feedback givers

This is in a similar vein to our advice about asking questions, except more long-term. If a feedback giver has criticised your work, you might feel the urge to avoid them. But don’t.

People who are willing to give serious (and negative) feedback are important. The easy and lazy thing would be to fob you off with compliments. So anyone who takes the time to highlight what you could improve is worth holding onto.

Other people don’t lose anything if you ignore them. Whether they’re your boss, or colleagues giving 360 feedback. But you’re more likely to succeed in your career if you listen to those who speak hard truths.

Appreciate critical feedback while you have it

If you fail to appreciate critical feedback in the present, you’ll regret it in the future. Of course, if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably had a similar thought already. Otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to prepare for feedback at work.

In general, people struggle with feedback because it’s a blow to their ego. And some people never overcome their aversion to getting criticism. It doesn’t just magically fall away. So, as counter-intuitive as it seems, you’ve got to actually work on mellowing out.

At best, failing to accept feedback means you’ll never reach your full potential. But, at worst, it also means burning personal and professional bridges out of stubbornness.