How to Handle Feedback in 10 Steps


Published: 23 October 2019

The following ten steps are intended to help you take on and respond to feedback from managers, coworkers and patients in a professional manner.

Your performance at work does not only relate to you. It affects patients, clients, other staff, and the overall provision of care. Consider the giving and receiving of feedback as a tool to facilitate improvements to the quality of patient care in your workplace.

1. Manage Your Initial Response (i.e. Avoid Getting Defensive)

When receiving criticism, the best way to manage your response is to take a moment; don’t react straight away. Your initial reaction is likely to be a defence. Taking just one or two seconds will allow your brain to process this new information and moderate your reaction.

Even if you do have a reasonable defence, it may not be as effective if you express it as a snappy quip (Lindsay n.d.).

Once you’ve taken some time to think, you might find that you’re ready to respond to what they’ve said, or you might want more time.

2. Active Listening

Let the person giving feedback express themselves without interruption. Remember that most people find it daunting to give feedback, so there’s a good chance that they’re raising it for a reason (Lindsay n.d.).

If you find it useful, repeat the feedback to the person for clarification, for example, ‘so what you’re saying is that you think I could contribute more to our team meetings?’ Through active listening (listening for the content, intent, and feeling) closely, you'll have more chance of determining the exact intent of the feedback.

3. Consider the Potential Benefits

Rather than interpreting feedback negatively, (for example, a criticism of your character), think of how this feedback might enhance your performance at work. Feedback has the potential to strengthen your skills; productivity; outcomes; and relationships.

Even if the feedback is coming from someone who you do not consider to be an expert in their field, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to glean from what they have to say (Lindsay n.d.)

Coffee on napkin that has a message | Image
Your performance at work does not only relate to you, it affects patients, clients, other staff, and the overall provision of care.

4. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Imagine you were the one giving feedback. You know that you would only give feedback if you thought it was essential. You might provide feedback because you want to help someone; because you want to prevent someone from making a mistake or getting in trouble; or because they've upset you, a patient or another team member, and they're not aware of it.

Consider the way the person framed their feedback. Maybe on reflection you can see the ways they tried not to hurt your feelings (Nawalkha 2018).

5. Thank Them Sincerely

Tell them you appreciate that they’ve taken the time to talk to you about this and thank them for having your development in mind. This can be particularly difficult if you feel put-out by the feedback or if it wasn’t delivered in the most tactful way.

Thanking them doesn’t mean that you agree, it’s just a way of being mature and recognising the effort the person took to give you this feedback (Lindsay n.d.).

6. Ask for Examples to Better Understand the Feedback

Ask open-ended questions such as,

    “Just to help me understand, what was it about my patient interaction that seemed rushed?”

If they’re having trouble articulating this, ask more direct questions:

    “Was it the way I spoke to them? Or, was it the way I took their food tray from their bed?”

This is for your own benefit. Feedback is only useful if you can act on it; it’s hard to act on feedback that is too general.

If they don’t specify, ask whether they perceive this to be an isolated issue or if it’s something they’ve noticed a few times (Lindsay n.d.).

Man speaking into large megaphone | Image
Imagine you were the one giving feedback. You know that you would only give feedback if you thought it was essential.

7. Request Time to Follow Up

There are a few reasons why you might want to do this. If it’s a large issue, a follow-up will be necessary. If you feel particularly blindsided by the feedback you might want to talk to other coworkers about it and seek advice (Lindsay n.d.).

You also might want time to think about what actions you will take as a response to the feedback, beyond what the person giving feedback might have suggested.

Asking for more time also lets the other person know that you’re taking their feedback seriously (Grote 2015).

8. Engage in Self-Assessment

This can be hard. You likely do things a certain way because you’ve decided that’s the best way to do it. It can be confronting when someone tells you it isn’t.

One method of self-assessment is to assess your performance carrying out certain tasks and break them down into distinct components. This way, you will be able to determine where in the process you may have gone wrong (Algiraigri 2014).

9. Be Prepared For It

Know that in any professional work environment, unsolicited feedback could be provided to you at any moment. Be ready for feedback by acknowledging that everyone has room for improvement.

Better still, show maturity and accountability by taking initiative and asking for feedback.

10. Test it / Move On

If after following these steps you’ve come to the realisation that there is room for improvement in your work, act on the feedback. If the suggestions from the person giving feedback don’t sit right with you, brainstorm other ways you could work differently (Way Up n.d.).

You might find that your new way of working is actually a powerful tool to help you move forward. Even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll have demonstrated that you’re someone who is able to accept their flaws and work on their performance.

It’s not only for your benefit to know how to handle feedback. It’s important for the whole organisation and the quality of care.

Recommendations from the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards

Feedback is an action within the Clinical Governance Standard of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s (ACSQHC) National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards. The following is considered as necessary for an organisation’s development:

The health service organisation:

  • Implements processes to facilitate feedback from patients, carers and families about their experience of the organisation and care outcomes.
  • Implements processes to facilitate feedback from the workforce on their knowledge and understanding of the safety and quality systems.
  • Makes use of this information to enhance safety and quality systems.

(Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare 2017)

People having a discussion in a meeting | Image
Know that in any professional work environment, unsolicited feedback could be provided to you at any moment.

Further Reading

For more on this topic, read, ‘How to Handle Complaints in Healthcare’.

Additional Resources


Test Your Knowledge

(Subscribers Only)

Question 1 of 3

True or false? It’s easier to act on feedback when it’s general.

Start an Ausmed Subscription to unlock this feature!