Finding the Coaching in Criticism


The right ways to receive feedback.

By Sheila Heen and Douglass Stone
Reviewed by Stacy M Menz, PT, DPT, PCS

This article explores how you can create the maximum value out of feedback you receive. While feedback may be an integral part of a work experience, it is often not as effective as it could be. A simple look at the statistics show that only 36 percent of managers complete appraisals thoroughly and as scheduled, and 55 percent of employees say that their most recent review was inaccurate or unfair. One in four people say they dread these evaluations more than any other part of their work life. Often companies train the reviewer to be more effective in communicating the feedback, but this is only half the battle. You can have feedback provided in the best possible way; however, if the receiver is not open to it, they will not absorb what is being said—the receiver controls the effectiveness of the feedback.

Receiving feedback is something that most people struggle with, but luckily the skills required to receive feedback are “distinct and learnable.” Learning how to discover value through criticism, no matter how it is delivered, as well as recognizing the emotions that are triggered, are important pieces of this process. Three ways feedback “pushes buttons” are: truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers. Is the feedback valid? Who gave us the feedback? How does it affect your sense of who you are? While all of these responses are natural, the answer is not to ignore them, but to recognize them and work constructively with them.

Below are the 6 steps to becoming a better receiver of feedback:

  1. Know your tendencies. Ask yourself, “How do you react to feedback?” You have received enough feedback in your life that you can start to recognize some trends. By recognizing how you react when given feedback, you can start to take that reaction into your appraisal to steer away from snap judgments that are colored by your reaction.
  2. Disentangle the “what” from the “who.” Separate who is delivering the message/feedback from what is being said. By discounting feedback because of who is providing it, you may be missing out on important information.
  3. Sort toward coaching. Feedback can be evaluative or coaching. Evaluative feedback tells a person where they stand and what is expected of them, while coaching supports the person in learning and improving. Listen to feedback with the angle that it is all coaching and potentially has something valuable from which you can learn. This strategy can remove some of the emotional charge.
  4. Unpack the feedback. Since it is not always immediately evident if feedback is valid or useful, take a deeper look at it and work to understand it before you accept or reject it. What was it that prompted the feedback? Where is the feedback going? What does the person who provided it want differently from you and why?
  5. Ask for just one thing. If you initiate the feedback, you can lessen the emotional impact. Those who seek out critical feedback tend to receive higher performance ratings. Not only does it improve their receptiveness, it also influences how the person providing the feedback sees you.
  6. Engage in small experiments. Even if you doubt a suggestion will work, give it a try if there is little risk and potential for high reward. The results may not be what you were looking for, but you may discover other solutions in the process.

While criticism/feedback can be hard to take, your growth is tied to your ability to find the value in what is being presented to you. Just remember “you are the most important factor in your own development.”

Practice Bottomline

While we want to support our managers and supervisors in providing staff with effective feedback and constructive criticism, we may also need to work with our staff on how to accept feedback. Support them in doing an inventory that looks at these six factors so that they can be prepared and proactive in seeking out ways to grow and develop.

The article can be found at this location:

Stacy Menz, PT, DPT, PCS, is the founder of Starfish Therapies located in San Francisco and the Bay Area. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

Are you a PPS Member?
Please sign in to access site.
Enter Site!