Responding to feedback so your team members feel heard

Written by: Stacy Pollack | Edited by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on April 26, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m

One of the biggest frustrations for employees who take the time to give thoughtful feedback is when this feedback is ignored by their peers, manager, or organization. Responding to feedback from your team members shows them that you take their ideas and opinions to heart. This is important, because…

30% of employees don’t feel like their companies give enough importance to their opinions and suggestions.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

For managers, responding to employee feedback effectively is particularly important. That’s because you’re the direct line of contact for your team on everything from their day-to-day to suggestions for the business. But when you’ve got a handful of direct reports — and limited time — being able to respond to employee feedback thoughtfully can be tough.

Are you looking for strategies to better review and respond to the feedback you get at work? You’ve come to the right place.

Why you should respond to feedback 

If someone on your team has taken the time to give you valuable feedback, it means they truly are invested in nurturing a relationship with you. Not only that, it shows that they are engaged, driven, and inspired at work. People rarely take time to give feedback if they don’t care.

Collaboration and trust are at the centre of what makes for a great team, and responding to feedback shows that you trust the person’s opinion and value their input. So you don’t want to miss out on this relationship-building opportunity.

Open a feedback channel: Show employees that you’re open to feedback by giving them a dedicated space to share it. Officevibe’s feedback software lets team members share their ideas, suggestions, concerns, and questions with their manager, with an option for anonymity. Managers respond to feedback directly in the app, turning it into a two-way conversation while employees can choose to remain anonymous or not.

Anonymous feedback exchange in Officevibe
Responding to employee feedback in Officevibe

Tip #1: Build a feedback loop

You might have heard of a “feedback loop” before, and this is a really important practice to develop for any high-performing team. A feedback loop is formed when people continuously give each other feedback as a means to improve the end result for which they are both working towards. Responding to feedback in a constructive way is key to making a feedback loop effective.

Why? Because receiving feedback enthusiastically validates the other person’s act of giving it, and reinforces their instinct to keep up this positive behavior. The more everyone on the team does this, the more people feel safe to share feedback, and open to receiving it. You will constantly improve your outcomes because people are communicating openly with one another about issues as they arise.

Tip #2: Notice your reaction to feedback

Reacting to feedback is a normal part of figuring out how to respond to it. Your reaction may vary depending on the scenario, and could be:

  • Agreeing with the feedback,
  • Disagreeing with the feedback, or
  • Needing more information to make use of the feedback.

Making an effort to notice your reactions is a good first step. When you’ve identified how you’re reacting, it’s easier to come up with your response based on the nature of the message.

Feedback will often be positive, negative, or constructive. Let’s discuss how to best respond in each scenario.

Responding to feedback that’s positive

Getting positive feedback can feel both rewarding and validating. Positive feedback might sound like: “Great work on that project! I was so impressed with how you managed the whole thing.” Or, “You’ve been so attentive lately in our virtual meetings, it’s great to sense that engagement even through the technology barrier.”

More feedback examples →

To respond to positive feedback, consider:

  • Thanking them and letting them know you appreciate hearing their positive review. Let them know how it impacts you.
  • Clarifying what you did well. This is important if you would like to understand the exact behavior that was well received, or if you had any doubts about your own performance.

For example: “Thank you so much for the kind email. It means a lot to know that my work was appreciated and that you see the impact. If possible, I’d love to get a better understanding from your perspective of which part of the projects you felt went well, and why.”

It’s important to encourage positive feedback as much as possible, as this creates a culture where people continuously lift each other up. People tend to associate feedback with something negative or scary, but meaningful recognition from colleagues really drives employee motivation.

If you can break that association by encouraging (and sharing) positive feedback, people won’t shutter as much when they are given tougher feedback…and you won’t, either.

Responding to feedback that’s negative

Getting negative feedback can feel painful and even cause us to get defensive. But it’s important that you are able to mindfully respond, versus emotionally react.

When you receive criticism, first, wait to respond. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that feedback is not personal. If you feel hot emotions start to bubble up, give yourself some time (or ask for some) to process the feedback. You don’t want to risk saying something you’ll regret later.

To respond to negative feedback appropriately, consider:

  • Ask yourself if there is truth to their negative review. If you can find something to agree with, say “Thank you for pointing this out to me. I appreciate you taking the time to share this with me, and I will definitely consider this feedback moving forward.”
  • If you don’t agree with the feedback, or you need more information to understand their perspective, you can respond with a probing question. Try: “I’d love to better understand where this perspective is coming from. Could we set some time to talk about it face-to-face?”
  • In either case, take time to reflect on the feedback. Ask yourself: “Is this something others have brought to my attention before?” If the answer is yes, it might be worth digging into deeper.

Avoid responding to critical feedback with another negative comment. Remember that you can always simply say “thanks for sharing this” and move on. It’s your decision how much of this feedback you want to take in, and what you’d like to reject. Appreciate that this person went out on a limb to share their thoughts with you.

Get a gut check: If you’re reacting strongly to some negative feedback, first, remember it’s only one person’s opinion. Seek out a trusted colleague or friend to run it by and get their perspective on it. Together, you might be able to make it more constructive.

Responding to feedback that’s constructive

Constructive feedback usually feels less harsh, because not only has the person taken the time to not only point out a problem, but they want to be a part of the solution. Try to see this as an opportunity for collaboration and learning, regardless of who it’s coming from.

To respond to constructive feedback, consider:

  • Let the person know how giving you this specific and actionable feedback has been helpful for you.
  • Open up the opportunity to work together on the solution. It could be a chance for you both to learn from one another, depending on the context.
  • If there is something actionable for you to complete, let the person know that you’ve actioned the feedback and close off that feedback loop.
  • Reflect on what has been shared. How can you now apply the feedback going forward in different contexts?

For example: “Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, and your ideas for moving forward. Would you be interested in finding a solution together? Your suggestion inspired me, and I have some thoughts on how we could build on this. Either way, I’ll get started on it next week.”

Show people their feedback matters to you

Taking the time to respond thoughtfully to feedback at work shows that you care, and that your colleagues’ thoughts and opinions are valuable. Whatever the feedback you receive may be, remember to always respond with empathy in mind, and remind yourself that all feedback is helpful to your growth.