Handling difficult reactions to feedback

Managing challenging reactions to feedback can be intimidating for managers and employees alike. Although the feedback giver may have good intentions, it is often challenging to anticipate the recipient’s reaction. Even if you have the best of intentions, the person receiving feedback may still react defensively, deny it, or become angry. In this blog post, we will provide guidance on how to manage challenging reactions to feedback.

Table of Contents:

Understanding the significance of feedback

To navigate challenging reactions to feedback, it is important to first acknowledge the importance of feedback. Feedback is crucial for personal and professional growth. It provides insight into areas that require improvement and highlights areas of excellence. Constructive feedback helps us recognise how our actions impact others and presents an opportunity for growth.

Why do negative reactions to feedback occur?

Several factors contribute to negative reactions to feedback. One common reason is that feedback is perceived as a personal attack. Individuals may feel their self-esteem is being threatened, or they may feel criticised and evaluated. Another reason is that the feedback may be considered unfair or inaccurate. Some individuals may resist change in certain circumstances.

Tips for providing feedback

In order to reduce the chances of adverse responses to feedback, it is crucial to begin the discussion in a positive and encouraging manner. Consider the following tips for providing feedback:

Be specific

Ambiguous feedback is not helpful. Specify the behaviours or actions to which you are referring. Use specific examples to illustrate your points.

Focus on behaviours, not personalities

When providing feedback, focus on specific behaviours rather than the individual’s personality. Avoid making broad generalisations or judgements.

Use “I” statements

Using “I” statements can help keep the conversation focused on your own observations and experiences rather than sounding accusatory or judgemental. For example, say, “I noticed that when you interrupted me during the meeting, I felt frustrated,” instead of “You always interrupt people.”

Timeliness is key

Timely feedback is critical for effective communication. Delaying feedback can make it seem less relevant and more difficult to address.

End on a positive note

Ending the feedback conversation on a positive note can help reinforce the desired behaviours. It is important to recognise and appreciate the things the person is doing well while also expressing confidence in their capacity to improve in other areas when providing feedback.

Tips for receiving feedback

Getting feedback can be difficult, particularly if it is unexpected or hard to accept. Here are some tips for receiving feedback:

Remain calm

It is natural to feel defensive or upset when receiving feedback, but try to stay calm and focused. It is important to remain calm and attentive while actively listening to the feedback being given.

Ask for clarification

If the feedback is unclear or confusing, ask for clarification. Ask for specific examples and suggestions for improvement.

Avoid defensiveness

It can be tempting to become defensive or make excuses, but try to avoid this. Instead, focus on understanding the feedback and how you can improve.

Take time to reflect

After the feedback conversation, take some time to reflect on what was said. Consider how you can incorporate the feedback to bring about positive improvements.

Show gratitude

Show gratitude to the person who provided you with feedback. Let them know you value their insights and time to help you grow.


Q1. What are some typical challenging reactions to feedback?
A1. Some common difficult reactions to feedback include defensiveness, anger, hurt feelings, denial, and rejection of the feedback.

Q2. How can I manage my emotions when receiving feedback?
A2. To manage your emotions when receiving feedback, try to stay calm and objective. Take a moment to breathe and listen actively to the feedback. Ask clarifying questions and express gratitude for the person’s input.

Q3. What are some tips for giving effective feedback?
A3. To provide effective feedback, be specific, objective, and timely. Use concrete examples and focus on behaviour rather than personality. Additionally, it’s important to deliver feedback in a private and respectful setting.

Q4. How can I avoid becoming defensive when receiving feedback?
A4. To receive feedback without becoming defensive, it’s beneficial to keep an open mind and refrain from taking the feedback personally. Pay close attention while listening, seek clarification, and work to understand the other person’s perspective. Instead of making assumptions or generalisations, focus on the specific behaviour being addressed.

Q5. How can feedback help me enhance my performance?
A5. Improving your performance through feedback requires reflecting on the feedback received and developing specific actions to address areas for improvement. Carefully consider the feedback, set clear goals, seek out resources or support, and regularly follow up to track your progress.


Handling difficult feedback reactions can be a challenge, but it’s a critical skill for personal and professional growth. To use feedback effectively, we need to stay open-minded, manage our emotions, and focus on specific behaviours. When giving or receiving feedback, it’s important to remain respectful and objective and to use clear examples to support our points. By following these guidelines, we can create a feedback culture that is constructive and supportive. Feedback is a valuable tool for learning and personal development.

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