How to Receive Feedback Graciously and Act on It Visibly

The week after my last article, “What is Your Best Advice for Me?” was published, my 11-year-old son and I did a short overnight backpacking trip. He was excited about sleeping in his hammock and using his new backpack. On the way up, a moose crossed the trail about 15 feet in front of us (I was glad it crossed and kept going). About that time, we turned on our headlamps to continue the last quarter mile of the hike. Aside from the moose, nothing major occurred, except for a conversation I had with my son the next morning.

This conversation and the follow-up to it illustrates what is encapsulated in our mantra at LearningBridge about feedback: “Receive it graciously, and act on it visibly.”

Offering Unsolicited Advice (Feedback)

Father and Son at a Campfire
It was a relatively mild mountain morning, even though there was still a big patch of snow in the meadow nearby. We were enjoying the morning campfire that we had both started using flint and steel and a pile of dry grass. As my son walked around and we talked about stuff, I decided it was a good time to give him some unsolicited feedback or, in other words, offer him some advice.

I said, “I’ve noticed something you do, and I’d like to offer some advice about it. Would you like to hear it?”

He seemed slightly hesitant but said, “Sure.”

“I’ve noticed that you often ask if you should do something or for permission to do things that you probably don’t need anybody’s approval to do. While I appreciate the thoughtfulness and respect you show in doing so, I worry that it is unnecessary and may actually hold you back in life from achieving the things you want and are capable of.

“For example, last night you asked if you should set up your hammock and get your bed ready. That was very nice of you to ask, but it really wasn’t necessary. You didn’t need my approval to do so. I think your intent was to essentially say, ‘I’m going to get my bed ready; do you need anything from me before I do?’ Saying it that way is still very considerate of the other person, while at the same time allowing you to assert your intent.”

My son listened patiently as I continued with something along the lines of, “Sometimes we have a sense that we need to get approval from society or specific people, but there are many aspects of life where there is no real person in charge of approving what we do. People are generally happy to assume whatever authority you grant them, even if they have none. There are a lot of times where we should just take charge. By stating what you are going to do and checking on other people’s needs, you can still be the kind person you are without people taking advantage of it and keeping you from achieving your dreams.”

Receiving Feedback Graciously

My son thanked me for what I shared and said that he would be more careful about that. I pointed out to him that it was great that he thanked me for the advice and that he would do well in his school, family, and work relationships by continuing to do so. It was a gracious response to what I had just shared with him.

Acting on Feedback Visibly

We then continued to talk about semi-related ideas. As the conversation was winding down, my son said, “Should I…” He caught himself and smiled sheepishly, “I’m going to pack up my sleeping bag and hammock. Do you need help with anything before I do?”

I laughed and said, “That’s awesome! You’re already recognizing it and being mindful of it. You’ll probably forget from time to time and that’s okay. Habits take time to break, but that’s great that you already recognize it!”

We packed up and hiked out, but the story doesn’t end there.

About two weeks later, my son was working at the kitchen table on a school project. He asked for my opinion between two colors he was considering for part of a picture. After I gave him my opinion, he said, “That wasn’t really asking for permission, that was just trying to get another opinion to help me decide.”

His statement was an acknowledgement that he hadn’t forgotten our conversation and was still being mindful of it. Since our conversation, he may have been doing really well with acting on the feedback, but I may not have noticed the lack of his old ways. It was helpful for him to bring it to my attention, otherwise the “act on feedback visibly” part may not have been as visible to me.

Application in All of Life

The story above was one example with my son in which I offered him some advice, and he exemplified how to receive feedback graciously and then act on it visibly. The same principles apply to our professional and social lives. This same type of interaction could occur between friends or between a manager and employee. If an employee takes the same type of approach as my son did to my feedback, what manager isn’t going to appreciate that employee more for the fact that the employee heard and acted on the feedback or advice the manager gave? Remember, even as a manager, it’s not always easy to give feedback. That makes the employee’s actions appreciated that much more.

Related article:
Six Guiding Principles for Receiving Feedback