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What are some ways to tactfully receive feedback?

Use these tips to handle constructive criticism objectively and effectively
Industry Matters Newsletter
Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories
Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories

Receiving feedback can be challenging! Approach the interaction with the mind frame that it is in your best interest and that you are wanting to improve. Listen to the feedback carefully, accept the comments (without too much cringing), and ask for ideas on ways to improve. Actively seek out feedback from others beyond your direct manager, including customers, colleagues, and project team members. Seek input throughout the year, and not just during your yearly performance review (I am so guilty of this). By waiting for the yearly performance review, which is often driven by a corporate mandates and timelines, it is easy for many insightful and helpful feedback comments to get buried while rushing to complete the review process.


Rich Uriarte, ACS Career Consultant
Rich Uriarte, ACS Career Consultant

Receiving feedback and acting on it is important to any career. In sports, where people have to improve every day or be replaced, getting better based on feedback is critical to continued performance improvement. In industry, continued performance improvement and expanded job responsibilities are critical for career advancement and enhanced compensation. 

Many people feel uncomfortable being evaluated and critiqued. It’s important to remember that feedback is not personal. If done right it gives you insight into how you “come across”, and your apparent behavior and attitude and accomplishment. Insight into what others think and observe about you is invaluable information for you to use in “getting better.” If you are not getting the constructive criticism you need, you should ask the evaluator for more specific feedback or ask other leaders or peers who can address it.

It is important to carefully and unemotionally listen to what your evaluators are saying. One technique to make sure you understand what they are saying is to “parrot” back to the evaluator what you think they are saying. This helps your understanding and reinforces the message. Asking clarifying questions is another technique that people use to make sure they understand the message. Remember, this is not personal – but is a skill that will help you improve in the future.


Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines
Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines

Receiving feedback (good and bad), is an essential part of a career growth strategy. Receiving “good” feedback is often easy, but you still must be grateful, say “thank you,” and give credit to others that have helped you. When receiving “bad” feedback, the first point is to listen, make eye contact, and maintain a neutral body language. And do not interrupt! When you have a chance to reply, again be grateful, and say “thank you.” Keep in mind it is not easy to provide "bad' feedback. Your initial response should be to demonstrate reflexive listening and repeat back what you have heard. Take notes if you must and take the time to ask a few open-ended few questions to better understand the feedback.


This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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