I Looked at Them – They Looked at Me

Powerful feedback often feels wrong.

I looked at them – they looked at me:

During a recent conversation, a leader shared some surprising feedback he’d received.

He was having lunch with several team members when he said, “You’re all so negative.”

Everyone stopped eating, leaned forward, and stared. Their looks were saying, “You’re calling us negative?”

He said, “I realized that negativity might be about me.”

We smiled. I slapped him on the back.

Surprised and rejected:

It’s common for tough feedback to be rejected.

  1. Defend yourself. Explain that your current behaviors and attitudes are the right ones. Give reasons that justify your path.
  2. Blame others. Suppose you receive feedback on your use of humor. You might blame by saying, “The real problem is you don’t have a sense of humor.”
  3. Be adversarial. Attack the person giving feedback. “You don’t see the whole picture.” or “You don’t understand my situation.”

Perhaps the worst result of rejecting feedback is people stop giving it.

You solidify poor performance and devalue others when you reject tough feedback.

How you respond to feedback contributes to your future.


The leader in the opening story saw himself in an unexpected light. The first step of improvement is acknowledging the need for improvement.

Accept the unexpected idea that you might contribute to the problem.


Receive feedback with openness, not defensiveness.

  1. Tell me more.
  2. Help me understand what you’re saying.
  3. What makes you say that?


Seek suggestions. Take action based on feedback.

Feedback serves you well when you take action on it.

  1. “You’re negative.” Identify behaviors that inspire positivity. Practice them, even if you don’t feel them.
  2. “You don’t listen.” Learn and implement listening strategies.
  3. “You need to be right too much.” Whisper in your own ear, “I could be wrong.”, even when you think you’re right.

What does it mean to receive feedback like a leader?

Afterword: All feedback isn’t accurate or useful. That’s for another post.