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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

How to Receive Feedback from Your Staff

Remember that old movie where someone says something derogatory but true to the other person and the other person is horrified and screams: "How dare you! Take that back!" Okay I can't remember specifically which movie it is, but I've definitely seen it. It's also a common and very ineffective response by managers and leaders when one of their employees confronts them with difficult-to-hear feedback.

In an audit of personnel files at a company I worked with, I discovered - printed on letterhead, mind you - memos from the former CEO to various staff members that said: "I am personally offended that you accused me of <insert -ism here>. If you want to remain in your job, you will apologize in writing. You will not discuss this with anyone." Horrifying, right?It's notable that this CEO put it in writing, but throughout my career, I've seem many situations like this that are verbal and verbal is not necessarily that much better than in writing. Verbal threats and defensive responses like this only make you look like a terrible, arrogant, insecure leader. And you will reap many disgruntled employees who will want to sue you when you respond in such a manner.

Here are nine tips for responding to critical feedback from your staff:

1. Do not interrupt. Let them finish.

2. LISTEN. Stop thinking about why they are wrong and listen to what they are saying. Is there a grain of truth in what they are saying? Have you heard this feedback before? Take notes if you can.

3. Express appreciation for their courage. It's hard to bring critical feedback to your boss. An employee who deliberately puts themselves in that awkward and difficult situation to provide information to you about your communication or performance, is strong and most likely is not doing it for fun, to hurt you, or to be difficult.

4. Respond thoughtfully. No "How dare you!" No "Take that back!" Consider that there is a grain of truth in what they say. Remember that it doesn't matter what your intentions were. It only matters how your actions and words are perceived by others. Phrases such as "You've made me think about how I can improve," or "Thank you for helping me understand how my actions are perceived," or "I can understand now how my words/actions at the meeting have affected my staff."

5. Communicate next steps. If it's a harassment, discrimination or hostile work environment issue, let the employee know that you will contact HR to ensure that their concerns are fully addressed. If it's a conflict or it's a characteristic that you are working on improving, let the employee know that you are going to work on improving.

6. Thank them for coming forward. Acknowledge the difficulty of coming forward and thank them for the feedback. Yes, that's right. Thank them - even if you think they are wrong.

7. Apologize if appropriate. If it's something that you know you did or said that was offensive, etc. apologize. "I'm sorry you were offended" is not an apology. "I apologize that I came across as unfeeling in our team meeting. That certainly was not my intention." is an appropriate apology.

8. Follow through on the follow-up. If there is anything left open at the end of your meeting, make sure to follow-through on the follow-up. Check in with the employee to see how they are doing, and ask if there's anything else they want to bring to your attention.

9. LEARN. Most of the time when we get feedback, even if it's something we disagree with, we can improve on something. Document the feedback, your actions to improve and any further issues that come up so that you can learn from your personal journey. Learning is continuous and available for free in every situation you are involved in. Take advantage of this life-long, cost-free benefit!


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