4 Pitfalls to Avoid When Receiving Feedback

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Providing and receiving feedback is essential to development and growth. To build a stronger relationship with your peers and colleagues, you must develop an effective way to respond to their feedback. Learning how to constructively apply lessons from feedback is challenging; however, there are four pitfalls you want to avoid when receiving feedback.

At Brewer Science, we use Bridge, a learning and performance app, which helps employees learn and grow through regular 1-on-1s with managers, training tools, career development plans, and more. One of the tools in Bridge is a Feedback portal, where employees can request a survey to be submitted by their peers based on skills they are working to develop. While this feedback portal is a helpful tool in gathering information, how one chooses to apply those lessons is the real key to improvement. If you wish to reap the benefits of constructive feedback, you ought to avoid these four actions:


1. Getting Defensive

Problem: You are guilty of being defensive if this sounds like your response to feedback:  You feel the heat rising, your cheeks get flushed, and you fight every urge to lash out and explain all the other person’s faults.  You want to talk about your past success and turn it back on the person providing you feedback.

Solution: This recently happened to me when I was provided feedback on a way to improve the way I present updates in the monthly report. As someone who gave many monthly reports, more than the feedback giver, my initial response was thinking that this feedback is null, and I felt a bit defensive. However, after careful consideration, I realized this is sound advice and should be addressed. If you feel yourself getting defensive, take a deep break and try to use empathy. Try to see the perspective of the person giving the feedback. If you are able to ask them some additional questions, do so in a polite and intentional manner. Seek to understand how you can improve upon this feedback.



2. Justifying

Problem: Justifying is one of the most common mistakes I have found in leadership settings when receiving feedback from surveys. Instead of listening to the intent or questioning deeper into their perspectives, they immediately justify and explain away the question as someone who just doesn’t understand or is looking at too narrow of a picture.

Solution: Several years ago, the engineering group in my organization saw a drop in their engagement score. We could have easily justified it to the workload or the nature of the projects. Instead, the Director decided to dig in deeper, ask questions and seek to understand. He quickly realized that there was a level of frustration because we had limited the travel budget in his group, and they were unable to attend conferences and present papers. After adjusting the budget and creating a schedule, the engagement score rose significantly the following year. Instead of justifying a response, the leader chose to listen, seek clarity, and then act.

3. Talking about yourself

Problem: You are the one receiving the feedback, so it almost feels natural to start discussing yourself. This may be the biggest challenge for me! I am a talker who loves to tell stories. Upon receiving feedback, I can be caught saying, “Hey, that reminds me…” or “I know what you mean, one time…” If this sounds like a similar struggle for you, one of the best pieces of advice I received on this topic is, “Don’t take the conversation away from others and fill the air with your stories.”

Solution: It’s okay to talk about yourself occasionally and when the situation calls for it, however, if you want to be receptive to feedback and grow, you need to listen more than you talk. Listen to your peers, colleagues, friends, and family – seek to understand how they perceive you. This will help you better address their feedback when they give it to you and understand the perspective they bring when giving you constructive advice.

4. Repeating yourself

Problem: When someone challenges or provides feedback, my initial reaction is to provide additional clarity by repeating myself - maybe a little slower and a little louder - to make sure they heard what I said the first time. However, when someone does the same thing to me, it quickly becomes one of my pet peeves. When people repeat themselves I interpret it as if they think I do not hold adequate intellect to fully comprehend what they said the first time. When I am struggling with how they concluded that this was a good idea.

The irony is that this is always my first response. When someone provides feedback to me. “Oh, I must not have been clear.” or “Let me say it this way.” Too often, I am focused on me and my position rather than on the position of the other person. I am not engaged and locked in to receive their feedback. I heard them, but I did not listen to them. 

Solution: Understand the different between hearing and listening.

Hearing is an event and is typically outside your control.

  • “I heard a loud noise”
  • “Did you hear the sirens?”
  • “Have you gotten your hearing checked?”

Listening is an action, it’s part of a process and intentional.

  • “Could you turn the radio down, I am trying to listen to the conversation.”
  • “I’m sorry, could you repeat that, I wasn’t listening.”

The power of listening is critical to having a successful conversation. It’s not enough to hear the words - that is only the beginning. You must go beyond that and hear the fears, intentions, and aspirations. When you can engage in a conversation so deeply that the feelings and intentions are able to come forth from their words, then you are truly listening.  “Intent is the scaffolding on which a story hangs” is a great visual Susan Scott alludes to in her book, Fierce Conversations. I found this a great visual of why getting to the intent of a discussion, and going beyond just the surface talk, is so important. 

Engaging, being present, and hearing for intention are ways to move you from hearing feedback to listening to feedback. Receiving feedback is critical to your development, growth, and success. Listening with intent will grow the conversation and increase your ability to impact others so people will continue to engage you beyond today.


Brewer Science is a company that believes deeply in sustaining long-term success through value-based culture, diversity, and growth. Learn more about Brewer Science’s company culture.

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About Author

Tom Brown
Tom Brown

Tom received his BS in Engineering Management in 1993 from the University of Missouri-Rolla. Upon graduation, Tom began his career at Brewer Science as a part-time employee in sales and now serves as the Executive Director, Manufacturing, Quality & Logistics. Of all the exceptional aspects of Brewer Science, Tom is most impressed by working in “an environment that continually challenges you to be your best and puts you into positions that forces you to stretch beyond what you thought was possible.” He says he feels “blessed to work with so many people who share a desire to make a difference—in each other's lives, in the company, in the community, and in the industry.”

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