October 26, 2021

Listen, Clarify, and Appreciate! Best Practices When Receiving Feedback

by Camron Jones, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Magnolia Regional Health Center

 “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it”
-Stephen Covey.1

What do you feel when you hear the word feedback? Do you feel nervous?  Perhaps scared about what the person might say? Do you clam up thinking you have done something wrong? I have a love/hate relationship with feedback. I love knowing how I am performing.  But I sometimes fixate on the things I did “wrong.” It can be intimidating and sometimes we get stressed out about the small things. For many people, it’s hard to accept feedback because it’s perceived as a negative judgment. I have grown to appreciate feedback because it helps me understand what I am doing well and what I need to work on. I think it’s intimidating to ask for feedback. This is something that I am working on. Not only is feedback hard to ask for, but it’s hard to give.

Feedback is the act of someone providing information about a person’s performance of a task and the recipient using the information as a basis for improvement.2 Frequently we talk about how to formulate feedback so that we can help another person excel. But receiving feedback is a critical skill too. All of us need to learn to receive feedback graciously and not jump to conclusions. Both giving and receiving feedback are difficult! If we use the right techniques, we can learn as well as teach others. Let’s take a deep dive into receiving feedback by examining the best practices and how to teach it.

There are three crucial steps that should be adhered to if we want to maximize the benefits of receiving feedback. These include actively listening, clarifying the feedback, and expressing gratitude.3,4  Listening with an open mind is a huge part of the feedback process. Listening promotes our personal and professional growth. Too quickly we jump the gun and interrupt the person providing the feedback. In the Christian Bible, there is a saying that resonates with that I believe applies to receiving feedback: “..let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” When receiving feedback, we must consider all of it before responding. Reflecting on the feedback is so important because it helps us grow.

When you hear words that you interpret as negative it can bring you down. But it’s important to ask questions because without getting clarification, you can create an injustice and take feedback too personally. The feedback is about your performance, not about you as a person. I feel like this is critical to understanding how to receive feedback. The person giving the feedback is only trying to help us succeed and grow.  If we dismiss or reject the feedback, we are disadvantaging ourselves.  So, ask clarifying questions!  Make certain you fully understand what the person giving the feedback is telling you. Ask for specific examples.

Finally, it’s important to express appreciation to the person providing the feedback. Remember, the person giving the feedback is usually uncomfortable.  Giving feedback and telling someone something they might perceive as negative can be intimidating. It's easier just to not say anything.  Or to tell someone everything is perfect. But the person giving feedback took the time to carefully consider how to help you improve and they want you to succeed! If we show appreciation, they will feel encouraged and more willing to share with us. 

Tips for Receiving Feedback:3

  • Be a good listener
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification
  • Embrace the feedback session as a learning opportunity
  • Remember to pause and think before responding
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions, and show that you are invested in the learning process and keen to improve
  • Think positively and be open to helpful hints
  • Learn from your mistakes and be motivated
  • Be a good sport and show appreciation
  • Be proactive – ask for feedback!

Studies have repeatedly shown that effective feedback has a powerful influence on how people learn. In one study involving medical students, they looked at methods to teach how to use feedback. They developed a 2-hr workshop that focused on writing goals in a learning contract, defining effective characteristics of feedback and practicing the use of feedback in response to feedback received. Following the workshop, student group scores increased significantly. They also looked at how coaching improved students' perception of their feedback skills. They noted how students' feedback interactions improved, especially during informal interactions. In a model that defines the communication pathway, they described how the process of feedback could falter. This could be due to previous experiences from the receiver, also the fear of damaging relationships between the giver and receiver.4

Another study enrolled second and third-year internal medicine residents. This study focused on a One-Minute Preceptor model. This was a conversation between the resident and the teacher to help improve the resident's clinical skills. One of the greatest benefits of the One-Minute Preceptor model is feedback. At baseline, feedback was ranked as one of the weaker areas. Significant improvements were reported at the end of the study. Feedback was shown to have the greatest impact on performance.5 

Another good resource is the ask-tell-ask feedback model.6 For example, say you are a student, and you provided education to a patient about anticoagulation therapy. With the first ask, the preceptor asks the student to talk about how they thought the experience went. The preceptor then gives feedback on what was observed, both positive and negative aspects of the performance.  This is the tell component of the model. During the last ask, the student then reflects on what the preceptor has told them and they both set goals moving forward.6 This allows the receiver to actively participate in the conversation and formulate an action plan. I personally experienced this method of feedback in my last year of pharmacy school. Not only did it help me improve, but it also helped me be more open to feedback.

As teachers, we must learn to give feedback in a way that positively affects our students. We should allow students time to self-reflect before giving feedback. This gives the students an opportunity to think about the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. As a learner, we must learn from the feedback and use it as a tool for us to improve. Be sure to listen, clarify, and appreciate!


  1. Covey, SR. Stephen R. Covey interactive reader-4 books in 1: The 7 habits of highly effective people, first things first, and the best of the most renowned leadership teacher of our time (Internet). Mango Media. 2015 (Cited 2021Oct1)
  2. “Feedback”. Merriam-webster.com dictionary, merriam-webster. www.merriam-webster.com/dictonary/feedback. (Cited 2021Sept29).
  3. Hardavella G, Aamil-Gaagnat A, Saad N, et. al. How to give and receive feedback effectively. Breathe 2017; 13:327-333. 
  4. Bing-You RG, Bertsch T, Thompson JA. Coaching medical students in receiving effective feedback. Teaching and Learning in Medicine 1998; 10(4):228-231. 
  5. Furney SL, Orsini AN, Orsetti KE, et al. Teaching the one-minute preceptor. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16:620-624.
  6. Jug R, Jiang X, Bean S. Giving and receiving effective feedback: a review article and how to guide. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2019; 143 (2):244-250.

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