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Put the Action Into Reaction: How To Respond to Feedback

Alistair McQuade

We all know that feedback is good for our development, but what do people really think when they recieve feedback?

A recent survey conducted by consulting company Salestrong of 110 business-to-business sales people, answered the question: “When your sales manager says they want to give you feedback, describe how that makes you feel?”

Here's a summary of what they said:

Feedback Cloud
When your manager says they want to give you feedback, describe how that makes you feel?

While there are some positives, the majority of adjectives used by the salespeople were negative with "apprehensive" and "nervous" being the most popular and frequent responses.

From this research we can clearly see that there’s a big problem for managers feeding back to sales people. Most sales people should be keen for feedback, but instead it appears that they are apprehensive and nervous about receiving feedback from their sales managers on their performance. 

The lack of desire for feedback is not always apparent. Some salespeople will overtly express their disinterest. However, many salespeople will appear to be appreciative of the feedback, but will then discount it.

Related Article: Help Me Help You: How to Best Deliver Constructive Criticism

The most common reasons for salespeople discounting feedback are:

  1. You don't know my market
  2. You don't know my customer
  3. You don't know my job

Those salespeole who don't want to receive feedback often have an overoptimistic view of their own capabilities. This has become known as the optimism bias.

Also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism, this is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

A good example of the optimism bias in selling is when a salesperson agrees that most salespeople could be better at asking questions. But that refers to all other salespeople and not to them.

There are two essential components to effective feedback. Number one; the giving and number two; the receiving.

If one element fails, the feedback will neither be received nor acted upon. This information has consequences for both those who are giving and for those who are receiving feedback.

React To Feedback
How do you REACT to feedback?

For those who are receiving feedback, sales managers and coaches try to move from apprehension and nervousness, to the more positive emotions like being grateful and welcoming the feedback. 

Being apprehensive and nervous reduces the likelihood that the feedback will be received and ultimately acted upon. The animal filters in the brain are enhancing the likelihood of an emotional response that could ultimately lead to the rejection of the feedback.

Related Article: Break Free from Performance Management Shackles: Companies That Are Paving the Way

To help people to receive feedback in a better way, Salestrong have developed the "REACT to feedback" model. REACT is an acronym that stands for: 

  1. Really listen
  2. Elicit Examples
  3. Ask questions
  4. Control your emotions
  5. Thank them

Really Listen 

Don’t just wait for the other person to stop talking. Actually listen to what they have to say. This is hard when you may feel under a level of personal attack.

The ability to really listen is an acquired skill and the key to mastering this skill is focused practice. Listen with more than just your ears. Observe the person who is feeding back to you and pick up their non-verbal signals.

By looking at them you also will demonstrate the eye contact that people giving feedback are usually are trying to make. Somebody giving feedback will work harder at transmitting information well when they can see that the recipient is open and receptive.

So you need to focus on the feedback and really listen.

Elicit Examples 

Ask for examples to illustrate their point. This will allow them to give observations which makes the feedback more accurate and less personal.

If the feedback seems less personal, it will be easier to take on board.

Ask Questions 

Ensure you understand specifically what they mean. Feedback should be a two way process, so asking questions will improve the quality of the communication for both parties.

Ensure that your questions are seeking to understand, rather than challenging. If you challenge the person giving feedback before you understand what they're trying to say, this may close them down and end the feedback loop prematurely.

Control Your Emotions 

You must control your emotions. This is much easier said than done. You can use the DARE model, which shows the emotional journey sales people go through and how to get through the journey more quickly. 

Thank Them 

You should thank them for taking the time and personal risks to feedback to you. It may seem trite when we say that feedback is a gift.

But it is, and without the person giving the feedback, there would be no improvement.

Related Article: Sales Coaching Is a Must: What to Consider and How to Execute


Being able to take on feedback can accelerate your sales career. Salespeople who take on feedback improve their performance and their sales results.

The ability to REACT well to feedback is an essential business skill. To help you do this better, Salestrong have developed the REACT to feedback model.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Alistair McQuade Member
Alistair McQuade is an engaging and passionate sales trainer and programme designer. He has held a number of senior sales positions, including Sales and Marketing Director and Global Head of Education. His career has taken him across different industries and continents, working with world class companies, including Worldpay, Facebook, Vodafone, O2, Millward Brown, Mediacom, GE, LinkedIn, Sabre Travel Network, NFU Mutual and Intel. Alistair's work can be seen at