Receiving feedback – powerful yet tough

We often discuss the challenges of giving feedback and how important it is to let people know how they are doing. As language teachers, we talk about feedback to students, addressing their performance inside and outside the class, covering features of language and behaviour. We believe that students can use this information to become more competent and proficient. As trainers, we discuss the effects and the importance of feedback to teachers and how it can influence one’s professional development. However, when it comes to being on the other side, I feel that not enough attention is paid to how feedback is received; or how tough it might be.

Receiving feedback can be as hard as giving it – if not harder. In theory, we all seek feedback and verbalize the desire to learn more about our work and how we are perceived by peers, supervisors and students. In more practical terms, nevertheless, very few people actually react positively to feedback and use it as fuel for development. Often times, professionals expect to find in feedback the validation of what (and who) they think they are. Any communication that might contradict the fossilized (and sometimes idealized) image that was once created is immediately ignored. People who are not willing to truly listen to this kind of assessment will simply shield themselves and block everything that is being said. They might as well get hurt, offended and understand it as personal criticism regardless of how well the feedback was managed. Some will simply react aggressively as if being attacked. These people often end up being low achievers and struggle to leave a career plateau.

Successful people, on the other hand, are likely to welcome feedback and show an understanding of the difference between who they are and what they do. They will understand that feedback aims at adjusting activities and work; it does not reflect others’ opinions of themselves. These people will focus on ways to improve performance and, despite the assertiveness of the feedback, will not let it affect their self-esteem, but will rather reflect upon ways to get better results.

Feedback is powerful and we all know it. But we can go on discussing hundreds of ways to give more effective feedback and approach people more successfully without ever looking into why some people will actually listen while other will always resist – no matter the technique applied. I think we should start focusing even more on the act of listening to the assessments that might come our way too.  What do you say? Any feedback to me?

Vinicius Nobre

Vinicius Nobre (Vinnie) is the Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. He is also a CELTA and ICELT tutor, a Pearson Longman author and former president of BRAZ-TESOL. Email:

  • Danilo Ferreira Pinto
    Posted at 19:03h, 09 abril Responder

    As always Enlightening and Inspiring . Thank you for being our “brain” Vinicius.

    • Vinicius Nobre
      Vinicius Nobre
      Posted at 21:40h, 12 abril Responder

      Thank YOU for your kind words, Danilo!

  • Ricardo França
    Posted at 20:49h, 09 abril Responder

    Thank you for the insightful article! It was indeed really profitable!

    • Vinicius Nobre
      Vinicius Nobre
      Posted at 21:40h, 12 abril Responder

      Gld to know that, dearest Ricardo!

  • Ricardo Barros
    Ricardo Barros
    Posted at 00:00h, 10 abril Responder

    As someone who has recently been put in a position where I need to give feedback to teachers, this is something I have been thinking about. Is this ability to genuinely welcome feedback something that can be fostered? Or is this something that needs to come from the teacher him/herself?

    • Vinicius Nobre
      Vinicius Nobre
      Posted at 21:44h, 12 abril Responder

      Hi Ricardo,
      This is an excellent question and I’m afraid a very difficult one to answer. In my opinion, we can only teach those who are willing to learn. One who does not wish to develop will ignore any possible learning that comes their way. So, I guess we can try to trigger reflection and make teachers/students understand that being open to feedback can be helpful but ultimately if they choose not to believe it, they simply won’t.

  • @natibrandi
    Posted at 14:24h, 10 abril Responder

    Thanks very much Vinnie. I’d never thought about this before, but it’s so right. At times, we can be very proud and resist feedback or try to defend ourselves as to why we’ve done certain things, instead of listening attentively. I feel the same happens at conferences when we are judgemental about sessions we attend. It’s hard but both when being given feedback or when attending sessions, I believe we should disconnect our ego and initial thoughts.. Afterwards, plug them in again to REFLECT about the feedback or conference session, considering if ir might change things at all, if we are learning anything new or reinforcing things we already knew or even doing something we could do differently. I insist on this reinforcing things we alrady had in mind because I find that I myself and many other teachers can become a bit obssessed with learning something new, however, reinforcing things we already had in mind makes our work more valid and it definitely helps to see it from someone else’s perspective. Not everything has to be new, right? Thanks again! 🙂

    • Vinicius Nobre
      Vinicius Nobre
      Posted at 21:46h, 12 abril Responder

      Very good points, Nati!!! Thanks for your comments!

Post A Comment