CHESTThought Leader BlogAccepting Feedback While Still Loving Yourself

Accepting Feedback While Still Loving Yourself

By: Gretchen Winter, MD

Sadness, guilt, happiness, anger, joy, pride…there are few things in my life that elicited such a range of emotions, one of which is feedback. It has been a painfully honest, annoying, and kind friend while I have traversed medical training and life. It has inspired personal growth as well as devastating insecurities. It took time to learn how to accept and utilize it without becoming paralyzed.

It is imperative to have an open mind. Feedback is often the first step to realizing our weaknesses. Recognize that feedback is not about you but rather a behavior, attitude, or skill, and you are a person of value regardless of how many behaviors you have to modify.1 If there is only one thing you take away from this, please know that you are enough.

Listen to feedback without becoming defensive.2 Know the evaluator only wants to help. Listen fully without interrupting.3 If you walk away from the conversation confused about the feedback, you are unlikely to utilize it. Ask questions to understand where you went wrong and how to fix it.1 Make sure you are not arguing or trying to defend yourself, only clarifying.4 If you receive perplexing written feedback, I encourage you to seek out clarification. It can be helpful to ask other people you respect for their input. Honestly seek out their opinions and feedback, and create an environment where it is safe to be honest and open.2

Feedback often hurts and it’s OK to recognize that emotion, but it is important to respond to it later.1 Don’t burst into tears (full disclosure: been there, done that), or explode in anger. Check your face and make sure you aren’t displaying anger or dismissiveness.3 Take time to process your emotions later. Vent to your loved ones, take it out on a boxing bag, or down a carton of ice cream (I wouldn’t recommend the last option regularly—we are supposed to be health advocates here). Make sure you express feelings in an appropriate environment.

Thank people for their feedback.2-4 It can be as difficult for the evaluator to give it as it is for you to accept. Recognize the time and energy they invested in this attempt to help you, and show gratitude.

Contemplate the feedback and seek out truth in those words. There may be feedback that only applies in certain situations or with certain people. There may be feedback you should throw away; the medical school professor who told me I would get a better grade if I smiled more comes to mind.

Feedback sometimes centers on traits that may not need to be changed. Quieter people are sometimes told they must not care or be interested. On the other hand, I cannot count the times I’ve been told I was too energetic or involved, that I shouldn’t ask questions since it may be seen as challenging the attending. I spent years feeling like a failure when my energy broke through. A few years ago, a gentle and wise mentor told me he didn’t think I needed to change my personality, nor did he think I could if I wanted to do so. That was a very freeing moment, and I will forever be grateful for his words. I try to remember to slow down with patients and to pause, allowing them to digest my words rather than bulldozing them with enthusiasm. These are things I will likely be working on for years to come, but I was able to use that feedback to modify my behaviors in certain situations without feeling like my personality was a disaster.

Now that you’ve worked so hard to make the necessary adjustments, remember to come back to the person who gave you the feedback.1 Letting them see the results of their feedback tells them you listened and cared. You may generate more helpful feedback or even build a productive relationship.

I hope you learn to love feedback (or at least tolerate it). I recommend seeking it out and asking for it often.1 Go to those mentors who challenge you and the ones who inspire you. We all have room to improve, and I hope you want to continually grow and challenge yourself. But at the end of the day, remember you are still pretty awesome just being you.


  1. Ardencoaching. Ten tips on accepting feedback gracefully. Arden Coaching. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  2. King JB. Gracefully accepting feedback a key employment skill. The Performance Management and Appraisal Resource Center. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  3. Lindsay N. Taking constructive criticism like a champ. The Muse. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  4. Kruse K. How to receive feedback and criticism. Forbes. Accessed May 2, 2019.

About the Author

Gretchen Winter, MD, is a third-year pulmonary and critical care fellow at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Her clinical interests are in cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis. Her research interests include patient-physician communication, medical education, and physician wellness. She loves ballroom dancing and all things artistic, and she has more pets than are socially acceptable.