How To Know What Feedback To Take, And What To Ignore

When you’re surrounding yourself with trusted advice, some of it is bound to contradict. Here’s how to choose what’s best for you.

How To Know What Feedback To Take, And What To Ignore
[Photo: Flickr user Håkan Dahlström]

While working on a book project recently, I hired some well-respected editors to tell me what they thought. Much of this feedback was useful. But some was directly contradictory, with one person loving a section and another telling me it had to go.


So I had to decide: What feedback should I take, and what should I ignore?

It’s an increasingly common dilemma. Companies are getting the message that Millennial employees crave feedback. Annual reviews alone will not cut it. However, as the volume of feedback increases, and it comes from different people, this ups the odds that some will be confusing. The good news about this is that it solves the main problem people have with feedback, which is remembering that “it’s not personal,” says Amanda Abella, a career coach who focuses on Millennials. When feedback diverges, it can be evaluated for what it is: suggestions “to make you a better employee for that specific company,” and not a statement on your worth as a human being. Here’s how to figure out what can be used:

Consider The Source.

In general, your immediate supervisor’s feedback should carry more weight than someone else at the company, or an external source. That’s simply because you need to work with your boss daily, and she has certain things she needs from you.

However, if you’ve specifically sought out feedback from someone else because your boss has blind spots and you wanted a second opinion, that’s a different matter.

Focus On Your Desired Result.

If someone is a gatekeeper–you have to satisfy an editor at a trade publication to get your article printed–then her feedback should be studied closely, no matter what anyone else thinks.


Understand What’s Not A Contradiction.

Your manager may be thrilled because you’re meeting your sales targets, but the people you gave a presentation to about your team’s progress tell you that you have a lot to work on.

This isn’t a case of contradictory feedback; “They value different things,” says Abella. It is entirely possible to be great in one-on-one settings and stumble in more formal ones. Tell yourself “I am good at this, I am good over here, and this over here needs a little bit of work.”

Ask Follow-up Questions.

A little secret: Giving feedback is hard for many people. “It’s really uncomfortable,” says Abella. “They don’t want to do it. They may not be very good at it either.” So probe a bit.

Feedback that comes across as broadly contradictory may be more helpful when you get in the weeds. One person hates the way you move around on stage; another praises your energy. Ask person one for an example of something she disliked. It may turn out that you moved your hands around in a distracting way, and the person was responding to that, not insisting that you stay behind the podium the whole time.

Find The Diamond In The Rough.

It’s human nature to embrace positive feedback and come up with a reason to dismiss a person who sounds more critical. But try to step back and ask how you’d evaluate this feedback if it were about someone else. You can often incorporate something small from someone you mostly disagree with.


“Cater to each of them a little bit,” says Abella. This is especially important if you’ll have to work with the more critical person in the future, and you need to indicate that you take her thoughts seriously.

Go With Your Gut.

Ultimately, you’re the one who has to build your career and your life. My book will go out with my name on it, so I have to be happy with it, understanding that I will never win over 100% of humanity. You don’t have to incorporate any feedback you don’t want to. You just have to live with the results.

Set Yourself Up For Better Feedback In The Future.

Rather than just ask people how you’re doing, figure out questions that will produce feedback you really need. “My direct reports don’t seem to understand what I consider a top priority. Can you watch me in a meeting and see how I can make that more clear?” will produce more useful results than vague questions about performance.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at