How to Validate Feedback to Keep Moving Forward

3 mins

By J. Kevin Kelly, Rhabit CEO, and co-founder

Twitter: @j_k_kelly


I hold a simple belief: When faced with feedback, validating others moves you forward.

Something that helped me move forward professionally in my own development was learning how to validate the responses, opinions, and feelings of others.  I think when you’re young, confident, and have the type of personality that likes to challenge assumptions and has strong opinions, you’re naturally going to rub some folks the wrong way.  

Well, if rubbing people the wrong way in this sort of manner was a sport, at one point in my career  I was Labron James.  I assumed I knew better than everyone else and that their feedback was wrong.  What I would ultimately come to learn is that this type of thinking fundamentally limited my growth.  

I’ve always loved problem-solving, it’s certainly my drug of choice, and probably why I’m running an HR tech startup where there’s no shortage of interesting and challenging problems to solve both in our domain of people products and in the challenge of building and running a company.

Reframing problems to understand the solution

When we look at problems here at Rhabit, I’m always encouraging the team to suggest a variety of approaches - it’s always safe to explore theoretical approaches that are contrarian in nature and sometimes just plain strange - not because we’ll use these approaches but because in this widening of considered solutions it often sparks something that’s tangential to a classic approach but burrows just enough from something outlandish and imaginative to really produce something clever.  

If you consider that interacting with a team and working together with others is a problem to solve that fundamentally benefits your career (I think this realization was necessary as well for my personal professional growth), by not truly considering and treating the complaints, opinions, or perceptions of others as valid, I fundamentally narrowed the possible ways I could look at the world or solve the problem of working well with folks in order to find success.  

The long-tailed benefits of validating the others’ feedback, even when it’s not what you want to hear

There are other positive effects of validating the opinions of others as well.  People who feel validated when they provide feedback are more likely to accept apologies, more likely to forgive you for mistakes you’ve made, and more likely to be willing to continue to work with you or trust you.  Blowing off the opinions of others, even if they truly are backward or just plain wrong, produces nothing of value to you in your own career.  

When you’re faced with negative feedback, your best bet is to push yourself to accept it with as much grace as possible - and (this is the important part), take a moment to consider the “what if” of the implications that this feedback is accurate and correct and what you should do with it if it is indeed true.  

That last step is a biggie, but it’s very important.  You need to let it sit in your head a bit and create some healthy dissonance with how you see the world.  A perception that counters your own is a chance for you to explore the vantage point of someone else emotionally, and any perspective gained from that experience is always in your favor. 

Negative feedback conversations require empathy, understanding, and validation (and sometimes a dash of patience)

The other day we had an employee at one of our clients who received negative feedback on our platform about their behavior.  This person wrote in directly to our support team complaining about our platform treating them unfairly.  

We, as we always do, took it very seriously and looked into the matter.  

We validated that the negative feedback this person was receiving was accurate, from multiple sources over an extended period of time.  This person, instead of validating that feedback, immediately fought vigorously to counter and invalidate that feedback.  All of this energy and effort was placed not into taking the feedback as valid and pushing themselves to improve but instead lashing out in spite and impotent rage because they didn’t like facing a reality where people found them difficult to work with.  

This illustrates my point exactly, that validating feedback is a better healthier use of time and energy and it produces better outcomes for yourself and for your team.  

So, the next time you get some feedback on your behavior, take a moment to assume it’s valid, acknowledge the validity of the opinions of those that expressed it to you, and see what new approaches you may have an opportunity to take as you work to solve the problem of being a great teammate.  

Without Rhabit, employees may not be aware their behaviors are negatively impacting their peers. Rhabit Analytics gives employees the opportunity to give anonymous, objective feedback to those they work with on a frequent basis. If you’d like to see how Rhabit has a feedback platform that is both psychologically safe as well as scientifically valid, book a time to meet with the team. 

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