Giving feedback is notoriously difficult. It requires core soft skills like empathy, self-awareness and communication, all of which take time and practice to develop. But receiving feedback can be just as difficult as dishing it out: After receiving constructive feedback on your performance, or on your training programs, you may be left thinking, “Now, what?” Or, worse, grappling with feelings of low confidence and self-doubt.

Fortunately, just as you can learn how to give feedback, you can learn how to receive it. After receiving feedback, use this five-step checklist to level-up both your individual performance and your training programs.

Step 1.)  Assume Good Intent

When it comes to receiving feedback, “the first rule of thumb is to assume good intent,” says Todd Davis, executive vice president and chief people officer at FranklinCovey and author, most recently, of “Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.” It’s easy to “get defensive” after receiving constructive feedback — especially when it’s unexpected.

Hayley Dennis, a leadership and career coach at Ama La Vida, a life and career coaching provider, also encourages learning leaders to “resist the urge to be defensive” after receiving feedback. Defensiveness prevents us from hearing and understanding the outside perspectives and advice that we need to improve.

Instead, when you receive unexpected feedback, “think of it like a gift,” Dennis says. While the gift itself may have been a surprise, your reaction to it is a choice. So, while you may not have asked for feedback, or had control over how or when it was delivered, how you receive it is well within your control. You can choose to respond with defensiveness (which won’t do you or your learners any favors) or curiosity and a will to learn and grow.

Rod Keffer, CPTM, a Training Industry Courses instructor and founder of Enova Consulting, says it’s important to “put your ego and emotions in check” after receiving feedback. Pause, and remember that your ultimate goal as a learning leader is to improve performance through the business of learning — a goal you can’t achieve without first improving your own.

Step 2.) Say “Thank You”

Giving feedback takes courage, Davis says. Whether you initially agree with the feedback or not, acknowledge that the person who gave it to you went out of their way and, likely, comfort zone, to deliver it.

This is where soft skills like empathy come into play: Dennis suggests putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to imagine how it must have felt for them to come to you with that feedback. Chances are, it was difficult, she says. This is especially true if the feedback came from a team member or from someone else in a lower level of the organizational hierarchy. When you are in a position of power, Davis says, you “have to go above and beyond” to make it safe for others to tell you the truth.

Without psychological safety, it’s unlikely that you will receive the candid feedback you need to improve your performance and your training initiatives. Make it clear that you are not only open to receiving feedback, but also that you’re actively seeking it. Then, when you do receive it — even if it was tough to hear — don’t forget to say, “thank you.”

Step 3.) Evaluate and Validate

Not all feedback is reflective of your performance or abilities. After receiving feedback, pause and reflect on whether or not the feedback is accurate or if it could be attributed to an external factor, such as a miscommunication.

A growth mindset is critical in evaluating feedback effectively, Dennis says. Stay curious, and investigate the feedback after receiving it. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to evaluate the feedback in that moment, come back to it later when you have the time and space to reflect, she suggests.

It’s important to remember that some feedback is more reliable than others. “One-off” feedback (i.e., feedback that you receive from only one person, a single time) is less reliable than consistent feedback (i.e., feedback that you receive consistently, from multiple people), Davis explains. For example, say that a team member told you that your team meeting that morning was unproductive, and they felt like you were unprepared. Perhaps that team member didn’t know that your car broke down on the way to work, or that you were suffering from a migraine that morning, both of which are external variables that could impact your ability to run an effective meeting. In instances like these, thank them for sharing and perhaps explain the circumstances, but know that this feedback isn’t likely an accurate reflection of your performance.

When you receive feedback on the same issue from multiple people, it’s time to pay attention, Davis says. Ask for specific examples so that you can validate the feedback and make any behavior changes necessary. For instance, if you’re told multiple times that you need to work on your listening skills, ask for examples of instances in which this was an issue. Maybe you’re dominating the conversation during all-hands meetings, or maybe your direct reports don’t feel like their ideas are being heard. Get the specific information and data you need to move on to Step 4.

Step 4.) Apply

After getting specific examples that validate the feedback, it’s time to begin what is perhaps the hardest step of this process: behavior change.

If you received feedback on your individual performance, try opting for small, incremental changes that can improve your performance over time. In the earlier example, if you just received feedback that your listening skills needed work, and identified that your team members don’t feel like their ideas are being heard, try beginning your team meetings by having each team member share one new idea they had in the past week. Then, as a group, brainstorm how those ideas may or may not support your team’s current and future goals.

If you received feedback on your training programs, leverage it to improve the learning experience. For instance, if multiple learners told you that your training programs would be more engaging if they used multiple modalities, work with your instructional design team or training provider to identify areas in which an interactive video, virtual instructor-led (VILT) session or even a training game or simulation would make sense.

Step. 5) Upskill Accordingly

After completing steps one through four, identify any areas in which you can upskill yourself to better receive feedback and improve your performance based on the feedback you’ve received.

Keffer suggests building your emotional intelligence (EQ) in addition to “nearly all other interpersonal skills” to effectively receive feedback. While taking a course on these skills can help, to see “real progress,” consider working with a mentor or coach to gain one-on-one guidance and expertise, and use assessments to measure your progress, he suggests.

Although your role, as a learning leader, is focused on developing others, “We’re all human,” Dennis says. “We all have room to grow.”

The next time you receive feedback, don’t panic: Use this checklist to leverage it for improved performance and, as a result, business outcomes.

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