Leveraging the Feedback Decision Tree

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Constructive feedback can challenge feedback receivers on many levels — including emotionally. Depending on the work context, the content, and even how it was delivered, it may trigger past traumas that make it especially difficult for the receiver.

That was my experience. And it’s an experience I’ve heard many others struggle with. I came up with the feedback decision tree and the associated 6Ps of processing feedback (both of which I originally published here at Harvard Business Review) to help me think logically and ultimately decide about some tough feedback I had received.

Here’s what my decision tree looks like.

Feedback decision tree

I explore how to use it in the HBR article, and in the video below — Module 2 in what is perhaps the world’s most comprehensive, evidence-based online feedback course — further explores how to use it.

If my method works for you, great. But I highly encourage you to learn about my method primarily so you can develop your own — even if it’s a slightly tweaked variation.

One of the many reasons why receiving constructive feedback can be so challenging is that it’s often a form of negative feedback. That is, it’s a form of feedback that shines a light on a weakness or an area to improve. As humans, many of us already suffer from a strong negativity bias that is an ancient and biological part of how we have survived. So here many of us are, already bathed in self-doubt and inner chatter about our shortcomings and with an inclination to latch onto thoughts about how we aren’t good enough — and then this is all magnified and validated when negative feedback comes our way.

So, remember, based on our feedback definition, the best negative feedback not only shines a light on a weakness — it spills light into the future, illuminating a path toward change.

Two cartoon characters stand in a colorful cave. One holds a torch that illuminates the path forward.
Source: Cameron Conaway. Image created using Magic Media by Canva

Unfortunately, many who give constructive feedback don’t have such fine-grained control over how they shine the light. Often, they merely shine it on a weakness. This is why it’s essential for feedback receivers to be proactive, to take whatever was given to us, and, to the best of our abilities, to make the most of it.

A feedback decision tree can help. So can the 6Ps of processing feedback:

  1. Poise
  2. Process
  3. Positionality
  4. Percolate
  5. Proceed
  6. Perspective

But these are merely tools. As with all tools, using them without understanding why isn’t likely to lead to great results. If you’re struggling with feedback you received:

  1. Quiet your mind in whatever way works for you.
  2. Feel the feelings that arise when feedback enters into your thinking (they are there, I promise you).
  3. Remember that you are in control of what happens next.


Before you go…