Received Feedback? Ask For Processing Time.

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If you’ve read The Right Way to Process Feedback, you now know the importance of processing challenging feedback after you’ve received it. In summary, this period of processing helps us understand our thoughts and feelings about the feedback, which can help us make better decisions about it. Scroll to the end of this post for an overview video on this topic.

Without this type of processing, we risk acting on feedback we hold negative feelings about (which could derail our consistent use of it), misunderstanding the feedback giver, and making decisions about the feedback before we understand what it means. When it comes to feedback communication at work, such processing time is vital for performance development.

As one chapter in the Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics puts it:

“Information processing lies at the heart of human performance.”

Why ask for processing time?

We haven’t covered this in much detail, but it’s essential for the receiver to ask because:

  1. It puts processing on the table. The feedback giver may not be trained to make the offer first. Ideally, after the feedback giver provides challenging constructive feedback, they will say something like, “I understand you may need some time to make sense of this. Please take what time you need and let me know if you have any questions. Are you open to regrouping next week about this?” Based on the hundreds of feedback studies I’ve read, expecting such a statement is a bit like expecting a whole week of rain in Yuma, Arizona.
  2. It helps set time expectations. Often, after a feedback conversation, there is an expectation mismatch between the feedback giver and receiver. The giver, although they haven’t said so, may want results in 24 hours. The receiver, however, is left wondering. This can cause unhelpful tension. Introducing processing opens the door to a conversation on time expectations.
  3. It takes pressure off the receiver. Similar to our feedback fallback phrase, directly asking for processing time lets the giver know the receiver takes their words seriously while also relieving some of the pressure on the receiver to agree, disagree, or otherwise make a decision right at the moment.

The empowered feedback receiver

A person sits beside the scales of justice in a colorful desert.

Asking for time to process feedback continues with our longstanding theme, as expressed in Thanks for the Feedback, of creating a more balanced relationship between the feedback giver and receiver.

Much of the research and most of the popular feedback articles out there frame the feedback giver as a kind of all-knowing superior being. We know this couldn’t be further from the truth, even when the feedback giver is higher up the hierarchical corporate ladder.

As the feedback receiver becomes more empowered, they’ll seek feedback more often, ask questions to ensure clarity, alleviate the anxiety of the feedback giver, and generally better position themselves toward getting the professional development they need.


  • How to Process Feedback: