Take a deep breath by @ginaalexander

No, this isn’t the start of a blog on the effective management of labour!  But instead my recommended first step when you are about to receive a piece of feedback.

In a previous life as Personnel and Training Officer (that’s what we were called back in the days before HR Consultants) a big part of my role was supporting the organisations appraisal system.  We were highly focussed on training managers how to measure competencies, set SMART objectives, creating development and in giving constructive feedback to get the best out of human resources! 

There’s lots to read about how to give feedback.

Gina 1I used to suggest this acronym to structure feedback in an appraisal context: BOOST.


I am sure many of you will have your own strategies and techniques.

Human nature finds it hard to be critiqued, challenged, measured, assessed.  As the mother of a 15 year old facing “big” exams for the first time, I am keenly aware of the pressure this scrutiny brings to bear.  (Who knew I’d ever have to tussle with a quadratic equation again!)

Resistance and defensiveness is built into our DNA.   And, on the whole, when we look at health and care and what drives people to do the jobs they do, the intensity at which they work, the complexity and life-in-the-balance decisions they deal with, you see people who desperately want to do their best, be the best.      Being on the receiving end of feedback telling you, you could do better is at odds with the way most of us are wired.

I saw a tweet containing this great infographic recently.  The title could easily read “to stay “productive, sane, encouraged” and there slap bang in the middle is “Get feedback”.

Gina 2


Given that a key aim of feedback is to improve, surely we’d want to embrace it?   But it’s so dependant on our motivation to receive as well as the motivator of the giver, the way it’s communicated, how we are feeling about ourselves and others and also, crucially, the prevailing culture of the organisations we are part of.   We know it’s good for us, and it is, but sometimes it feels like being fed a spoonful of castor oil! (Back to labour!?!)

Gina 3

We have all been on the receiving end of feedback and are, no doubt, aware of the profound impact it can have.

In our world of instant communication, feedback is available in real time!    I have seen lots and lots of feedback which would make you fit to burst with pride – hurray! 

But sometimes the giver hasn’t heard of “BOOST”, perhaps their motivation is frustration, pain, fear, worry, grief, confusion, anger.  Feedback might not follow a constructive pattern, is one sided, can be ill thought through and, to be honest, pretty brutal.   

What can we do?   Do we ignore it, dismiss it, disengage, move to self protection? 

We can manage our reaction.  We can choose to listen.  We can seek to learn. We can strive to improve. 

Do we need to develop our skills in receiving feedback?    I think so.    I speak with lots of different people across health services about receiving and responding to feedback through Patient Opinion – 50% of which, I hasten to add is positive! (see link above)  The first thing I encourage people to do is …. take a deep breath.

Gina 4

Then, some things to think about:

  • Take your professional hat off; seriously take it off!  Remind yourself of the other roles you have in life: son, wife, father, sister, friend;
  • Imagine it’s you, from or about someone you love, try standing in their shoes, empathise;
  • Try to understand and connect with the feedback and the motivation;
  • Control any inclination to defensiveness and stay open;
  • Walk away, reflect, get someone else’s viewpoint;
  • Examine your own motivation – to learn, to improve, to protect, to defend;
  • Decide to respond and act, check your decision with others.

As I always say, it’s not rocket science, but neither is it easy.  We need practice and we can learn from others who do it well.

Oh, and we also operate within the phenomenon which is the NHS, and although progress is being made, we still don’t, organisationally, handle critical feedback all that well!  Another blog in the making there methinks.    Still perhaps we, as individuals, can be the change we want to see in others.

Good luck!

Gina Alexander, Director of Patient Opinion Scotland, an independent not for profit organisation who run an award winning website where people can share their experiences of care services.



5 thoughts on “Take a deep breath by @ginaalexander

  1. Great blog Gina,
    I think the concept of stepping back, taking off the professional hat, is an excellent way to reflect on, understand, learn from and respond to feedback.

  2. Pingback: Getting personal, explaining dementia, and paper in art | weeklyblogclub

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