The art of feedback for the unreceptive


Holly Thorsen is a Director at Cooper Professional Education. A veteran of the improv stage, Holly specializes in helping individuals and teams build creative confidence through interactive training programs and leadership coaching to create lasting change.

This is the fourth of a five-part series where Holly shares her knowledge of design education, educational philosophy, and the importance of shifting company culture to one of creative leadership and feedback.

Feedback is a gift and and also a necessity in crafting productive relationships and innovative teams. We’ve all been there: You attempt to give generous feedback to a friend or colleague who outright rejects it. So what do you do when someone isn’t accepting the feedback you are looking to give? Consider a few of these strategies to ease your journey.

1. Change your own mindset.

Although people often feel powerless to change their own culture, it is simply not the case. Start by modelling the behaviors you wish to see. Become an unofficial ambassador or influencer for change, and encourage conversations about the attitudes around feedback that you hope will spread. If you are a manager or leader, institute practices that support the kind of feedback culture you want to build.

2. Consider your worldview.

Practice empathy, and think about the situation from the perspective of the person who is receiving the feedback. Using both a familiar tone and language can help you get through to someone who might otherwise shut down. Set yourself—and the recipient of your feedback—up for success by offering a fair warning, context, and even permission to share your thoughts. By saying something like, “Hey, I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you on XYZ. Can we set up a time to have that conversation?” you prepares the person to receive your feedback.

3. Understand the emotion and urgency of the feedback.

It’s important to ask yourself, “What is the value of giving this particular bit of feedback?” In some instances, managers must give feedback to document and address behaviors that aren’t appropriate. In this case, it is important to tailor your feedback in a way that is as objective and even-headed as possible. These situations often become emotional for both the giver and receiver of feedback, so it’s critical to manage your feelings to improve your chances of having a successful interaction.

If you aren’t in the position of providing documentation, it is still essential to prepare the recipient before you give your feedback. By committing to building trust over a stretch of time, you demonstrate that you have the recipient’s best interests in mind. This process can take a while—maybe six months—before you are in a position to give it a go, but the long-term pay-off of a relationship built on open conversation and an effective feedback loop is well worth it.

Giving and receiving feedback is an incredible strategy for personal and professional growth. Learning to love and cherish feedback can do wonders for your organization, so take the next steps toward a productive feedback culture today.

Interested in learning more about Cooper Professional Education and our philosophies around design and education? Read more about our curriculum and class schedules at

Holly Thorsen
Holly Thorsen

Holly Thorsen is a Director at Cooper Professional Education and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.

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