There is a typical pattern of response when people receive corrective feedback. It can be helpful to know that it is human to feel an emotional response to corrective feedback and that a person most often processes it in stages. SARAH is an acronym that describes these stages. Depending upon the situation, you may skip stages or experience all 5 for varying lengths of time as you process the feedback.

These are the stages of SARAH’s pattern of emotion and ways to act in response for each stage.

Shock/Surprise. “This can't be about me! I didn’t see this coming. What prompted this?” At this point, it is best to not react in the moment, but instead do your best to just listen to what the other person is saying.

Anger. “You are trying to throw me under the bus. You don’t know the real situation. This is really upsetting.” During the stage, continue to keep your composure until the anger dissipates to avoid saying something you will later regret.

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Resistance/Rejection. “This information is certainly not true. I don’t believe what you are saying. I am right; you are wrong. It’s not my fault that this happened.” At this point it is best to avoid making excuses or blaming other people. Instead, check out what aspect of the feedback could be your responsibility. Ask questions for clarification and get specific examples that support the feedback.

Acceptance. “Well maybe a small part of this may be true. OK, I’ve got the message. Now what?” This is the turning point to discover what you may want to change and determine your next steps.

Help/Hope. “What do I need to do to turn this around? Do I need to enlist someone to help me figure it out? What will be different if I make these changes?” This is when you decide upon the actions you will take to move forward.

Key questions to consider when moving through the SARAH stages:

  • Do I understand the feedback?
  • What parts are valid and accurate?
  • How can I get clarification on the parts that don’t resonate with me?
  • What is important about the feedback?
  • What do I need to change?
  • How might the change benefit me and others?

Understanding the stages of SARAH will help you respond versus react when receiving corrective feedback.

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and adventure marathoner. For questions or to submit questions or ideas for future columns, please contact her at or 218-729-0772.