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Book Summary – Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

Thanks For The Feedback - Book summary

Feedback is a vital source of learning. Yet, it’s not easy to receive feedback, especially when it seems untrue, unfair or badly delivered. This book by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen explains why it’s so hard to receive feedback, and provides the framework and tools to help you to get the most from feedback. In this free Thanks for the Feedback summary, we’ll briefly explain the 3 triggers that block feedback and how to overcome them.

Thanks for the Feedback: An Overview

Feedback includes any information about yourself. It can come from your experiences or other people, be it a test score, a pat on the back or a formal appraisal. Feedback is an essential part of learning, yet we find it hard to embrace feedback (especially negative ones) about ourselves. When you’re giving feedback, you tend to feel that the other party isn’t receiving it well. When you’re receiving feedback, you feel the other party isn’t giving it well.

It’s hard to learn about ourselves because our desire to learn clashes with our desire for acceptance. In particular, there are 3 key triggers that block feedback, each provoked by a different set of reasons and sparking different responses in us:

  • Truth Triggers: “The feedback is wrong, unfair or unhelpful”
  • Relationship Triggers: “Who are you to give this feedback?”
  • Identity Triggers: “I feel threatened by the feedback.”

Thanks for the Feedback summary - 3 triggers that block feedback

Many organizations and books focus on teaching how to give better feedback. However, it’s even more important to learn to receive feedback, since the receiver is the one who decides whether to accept/adopt the feedback. When you’re good at receiving feedback, it improves your relationships, self-esteem, learning and performance.

We’ll now briefly explain each of these 3 triggers and what’s involved in addressing them. To get detailed application tips, examples and more insights on how to apply them to your daily conversations, do get a copy of our complete Thanks for the Feedback summary.


Truth triggers are sparked when we believe that the content of the feedback is wrong, unfair or unhelpful. Yet, we usually don’t understand the feedback correctly in the first place, nor see the same things as the other party.

We Mix up 3 Types of Evaluation

“Feedback” is loosely used to describe 3 different types of information, each with its own purpose and challenges.

  • Appreciation is about offering motivation or encouragement, e.g. a simple “thanks” or telling someone you’re glad to have her on the team. It satisfies our need for human connection—to feel seen, understood and valued.
  • Coaching is about helping someone to learn and grow, be it to improve specific skills, knowledge, abilities or awareness. It helps us to accelerate learning, focus our time/energy and improve our relationships.
  • Evaluation (e.g. a rating or ranking) is about telling us where we stand against an implicit/explicit benchmark. It’s essential for aligning expectations, clarifying consequences and decisions, and for providing reassurance or security.

We need all 3 types of feedback. Problems arise when there’s a shortfall in any of the 3 areas, or when we speak at cross-purposes. For example, you show your work-in-progress design to a friend hoping for some encouragement (appreciation), only to receive a list of areas for improvement (coaching) which leaves you feeling disheartened.

We’re Blind to our Blind Spots

Moreover, we all have blind spots which we, well, simply don’t see. In Thanks for the Feedback, the authors present the authors present the Gap Map to illustrate why this is so.

In a nutshell, we don’t see our behaviors, impact on others and their stories about us (which are what they focus on), while they don’t see our thoughts/feelings and intentions (which are what we focus on).

Thanks for the Feedback summary - The Gap Map

We Misunderstand the Feedback Itself

We also fail to see things the same way because both sides (i) have different facts/information and (ii) interpret the same facts differently due to different assumptions and perceptions.

How to Overcome Truth Triggers

In our full Thanks for the Feedback summary, we’ll elaborate more on each of the elements above and how to overcome them. Basically, you’ll need to:

  • Distinguish between the 3 types of feedback and align your purpose.
  • Understand the feedback clearly (including where it comes from and where it’s going), so you can decide what to do with it.
  • Understand where your blind spots and gaps in perspectives come from, how they get amplified, and how you can start to uncover your blind spots.


Relationship triggers are set off by the person giving the feedback—we respond to how we feel about them/our relationship instead of the content of the feedback. That’s why it’s sometimes easier to get advice from a stranger than the people closest to us.

In particular, we end up focusing on (i) what we think of the giver and (ii) how we think we’re being treated by them. When we’re triggered by someone, we may change the topic without realizing it (switchtrack conversations). For example, over dinner, your wife says that you’re not present (“you seem more interested in your phone than in me”) and you respond by saying she’s unappreciative (“I made the effort to arrange dinner and this is what I get”).

In our complete version of the Thanks for the Feedback summary, we’ll take a closer look at:

  • How switchtracking occurs, and how to prevent/manage switchtracking: spot the topics, use “signposting” and listening for hidden issues.
  • What’s a “relationship system“, how to take 3 steps back to understand the feedback in the context of your relationship system, and have effective systems conversations.


Our identity is who is believe we are, what we stand for and what we can achieve, e.g. “I’m rational” or “I’m a loving mother”. It defines our relationship with ourselves. Identity triggers are sparked when our sense of identity is threatened. We feel off-balanced, overwhelmed, and switch to survival mode.

In order to overcome these triggers, we must:

  • Understand our own wiring and temperaments, including 3 variables (baseline, swing, sustain & recovery) that affect how we respond to and recover from feedback.
  • Understand how our emotions distort the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can remove the distortions
  • Learn to cultivate a growth identity by letting go of simple identity labels, embracing complex nuances and shift from a fixed mindset to growth mindset.

Check out our full version of our Thanks for the Feedback summary  for a detailed breakdown of each of the concepts and tips above.

Handling Feedback in Real-Life Conversations

Rejecting feedback

“Thanks for the Feedback” focuses primarily on how to become better at receiving feedback. But, what if you don’t want the feedback?

It’s ok (and even desirable) to find and set boundaries, especially if someone overwhelms you or makes you feel like a failure. This could be happen if they attack your character instead of your behavior (“You’ll never amount to anything”), relentlessly flood you with feedback (even when you ask them to stop), hold you/your relationship hostage, threaten you, demand endless changes, and/or disregard your views/feedback.

In our full 17-page summary, we’ll outline 3 types of boundaries you can consider, and how reject feedback graciously and honestly while mitigating the negative impact on others.

Navigating the Conversation

You can’t script an entire conversation, but you can identify keyframes (landmark moments or phases) to anchor the conversation. Specifically, for feedback conversations, you do so in 3 parts:

  • Open: get aligned upfront
  • Body: Manage the conversation with 4 key skills
  • Close with commitment.

Accelerate Action/Progress

Finally, the book ends with 5 ways to quickly solicit feedback, test out an advice, accelerate your learning, and gauge your progress.

Getting the Most from Thanks for the Feedback

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 17-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.Thanks For The Feedback summary - book summary bundle

This is a detailed guidebook (click here to buy the book) with detailed examples, tips and suggested words/phrases to help you understand and apply the key ideas outlined above. The authors also end off with a general discussion on how to facilitate feedback in organizations, including how leaders, human resource personnel, feedback givers and receivers can all play their part to make things work.

Get more tips from these authors in our Difficult Conversations summary to learn how to discuss sensitive topics that matter most.

About the Authors of Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well is written by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

Douglas Stone graduated from and now teaches Law at the Harvard Law School, where he served as Associate Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project for 10 years. He’s also a partner at Triad Consulting Group, which specializes in negotiation, communication, and conflict resolution.

Sheila Heen teaches Law at Harvard and is a partner at Triad Consulting Group. She coaches executives and teams on issues such as conflict management and racial tension.

Thanks for the Feedback Quotes

“When we give feedback, we notice that the receiver isn’t good at receiving it. When we receive feedback, we notice that the giver isn’t good at giving it.”

“The key variable in your growth is not your teacher or your supervisor. It’s you.”

“Explicit disagreement is better than implicit misunderstanding.”

“We’re not only blind to certain things about ourselves; we’re also blind to the fact that we’re blind. Yet…our blind spots are glaringly obvious to everybody else.”

“Others observe things about us that we literally can’t observe about ourselves. Our blind spots are their hot spots.”

“A role is like an ice cube tray into which you pour your personality. What you pour in matters, but so does the shape of the tray.”

“If we’re going to be able to listen more effectively, it’s going to have to be both on purpose and with a purpose.”

Click here to download Thanks for the Feedback summary & infographic

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