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 Thanks for the Feedback summary, we’ll briefly explain the 3 triggers that block feedback and how to overcome them. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.
Overview: Thanks for the Feedback
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.”
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 (click here for full 17-page 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).
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 summary bundle for 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 (get full summary here) for a detailed breakdown of each of the concepts and tips above.
Handling Feedback in Real-Life Conversations
“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.
Finally, the book ends with 5 ways to quickly solicit feedback, test out an advice, accelerate your learning, and gauge your progress.
Other Details in “Thanks for the Feedback”
In this article, we’ve briefly outlined the key ideas in the book and what you can expect to learn from it, with more details presented in our full 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.
Learn how to receive feedback well, accelerate your learning and improve your relationships!