Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Why I read it:

As part of the Thriving Teams research project that I am midway through, the importance of communication and constructive conflict keeps shining through in research and studies that I have read. After reading Radical Candor, which focuses on the art of giving feedback well in order to improve the performance of those around you, Thanks for the Feedback seemed like a logical next step, given that it switches the focus to the receiver.

In Summary:

Most books on feedback and managing conversations focus on the initiator, or giver of the feedback; Radical Candor, is, of course, a brilliant example of a book that can help you improve the way you challenge yet care for your team. However, Thanks for the Feedback focuses on the receiver of the feedback. How do we react to feedback? What can we be aware of, and what can we do, in order to make sure the feedback is something we can accept and act upon? These are the key questions that are addressed in Thanks for the Feedback – a truly enlightening study of how to receive different types of feedback so that it has the desired intention: to help us to grow and improve.

In the words of the authors: ‘our primary purpose is to take an honest look at why receiving feedback is hard, and to provide a framework and some tools that can help you metabolise challenging information and use it to fuel insight and growth.’

Key Takeaways:

  1. Feedback comes in three forms: Appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Appreciation covers gratitude and praise; coaching gives you pointers about how to improve performance; evaluation rates, ranks, and compares your performance to show where you stand. To understand what type of feedback we are being given, we can reflect on these three types, and gain greater clarity and precision by asking for the type of feedback you want,  even if that means negotiating with the feedback giver over the type they were hoping to give vs what you want.
  2. Three triggers that can be barriers to receiving feedback: Truth triggers: The content of the feedback is wrong, unfair, or unhelpful. We can get triggered when we feel the content of the feedback isn’t right. Relationship triggers: we dismiss the feedback from the specific person giving it, perhaps because of our relationship with them or view of them, rather than considering the content of the feedback. Identity triggers: the feedback we receive strikes our identity, and sense of who we are, leading us to become threatened. For each of these triggers, the authors provide a range of solutions to help remove the barriers.
  3. The benefits of receiving feedback well: probably self explanatory, but worth reminding ourselves: your relationships become richer; you learn and improve; colleagues find it more enjoyable to work with you; it is easier for you to work with others to solve problems; you model the way for others to receive feedback well.
  4. Being self aware when we receive feedback: the book is excellent at providing scenarios about what you may think and do when receiving feedback, including some undesirable responses! The acknowledgement of these likely outcomes then leads to suggestions of how to transform them into something productive. One example is the recognition of what your ‘internal voice’ may say to you during feedback, and how to harness it for good.
  5. We can play an active role in how we receive feedback: Thanks for the Feedback provides a conversation framework that most feedback conversations fall into: Open, Body, Close. For each section, the authors give likely processes and scenarios, as well as questions for the receiver to ask to make the conversation as productive as possible. The whole process encourages us to not only be aware of how we will feel during the feedback conversation, but also prompts us to ask certain questions for clarity, and methods to question, query or disagree – without being / seeming defensive or dismissive. The proposals are there to help us understand, embrace, and employ the feedback to help our growth, and not merely to put a brave face on it publicly!
  6. Assessing what’s relevant: feedback can come in many forms; perhaps the conversation is solely about this piece of feedback, or perhaps feedback is sandwiched in between other topics. This book aids the reader figure out what their feedback really means; to objectively assess how the feedback could be of worth, and how it helps us see the way we are and to focus on the most important next step: how to act upon it, or not. The awareness one gains from reading the book, and understanding more about what types of feedback we are likely to accept or reject, is invaluable for future conversations.

Favourite quote

The book is packed with questions one can ask to elicit precise, useful feedback, but here are a few of my favourites:

  • What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my way?
  • What’s one thing I could work on?
  • What’s one thing I could change that would make a difference to you?

Read this if:

You are a leader wishing to gain awareness of how you give and receive feedback

You want to understand how and why you feel certain ways when being given feedback, and want to seek out tools to combat your usual responses so that the feedback becomes useful and productive

Buy the book here

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