The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well
By Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
The bestselling authors of the classic Difficult Conversations teach us how to turn evaluations, advice, criticisms, and coaching into productive listening and learning
We swim in an ocean of feedback. Bosses, colleagues, customers—but also family, friends, and in-laws—they all have “suggestions” for our performance, parenting, or appearance. We know that feedback is essential for healthy relationships and professional development—but we dread it and often dismiss it.
That’s because receiving feedback sits at the junction of two conflicting human desires. We do want to learn and grow. And we also want to be accepted just as we are right now. Thanks for the Feedback is the first book to address this tension head-on. It explains why getting feedback is so crucial yet so challenging and offers a powerful framework to help us take on life’s blizzard of off-hand comments, annual evaluations, and unsolicited advice with curiosity and grace.
The business world spends billions of dollars and millions of hours each year teaching people how to give feedback more effectively. Stone and Heen argue that we’ve got it backward and show us why the smart money is on educating receivers— in the workplace and in personal relationships as well.
Coauthors of the international bestseller Difficult Conversations, Stone and Heen have spent the last ten years working with businesses, nonprofits, governments, and families to determine what helps us learn and what gets in our way. With humor and clarity, they blend the latest insights from neuroscience and psychology with practical, hard-headed advice. The book is destined to become a classic in the world of leadership, organizational behavior, and education.
The best summary I got:
Feedback doesn’t come up only during your annual performance review; it’s a natural aspect of every relationship. In their illuminating guide, consultants Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen explain why most people aren’t very good at hearing and understanding feedback – or at giving it. The authors provide concise, actionable advice for combating your natural tendencies to dismiss needed feedback or to take a negative evaluation too much to heart. Their humorous, conversational style makes even their most academic arguments accessible and entertaining. They provide useful chapter summaries and sample dialogues.
Their broad approach may limit the utility of their advice for those seeking an organizational framework for feedback, but their guidance is valuable on a person-to-person level at work or elsewhere. getAbstract recommends this helpful guide to anyone navigating a mentoring or coaching relationship, and to anyone receiving or delivering feedback.
The authors offer the following lessons and insights:
1. Feedback has three distinct forms.
Whether you face an office performance review, nagging from your spouse or the need to pay attention to your child, you experience and transmit a range of feedback daily. It takes three forms: “evaluation, coaching” and “appreciation.” A performance review is an evaluation – feedback telling you where you stand in the office or how you match up against a set of standards. Your spouse coaches you, providing feedback to help you improve yourself and your marriage. Attending to your children shows your appreciation, and provides motivational feedback that acknowledges their accomplishments. Evaluation, coaching, and appreciation get combined in feedback conversations, but the authors make clear that they make up three distinct types of input.
Negative evaluations can have immediate consequences, like the loss of a bonus. Your emotional reaction may drown out your coach’s message, which he or she is offering with the intention of helping you. You may hear your boss’s attempt to coach as an evaluation, and that will distort how you hear the message. Employees may crave appreciation. Providing coaching instead will confirm their perception that you undervalue them. Separate evaluation, coaching and appreciation conversations. Be clear about which one you are initiating.
2. “Triggers” can distort feedback.
People receive negative feedback poorly, and they are even worse at giving it. Triggers subconsciously distort how people receive feedback: “Truth triggers” occur when someone gives you feedback that clashes with how you view yourself or the situation at hand. You disregard it because you view it as untrue or unhelpful. Here, the authors, who don’t set themselves apart from their readers, showcase their compassion and sense of humanity. “Relationship triggers” cause you to distort feedback according to your relationship with your coach. “Identity triggers” amplify feedback’s negative implications and distort your sense of the future. This prevents you from regarding the feedback accurately.
3. Dig deeper and find the truth.
Feedback can be generic, along the lines of, “be more assertive,” “act your age” or “have more confidence.” Advice this simple seems off-base or unhelpful. Generic feedback never tells the whole story, and its substance may seem invalid. When you receive feedback, you hear another person’s interpretation of your actions. The authors advise clarifying the giver’s perspective to be more specific and personalized.
Both participants in a conversation work based on differing observations and interpret their perceptions differently. Be alert to a variety of signals when you receive feedback. The authors cite studies showing that nonverbal communication – signals in your tone of voice and in facial expressions that you understand in others but are blind to in yourself – affect as much as 40% of social outcomes. Focus on the aspects of the feedback that might be incorrect or that convey information about you that is otherwise opaque to you. Understanding feedback doesn’t mean you have to accept it. But, understanding it more clearly will illuminate your reasons for using or rejecting it. “Being able to say ‘no’ is not a skill that runs parallel to the skill of receiving feedback well; it’s right at the heart of it.”
4. Don’t change the conversation.
What you think or feel about the way someone treats you can dictate your reaction to his or her feedback more than the substance of the message. Issues of trust, credibility, or a coach’s skill at giving feedback can override the substance. In an episode of the sitcom Lucky Louie, Louie brings red roses to his wife, Kim, who reminds him that she dislikes that particular flower. Kim’s feedback is an attempt to coach Louie to listen more attentively; he responds by feeling underappreciated. As in countless real-life conversations, the characters engage in “switch tracking.” They have two different conversations about their relationship, neither of which relate to the original topic.
Stone and Heen explain that switch tracking occurs in business, and prevents those involved from discussing the interpersonal issues at hand. Valid feedback gets lost in an argument as neither party realizes what’s happening. A conversation that switches tracks isn’t a lost cause if both sides spot the relationship issues hiding behind the feedback. When you notice switch tracking, the authors perceptively suggest stepping outside the conversation for a moment to point out explicitly the different issues under discussion. Address them separately, talking about each one on its own terms before the conversation spirals out of control. Often, recognizing switch tracking creates an opportunity because people bring up deeper issues they couldn’t otherwise raise.
5. Scrutinize your relationships.
To perceive feedback clearly, set the issue aside for a moment and analyze the relationship systems at play. Typically, people view the feedback they give as constructive criticism and interpret feedback from others as being blamed. People see their behavior, even if it clashes with their beliefs, as the product of a situation – but they attribute other people’s behavior to their character. Correcting this tendency requires taking a broader view of the roles and systems that shape human interactions. Considering how conflicting roles, organizational structures, timing, and environment shape your behavior will help remove personal judgment from feedback.
6. How you react to feedback depends on who you are.
Neurological variations partially explain people’s varying responses to feedback, particularly negative information. As much as half the variance in levels of human happiness is genetic. Your baseline level of happiness – how far you swing in the face of negative or positive feedback and how long the swing lasts – is innate. People with a high happiness baseline and short swings respond well to feedback. Those with low baselines and longer swings react negatively. Half of your response to feedback comes from your genetics. The other half springs from how you interpret the feedback, and that half is the part that lies within your control. Prepare for planned feedback by considering how you typically react and by preparing for the worst-case scenario. This mitigates feeling threatened by negative feedback. Imagine how you would advise a friend who received the same feedback. Stone and Heen suggest adopting a third-party perspective.
7. Feedback can help you grow.
Responding to feedback well requires cultivating what the authors call a “growth identity.” A growth identity allows you to embrace your personality’s complexity, seeing your traits as being in flux and accepting feedback as an opportunity to improve. It means hearing the coaching hidden in feedback, learning from a negative evaluation, and dismissing what the giver’s judgment might say about your personality.
8. Feedback within companies can be complicated.
Organizational systems of feedback are always imperfect. They depend on relationships between supervisors and staff members. Establishing a transparent feedback system that is open to employee input helps, as does formally separating the three types of feedback. Base your evaluations of other people on clear, consistent criteria. The authors suggest coaching and expressing appreciation year-round. Team leaders should model feedback by soliciting it themselves, sharing stories of learning from their mistakes, and emphasizing positive behaviors. Foster a “culture of learning” in which employees actively seek ways to improve. Stone and Heen walk a tightrope deftly – they present academic, anecdotal, and research-based evidence with equal emphasis and a constant awareness of the power of people’s blindness to their own cognitive processes. This gives their work great value.
Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (March 4, 2014)
Hardcover: 368 pages
Item Weight: 1.24 pounds
Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
Best Sellers Rank: #72,408 in Books
#410 in Business Decision Making
#424 in Communication Skills
#428 in Decision-Making & Problem Solving
Customer Reviews: 4.6 out of 5 stars 895 ratings
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