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Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, And, Frankly, You're Not in the Mood)

by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen

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6241437,738 (3.94)13
"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 backwards 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"--… (more)
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» See also 13 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Overall, I liked this book and it did have some good advice on feedback -- giving and receiving.

When they look at what can go wrong with feedback, they broadly break it down into content, relationship, and identity.

Under the 'content' category, the first chapters had some really good insights about different types of feedback:

- coaching
- evaluation
- affirmation

Many problems come when there are mismatches around this area, and I think this book offered some very good and very unique insights here.

The other two general categories ('relationship' and 'identity') were also ok, but there are many other books out there that cover these areas better, more exhaustively and in much more detail. If you've never dug into those areas of literature before, though, this does give an ok view of them.

( )
  nimishg | Apr 12, 2023 |
Feedback is one of biggest topics between humans, most important and destructive sometimes.
This book is about receiving feedback.
The book starts with classifying feedback into different categories and going throw the process of understanding how feedback works, how we receive it, how we should receive each category and how we think about it.
The book is a bit hard to read, some parts can be smaller and more to the point. ( )
  amaabdou | Oct 14, 2022 |
This book takes a different perspective than most books on feedback and tries to help the reader get better at taking feedback rather than giving it. This was valuable to me in two ways. First, I am terrible at taking feedback, and this book helped me see ways I could improve and understand the patterns that make feedback hard for me (my tendency is to take feedback too seriously and become discouraged by my lack of competence at anything ever). Second, although the authors are mainly concerned helping the reader get value out of feedback no matter how badly presented, it's also useful for givers of feedback, which we all are at one time or another.

The book starts with the framing that feedback is not always valid, but feedback that seems invalid at first often has at least some elements you can learn from.
Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you always have to take the feedback. Receiving it well means engaging in the conversation skillfully and making thoughtful choices about whether and how to use the information and what you’re learning. It’s about managing your emotional triggers so that you can take in what the other person is telling you, and being open to seeing yourself in new ways.


Then we get into the meat of the book. First up is understanding why feedback can be so hard to accept. The authors discuss three categories of triggers that block our ability to listen to feedback. The first are truth triggers.

Truth triggers are when your resistance to the feedback comes from the substance of the feedback: the feedback just seems wrong or not helpful. One common way that feedback can be unhelpful is when you get feedback that's different than what you need at the time. Appreciation tells the receiver that something about them is valued. Coaching aims to help the receiver get better. Evaluation tells the receiver where they stand relative to some standard. Often, these are mixed together or given at the wrong time, both of which can trigger a negative response. For example, if you're just starting working on something that's intimidated them, you may be more in need of appreciation than coaching. You just want to know it's ok to keep going, and that you're not a complete failure. As a receiver, you can deal with this trigger in two ways. One, when you're asking for feedback, be explicit about whether you want appreciation, coaching, or evaluation. Second, when you're getting feedback, label it according to these types and either respond in a way that helps you get the most out of that feedback type or make it clear what you need right now.

The second response to a truth trigger is shifting from a mindset of evaluation to curiosity when you receive feedback. Instead of immediately concluding that feedback is wrong (or, more rarely, right), take the hard step of being authentically curious about the feedback and trying to understand it. Instead of asking "why is this wrong?" (wrong spotting) ask "what might be right about this?" Part of what is useful here is to separate the data the giver is working with from their story about that data, from the label they reduce it to, and from the behavioral consequences they think should result. Asking questions which help clarify these distinctions requires engaging with the feedback is a more useful way than wrong spotting. Another useful tool is switching from wrong spotting to difference spotting: when you have a strong reaction to feedback you've been given, figure out the difference between your data, interpretation, label, and consequences rather than just dismissing theirs as wrong. Then figure out why you see those things differently.

The third response is to realize that we all have blind spots. When we look at our own behavior, we have a rich internal world to explain it. Others only see what we present externally, our behavior. This gap in visibility can cause dramatic differences in how we see ourselves and how others see us. We can't see our own behavior, especially things like tone of voice, body language, and facial expression, but others are hyper-aware of these details. Merely understanding that such a gap does exist can help temper our response to "invalid" feedback. Instead, we can use the possibility of such gaps as a prompt to start looking for other ways to validate or invalidate the gap such as asking someone we trust to be candid about the behavior.

The second category of triggers is relationship triggers. Sometimes, who is giving the feedback matters just as much as the content of the feedback. The same relationship advice from a partner, parent, or good friend will feel completely different. The most important thing to do when confronted with a relationship trigger is to avoid switchtracking, the tendency to switch the conversation from being about the content of the feedback to the emotional context of the feedback. Both conversations are important, but tangling them leads to endless confusion and disagreement. Instead, it should be an explicit decision between the giver and receiver to focus first on whichever issue seems most important and come back to the other. The authors then cover a number of specific emotional triggers that can result in switchtracking such as threats to the receiver's autonomy or feedback which makes the receiver feel rejected by the giver.

Relationship triggers exist within the broader context of the relationship, so the second topic of this section is discussing ways to look at the relationship as a system rather than just at the individual moment. Problems in relationships are rarely caused by you xor me. They're usually caused by you and me. While you may have some behavioral tendencies that are universally annoying, usually it's a combination of two people's behaviors, expectations, and context that causes something to turn into a problem. By seeing the relationship as a system, you can get beyond who is right and who is wrong and instead try to see the larger patterns and the opportunities everyone involved has for change.

The book views the relationship system on three levels. First is the You Me level -- how is it that we're both contributing to this situation? Second is looking at our roles. Our roles influence how we interact. E.g., two people whose behavioral patterns might not cause problems in most situations can be destructive if one ends up in a position of authority over the other. Understanding how roles contribute to interactions can provide a valuable shift in perspective. The broadest level is looking at the system that the relationship exists in -- the broader culture, other people involved, where you currently are, anything which might contribute to the feedback.

The commonality of these three steps back is that by looking at the relationship in a broader context, you can move beyond right and wrong and try to understand the root cause behind the feedback and your response to it.

The third class of relationship triggers is identity triggers. These make the receiver's sense of self feel threatened. Feedback which makes you feel like you might not be the person you thought you were -- good, respectable, valuable -- can be crushing.

Much of this section discusses the different ways people respond to feedback and varying sensitivity to identity triggers. Everyone has a different baseline for how good they feel about themselves, different magnitudes of emotional response, and different durations of that response -- note that the second and third can be different for positive vs negative feedback, usually with negative feedback causing larger, longer swings than positive. I, for example, tend to have a fairly high baseline opinion of myself, high swings for negative feedback, moderate swings for positive feedback, and fairly short duration for both.

Our reaction can distort our interpretation of the feedback. For example, if feedback tends to cause you large emotional swings, you may tend to exaggerate it. "You were a little brusque in that meeting" becomes "You're a terrible mean person who can't treat others with respect." Common distortions negatively reinterpreting your whole past based on feedback, expanding it to apply to everything you do, and assuming that the feedback dictates your destiny. Understanding how you react to feedback can help you combat these exaggerations and see the feedback more accurately. One technique for doing this is to separate the feelings you have about the feedback, the story you're telling yourself, and the actual content and consequences of the feedback. And sometimes, despite all that, feedback is still just overwhelming. Sometimes the right reaction is to wall yourself off from the feedback for now and ask for help.

Finally, one way to help decrease the impact of identity triggers is to consciously cultivate a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Accept that you can change, that even if you are the horrible, worthless person the feedback obviously proves you are, you can get better and become the person you want to be. Part of this is also accepting that most identity markers are not binary. We think of ourselves as honest or dishonest (usually honest), but in reality we're honest in some situations and dishonest in others. We can also accept that our desires can sometimes be contradictory -- we want to be perfectly honest, but we also want to avoid pointless confrontation. Instead of judging ourselves, accept that life is full of tradeoffs.

The last section of the book covers how to incorporate this advice into a conversation where you receive feedback. Understand the boundaries you can draw and when to draw them. Times when you might need to draw boundaries are if the feedback attacks your character rather than behavior, is unrelenting in frequency or ever growing in scope, or accompanied by threats (as opposed to natural consequences). If the feedback giver never accepts that they may be part of the problem or that your views and feeling are not worth discussing, then drawing strong boundaries may also be needed.

Although you cannot control the flow of a conversation, you can make sure that a feedback conversation covers some key elements, even when the feedback giver is not skilled. First, make sure that you are both aligned: is this appreciation, coaching, or evaluation? What are the consequences of not listening to the feedback? Second, dig into the substance of the feedback. Ask questions, respond to the feedback, figure out ways to make the conversation more effective (e.g., separating out separate topics to avoid switchtracking), and work on figuring out the consequences of the feedback. Finally, make sure there is a clear commitment to next steps. If you're going to take the feedback, be explicit about what you're going to do. If you're not going to take the feedback, be explicit about that too. The important thing is to make sure the conversation closes with both participants on the same page about the result of the conversation.

Finally, the book ends with a brief discussion of feedback systems, especially in organizations. The key takeaways of this section is that there is no perfect feedback systems and that the most important thing is to have a culture where feedback is valued, including feedback to leaders from those they lead.

Overall, this book was quite valuable and one I'm likely to refer to again. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
This book was surprisingly very helpful and included concrete strategies to try out. It also covered a lot more under the topic of feedback than I assumed. I recommend this book not only to anyone who struggles with formal feedback, but anyone who has to or wants to give feedback to others and also anyone who wants to navigate any of their relationships better, whether they are work, family, or friend relationships. ( )
  zennkat | Feb 9, 2022 |
I listened to this audiobook while working on other things, so I unfortunately can't give a very good overview of how it's structured. If I remember right, the authors started by laying out their definition of "feedback," which is broader than you might expect. Telling someone the ways in which they could improve the presentation they just practiced counts as feedback. So does telling them that they did great and are going to do just fine during the real thing (encouragement rather than advice). And that person who honked at you during your morning commute because you were zoned out and didn't notice the light had changed to green was also giving you feedback.

After that, I can't really remember much about their organization, although some things they wrote about really stuck with me. For example, I wasn't expecting them to touch on mental health, but they did, discussing the ways an anxious or depressed person's distorted thinking can make it difficult to change how they perceive feedback and advising that readers experiencing that kind of difficulty seek help. I appreciated that.

The authors' advice mostly boiled down to "calm down, shift your thinking about whatever feedback you just received that made you defensive, and try to find the kernels you can work with." In some cases, that involved getting clarification from the other person - about what they meant, the kind of feedback they were really giving you, etc. In other cases, it meant have a conversation with yourself and figuring out the ways in which this obviously wrong person might be right. And in some cases it involved having conversations with folks in which you deliberately addressed things (like feelings) that might otherwise have gone unspoken.

They admitted that some of the things they discussed probably wouldn't come naturally to most people. Some of it sounded so uncomfortable/unnatural to me that I figure I'd have to have a paper copy of this to remind me of enough of the details to even try to put it into practice. Unfortunately, if I remember right, the most uncomfortable/unnatural stuff was connected to the authors' advice for how to take a step back and shift your thinking, even when your knee-jerk reaction is to be defensive or upset. You know, the really hard part.

So yeah, at least parts of this book probably would have worked better in print than in audio, but I did still appreciate it overall. One of my favorite lines: "You aren't going from good to bad, or even from good to complicated. You've been complicated all along." I'll try to remember that the next time something shakes my sense of myself enough to have me anxiously fretting over whether this one thing indicates that I'm a "bad" person. I'm not good or bad - like other people, I'm complicated, and the question is what I can take from this moment, and whether I can learn and grow. (Wow, that sounds cheesy, but sometimes you need cheesy.)

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Jan 23, 2022 |
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"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 backwards 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"--

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