Book Notes: Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feedback is only useful if people actually act upon it, improve and get better. There are three triggers which mean we react defensively to the feedback we receive.

Truth Triggers are where we feel the substance of the feedback is somehow off, unhelpful or we perceive to be untrue. As a recipient it is key to search harder to understand the feedback. Once we understand we might still consider the feedback wrong – some of it will be but some of it might actually be covering a blind spot we did not know about.

Relationship Triggers are because feedback does not occur in a vacuum and the relationship between the giver and receiver. So we react based upon what we believe about the giver. Here people respond by “switchtrack” where the person responds with the relationship issue and the original feedback gets dropped. The issues is not them or you it’s them and you – the question to answer is what’s the dynamic between us and what are we each contributing to the problem?

Identity Triggers are no about the feedback nor the person giving it but the feedback challenges our identity – our sense of who we are. Understanding how we react to such triggers help us identify when it is occuring. When they then occur it is easy for our mind to exaggerate, being aware that we are doing this can help us keep things in perspective. Seeing the feedback as useful in helping us grow means that we take the feedback better than believing that we fixed.

TriggerInternal VoiceListen ForQuestions to ask
Truth That’s wrong
That’s not helpful!
That’s not me
Data they have that I don’t and interpretations they have that aren’t the same as mine.
Impacts I’m having that I may not be aware of because of my blind spots.
Can you give me an example?
What did that mean to you?
What are you worried about?
What do you see me doing that’s getting in my own way?
How did that impact you?
RelationshipAfter all I’ve done for you?!
Who are you to say?
You’re the problem not me
Switchtracks that put a second topic on the table about our relationship.
Systems between us – what are each of us contributing to the issues, and what’s my part in that system?
Help me understand your feedback. Then I want to talk about how/when/why you’re offering it and some of my relationship concerns.
What am I contributing to the problem between us? What is most upsetting to you and why?
IdentityI screwed up everything
I’m doomed
I’m not a bad person – or am I?
What’s my particular Wiring – how far do I swing and how quickly do I recover? How can I talk myself through my particular pattern?
Can I sort for Coaching focused on the opportunity to grow, rather than the judgement implicit in the evaluation or coaching?
Can you help me get perspective on your feedback?
What could I do that would help me improve? What could I change that would matter most?

There are three different types of feedback.

Appreciation – to see, acknowledge, connect, motivate, thank. Different people need appreciation in different ways – this could be through words, acts of service, quality time, physical contact or gifts. As well as tailored to the person it also needs to be authentic.

Coaching – help receiver expand knowledge, sharpen skill, improve capability or to address the giver’s feelings or an imbalance in the relationship

Evaluation – to rate or rank against a set of standards, to align expectations, to inform decision making

The challenge is when you ask for one type of feedback (e.g. appreciation), you receive a different one (e.g. coaching) and how you interpret it (e.g. as evaluation). This “cross-transactions” means that the feedback is wasted. To improve this when you are asked for feedback you should enquire why they are seeking it. Secondly you should try to remove evaluation from coaching and appreciation. Evaluation always comes along as the loudest.

Feedback arrives with generic labels e.g. be more proactive – its key to go from “that’s wrong” to “tell me more”. This is a challenge because givers and receivers interpret the label differently since the giver naturally knows what is meant and the receiver imagines something based upon it. Ask where is the feedback coming from? This is because people jump from data to interpretation and for you to fully understand the interpretation you need more of the data. When we receive coaching it’s important to know what their suggestion would look like.

There are blind spots which we can not see, such as our facial expressions, our tone of voice, our patterns, our email etiquette, etc. There are also some amplifiers – such as our emotion which others see as doubly important, I will attribute things to the situation and others will attribute it to my character, us judging ourselves by our intent and others on our impact. You can not see more by looking harder, only external people can provide the feedback needed – to do this ask “What do you see me doing, or failing to do, that is getting in my own way?”. Feedback is a mirror but some mirrors are honest and some are more supportive. Alternatively videoing or recording a meeting provides an undisputable mirror.

Switchtracking is when we have an emotional response to feedback – we respond with something based on our feelings. Normally we then continue with the conversation, whereas what should be done is that we acknowledge the two tracks and deal with both of them independently.

Taking a perspective of seeing feedback as part of a broader system

  • One step back : you and me interactions – From here we see the interaction of you and me as a pair. What is the particular you + me combination that is creating a problem, and what is each of us contributing to that?
  • Two steps back : role clashes – This view expands our perspective to look at the roles each of us plays on the team, in the organisation or in the family. Roles are often a crucial but largely invisible reason we bump into each other.
  • Three steps back : the big picture – From this frame of reference we can view the entire landscape – including other players, structures, and processes that guide and constrain the choices we each make and the outcomes we get.

People distort feedback in their mind – and this distortion is hugely different with different people with some people able to get back to normal quickly and others taking a lot longer. For feedback it is good to consider the following so that things are put into proportion.

  • Be prepared, be mindful
    • Know your feedback footprint – what do you do? Blame, switch track, cry apologies?
    • Inoculate yourself against the worst – imagine that the feedback is bad, this highlights that things are not so bad
    • Notice what happens – slow things down and take it as positive ways to learn
  • Separate the strands : feeling, story and feedback
    • Our stories shadowbox with the past – we can over react to feedback because of other history
  • Contain the story
    • Time – the present does not change the past and can only influence not dictate the future.
    • Specificity – being bad at one thing does not mean you are bad at everything.
    • People – One person does not mean everyone, and everyone usually likes something about us and people’s opinions change over time.
  • Change the vantage point
    • Imagine you are an observer – an outside view puts things in context
    • Look back from the future – in 10 years how important will this moment be?
    • Cast the comedy – humour offers a release of emotional tension
  • Accept you can’t control how others see you
Identity QuestionsFixed mindsetGrowth mindset
Who am I?I’m fixed. I am who I amI change, learn and grow
Can I change?My traits are fixed – effort doesn’t really change the fundamental truth about peopleMy capabilities are always evolving. Effort and hard work pay off
What’s the goal?Success. The outcome is what matters.The process of learning is what’s rewarding. Success is a by-product.
When do I feel smart/ capable/ successful?When I do something perfectly, and when I do it better than others.When I struggle with something and then start to figure it out (others’ abilities are less relevant to my own potential).
Response to challengeThreat! I may be exposed as not up to the challenge.Opportunity! I can learn something and improve.
Most comfortable environment?Safety within my abilities and comfort zone.Just outside my abilities to stretch my capabilities.

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