Thanks for the Feedback – the Science and art of Receiving Feedback Well – Book Review

Book Review by Gretchen Luongo

Book Title: “Thanks for the Feedback – the Science and art of Receiving Feedback Well”

Authors:  Douglas Stone & Shelia Heen

ISBN: 978-0-0670-01466-8

The premise of this book is that, when it comes to feedback, emphasis is typically placed on the delivery by the Feedback giver as it applies to the success of the feedback and resulting outcomes. Training our managers how to best deliver feedback won’t necessarily help if the feedback receiver is not willing to apply the feedback for change.

Stone and Heen examine feedback, response triggers to feedback, and tools to receive feedback well . First they separate feedback into three categories – appreciation, coaching and evaluation. (Admittedly there can be overlap across the types.) They define these categories as follows:

  • Appreciation – To see, acknowledge, connect, motivate, thank
  • Coaching – To help receiver expand knowledge, sharpen skill, improve capability
  • Evaluation –To rate or rank against a set of standards, to align expectations , to inform decision making.

One of the largest pain points in feedback givers/receiver disconnect occurs when the type of feedback the receive desires and the type of feedback the giver is providing do not match.

In addition to the disconnect that may occur with the type of feedback, there is frequently the disconnect between “what is said” and “what is meant”.

  • Example: Be Confident.
  • What was heard: Give the impression that you know things even if you don’t
  • What was meant: Have the confident to say you don’t know when you don’t know.

Stone and Heen go on to explore reactions to feedback and the importance of clarifying advice, consequences and/or expectations when receiving feedback. Often when receiving feedback we are not in ‘a curious state of mind’, particularity if receiving negative feedback. Often we go to what the authors describe as ‘wrong-spotting’ where we immediately find something wrong with the feedback so we can discredit it in its entirety. This type of emotional response is common but if we take time to ask questions in the moment, this is where learning can take place. Asking questions like “What does this me for me in the future?” or “Can you give me an example of what you mean?”. Of course depending on the context the questions would be more specific.

Internal voice plays a role as well.

Pg. 234. “Your internal voice is going on even now. See if you can hear it. It might be saying, ‘What? I don’t have an internal voice!’

The authors describe the internal voice as typically quiet but when we disagree or feel emotional that internal voice gets louder and louder. “And when we’re listening to ourselves, we can’t also listen to others.” Pg. 234 Additionally, Stone and Heen site a study conducted by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience on empathy. The results suggest that when we are feeling treated (as we perceive) unfairly, our empathy triggers may be neurologically turned off, making the act of receiving feedback that much more challenging.

Stone and Heen take lengths to explain that there is no step action list to receive feedback well. This book does a great job and examining the different aspects of feedback, on both sides, to help provide tools and understanding. Building awareness of our triggers and techniques to better listen and receive will result in stronger relationships, better communication and learning.

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