As the subtitle indicates, Thanks for the Feedback is all about “The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.” Though the book is tailored towards receiving feedback, there were many important points on how to effectively deliver feedback as well. It’s the most valuable book I’ve read on professional development in 2016, and I found myself earmarking virtually every page. I would highly recommend it.
The authors describe three feedback triggers, reactions we can have in response to feedback and responses we can learn for each.
“Truth triggers are set off by the substance of the feedback—it’s somehow off, unhelpful, or simply untrue. In response, we feel indignant, wronged, and exasperated.”
In response to truth triggers, we have a few strategies:
1. First Understand
This is a shift from “That’s wrong” to “Tell me more.” We need to uncover what is behind the label. “You say I’m a reckless driver. That’s the label. Where is it coming from?”
Ask the feedback is coming from
All labels are based around personal interpretations of data, which is difficult because both parties make judgements and misinterpret data.
We interpret what we see based on our own life experiences, assumptions, preferences, priorities, and implicit roles about how things work and how one should be.
The authors give an example of a couple: “Adrianna interprets what she sees and turns her direct data into judgements: Nicholas is too laid back…There are all interpretations of the data. You can’t observe ‘too laid back’.”
Ask where the feedback is going
When receiving coaching, clarify the advice. What exactly should you change to implement this feedback?
When receiving evaluation, clarify consequences and expectations. Answer the questions “What does this mean for me? What will happen next, what is expected of me? Given where I stand, what should I do now?”
Shift from “Wrong Spotting” to “Difference Spotting”
This is a direct shift away from “That’s wrong” to “Tell me more: Let’s figure out why we see this differently.”
2. See your blind spots
A blind spot is something we don’t see about ourselves that others do see.
There are five pieces to the puzzle:
Things I’m aware of:
- My thoughts and feelings
- My intentions
Things they’re uniquely aware of that I’m not:
- My behavior
- My impact on them
- Their story about me
We get into trouble because we assume that since our intention is to fix a problem, the behavior will follow as a result. Sometimes the output (what they see) doesn’t match the input (our intentions).
There are three things that amplify blind spots:
Emotional math—”We subtract certain emotions from the equation: ‘That emotion is not really who I am.’ But others count it double: ‘That emotion is exactly who you are.'”
Situation versus character—”When something goes wrong, and I am part of it, I will tend to attribute my actions to the situation; you will tend to attribute my actions to my character.”
Impact versus intent—We judge ourselves by our intentions, while others judge us by our impacts. Given that good intentions can result in negative impacts, this contributes to the gap in the story you tell about me versus the story I know is ‘true.'””
“Relationship triggers are tripped by the particular person who is giving us this gift of feedback. All feedback is colored by the relationship between giver and receiver, and we can have reactions based on what we believe about the giver (they’ve got no credibility on the topic!) or how we feel treated by the giver (after all I’ve done for you, I get this kind of petty criticism?).”
1. Don’t switchtrack
“Switchtracking” refers to a conversation dynamic where the original issue being discussed (Example: You bringing flowers I don’t like) morphs into something completely different (Example: You don’t appreciate or listen to me). These are really two different, distinct topics.
Signposting—The template for signposting is this: “I see two related but separate topics for us to discuss. They’re both important. Let’s discuss each topic fully but separately, giving each topic it’s own track.”
2. Identify the relationship system
The authors recommend taking three different takes of the conversation from various points. They refer to this as the systems approach to conversation.
One step back. “In what ways does the feedback reflect differences in preferences, assumptions, styles, or implicit rules between us?”
Two steps back. “Do our roles make it more or less likely that we might bump into each other?”
Three steps back. “What other players influence our behavior and choices? Are physical setups, processes, or structure also contributing to the problem?”
Circling back to me. “What am I doing (or failing to do) that is contributing to the dynamic between us?”
“Identity triggers are all about us. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, something about it has caused our identity—our sense of who we are—to come undone.”
1. Learn how wiring and temperament affect your story
This dives into how we’re wired to receive and react to feedback. There are three different pieces to the puzzle.
- Baseline: The Beginning and End of the Arc. “People who have higher happiness baselines are more likely to respond positively to positive feedback than people with lower self-reported well-being. And people with lower general satisfaction respond more strongly to negative information.”
- Swing: How Far Up or Down You Go. Some individuals swing further up or down depending on the feedback. In all cases, bad is stronger than good. “Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures.”
- Sustain and Recovery: How Long Does the Swing Last? Individuals vary with how quickly they can recover from feedback. “Strong activity on the left [side of the brain] is associated with quicker recovery from upset.”
2. Dismantle Distortions
- “Be prepared, be mindful — recognize your feedback footprint.
- Separate the strands — of feeling / story / feedback.
- Contain the story — what is this about and what isn’t it about?
- Change your vantage point — to another, to the future, to the comedy.
- Accept that you can’t control how others see you.”
3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
The authors advise giving up simple labels (I’m trustworthy) and embrace complexity. The issue here is that we typically assume an “all or nothing” mentality:
That works fine when we’re “all.” But when we get feedback that we are not all, we hear it as feedback that we are nothing.
They lay out three steps to move towards a growth mindset.
Sort toward coaching. “While identity is easily triggered by evaluation, it is far less threatened by coaching.”
Unpack judgement from the evaluation suitcase. Evaluation contains three distinct parts:
- “Assessment ranks you. It tells you where you stand.” Either you’re on track for management or you’re not.
- “Consequences are about the real-wrld outcomes that result from the assessment: Based on the assessment, what, if anything is going to happen?” Since you’re not on track for management, you’re not going to get a raise or a promotion until your performance improves.
- “Judgement is the story givers and receivers tell about the assessment and its consequences.”
Give yourself a “second score.” “We’re suggesting that you make getting a good second score part of your identity: I don’t always succeed, but I take an honest shot at figuring out what there is to learn from the failure. I’m actually pretty good at that.
Three Kinds of Feedback
I broke this down in a post here as well.
At a literal level it says, “thanks.” But appreciation also conveys, “I see you,” “I know how hard you’ve been working,” and “You matter to me.”
The authors list out three characteristics for appreciation to be effective:
- “It has to be authentic.”
- “…appreciation has to come in a form the receiver values and hears clearly.
- “It has to be specific.”
Coaching is aimed at trying to help someone learn, grow, or change.
The authors lay out two different situations that necessitate coaching:
- “…the need to improve your knowledge or skills in order to build capability and meet novel challenges.”
- “In the second kind of coaching feedback, the feedback giver is not responding to your need to develop certain skills. Instead, they are identifying a problem in your relationship: Something is missing, something is wrong.
Evaluation tells you where you stand. It’s an assessment, ranking or rating.
Although evaluation can sting, it’s very necessary:
When evaluation is absent, we use coaching and appreciation to try to figure out where we stand.
Here are three simple questions from the book to ask yourself before a feedback session to align the type of feedback you’re going to give with what they expect:
- What’s my purpose in giving/receiving this feedback?
- Is it the right purpose from my point of view?
- Is it the right purpose from the other’s point of view?
Four Skills for Managing the Conversation
- “Listening includes asking clarifying questions, paraphrasing the giver’s view, and acknowledging their feelings.”
- “Asserting is a mix of sharing, advocating, and expressing—in essence, talking.”
- “Process moves—hinges that turn the conversation in a more productive direction.”
- “Problem solving turns to the question: Now what?”