By Carol Pipes
A book review of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
Taken from “LifeLines” (September 2014) a publication of Lifeway Christian Resources
Feedback is crucial to improving performance, but is often difficult to receive, especially if criticism is poorly delivered. In their book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone offer six steps to becoming a better receiver of feedback.
Know your tendencies. You’ve received feedback your entire life, and over the years you develop patterns—good or bad—in how you respond. Heen and Stone say that if you recognize your standard response to feedback, you are better able to choose your reactions and respond appropriately. The way you’re wired influences how you receive feedback—some people have extreme reactions while others remain on an even keel. “Understanding your own wiring and tendencies helps you to improve your ability to weather the storm of negative feedback—and dig yourself out in the morning.”
Disentangle the what from the who. “If the feedback is on target and the advice is wise, it shouldn’t matter who delivers it. But it does,” write Heen and Stone. According to the authors, people have a tendency to entwine the content of the feedback with their thoughts and feelings about the giver. That can create unnecessary angst. By disqualifying the giver, you reject the substance of the feedback. To keep that from happening, you have to work to separate the message from the messenger and then consider both.
Listen for coaching. The authors recognize three kinds of feedback—appreciation (acknowledges/thanks), coaching (helps sharpen skills), and evaluation (lets you know where you stand). All three are beneficial, but coaching helps you improve and moves you forward. “Work to hear feedback as potentially valuable advice from a fresh perspective rather than an indictment of how you’ve done things in the past.” However, remember all coaching involves some evaluation.
Unpack the feedback. Heen and Stone say you can’t always tell whether feedback is valid or helpful. They suggest analyzing the feedback before deciding whether or not to take the advice. Often a person interprets feedback differently from how the giver meant it. You may have to ask for further clarification to truly understand the feedback you are receiving. The goal is for both parties to understand one another. The authors believe the better you understand the feedback, the more likely you are to find something in it that’s useful.
Ask for one thing. “Find opportunities to get bite-size pieces of coaching from a variety of people throughout the year,” write Heen and Stone. Instead of asking for general feedback, they suggest asking colleagues, supervisors, or direct reports focused questions such as “What’s one thing you see me doing, or failing to do, that’s getting in my own way?”
Try small experiments. If you’re unsure about someone’s advice, test it out. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you can try again, tweak your approach, or decide to end the experiment.”
We all need feedback, but our growth depends on how we process that feedback and use it for our own development. Heen and Stone remind readers that receivers are in control of what they do with feedback, how they make sense of it, and whether or not they choose to change.
Carol Pipes is Manager of Editorial Services in Lifeway Communications.