“Thanks for the Feedback” Book Review

 In Pei Blog

What’s your feedback “style?”  What I found most helpful, and some of my own thoughts on feedback inspired by this book.

Note: This is Part 8 of a 10-part series on feedback.  I’ve compiled the entire series in a free book you can download here.

Since I’ve written a lot of thoughts on feedback, I wanted to highlight a book called Thanks For the Feedback that’s practical, thoughtful, readable, and well-researched.  It’s written by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, coauthors of the bestselling Difficult Conversations.  It’s easy to see that communication dynamics and EQ are their areas of expertise!

The first half of the book focuses on three kinds of “triggers” caused by feedback that can set us back: truth triggers (the substance of the feedback), relationship triggers (the person who’s giving us feedback), and identity triggers (our sense of who we are).  I found these categories very helpful to understand what exactly is going on as we process feedback.  Is it the words that were said, our relationship with the person, or something about ourselves that is unresolved?

One part of this section I liked was understanding the difference between appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.  Each of these forms of feedback have their own role, but in my experience they are often confused.  There are times I’ve gotten evaluation when appreciation or coaching would have been more appropriate.  As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve made this mistake myself.

The second half of the book covers “Feedback in Conversation” — a collection of guidelines, tips, and applications for practicing feedback in various settings.  One of the parts I enjoyed most was a chapter discussing “boundaries” in feedback.  Where do we draw the line on when someone is abusing the feedback process?  For instance, is the feedback unrelenting, and we feel there’s always another demand even when we demonstrate openness and change?  Is the person using feedback to threaten us?  Are we always the ones who are expected to change?  Like so many things in life, we can twist and manipulate any process — including feedback — for unhealthy purposes.  So I think these are great questions we can ask ourselves.

Another part I found helpful was a section called “Feedback and You” that discusses the ways that we tend to react to feedback.  The book lists five examples of different reactions, and they inspired me to create four categories of “feedback styles” (Two of these are adapted from the book although I worded them quite differently, while the other two I wrote on my own):

  1. I’m pretty sensitive to negative feedback, because of some bad experiences I’ve had over the years. I do want to hear and grow, but please be gentle with me!

  2. Sometimes it takes me a while to digest and process feedback. So I’ll tell you my first impressions, but please follow up with me tomorrow and I’ll have even more to say.

  3. Subtle feedback sometimes doesn’t get through to me. Be respectful, but please be as explicit and direct as possible.

  4. I’m not sure how I react to feedback, because I tend to associate it with doing occasional 360s and performance reviews. Please help me get more comfortable and grow in this area.

What I love about these categories is that the book talks about how when we understand our own style, it can actually make a huge difference in our ability to take in feedback.  It says, “We’re explaining our particular defensive formation not to block out the givers of feedback, but to help them get through to us.” (Thanks for the Feedback, 275)

In other words, we’re not using our feedback experiences or styles to avoid a conversation or justify why we don’t want to hear feedback.  This can happen easily… I might say, “I’m an internal processor, so I can’t process and handle all of this right now!” or “I’ve had some bad experiences with feedback, so can you just give me some grace?  Can we just forgive and forget?”  And just like that, we’ve tried to dodge feedback.

Instead, we can explain our feedback styles to help people learn how to give us feedback effectively and respectfully.  We want to let them in, not block them out.

So these are some of my personal highlights from the book, but there are many other insights, suggestions, and examples that are worth reading.  The book contains helpful charts and graphics throughout, sample dialogues, and concise summaries at the end of each chapter.  If you want to dive even deeper into understanding the art of feedback, I recommend this resource.

Also, I just learned that there’s a supplemental workbook called Thank God for the Feedback that’s designed for Christian leaders.  So I’m going to check that out as well.

Let me know if you’ve found any other helpful resources on feedback!

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