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Book Review – Thanks For The Feedback By Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen


Thanks For The FeedbackIntroduction

Are you great at feedback? As a learning and development practitioner you probably are (or at least think you are). I did until I started reading Thanks For The Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Stone who previously wrote a book titled Difficult Conversations - How To Discuss What Matters Most. This book flips the focus on feedback to the receiver instead of the giver, hence the subtitle: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.

The book which is from the Harvard Negotiation Project offers frameworks and tools to help people deal with feedback more effectively. The book is on the sizable side with 13 chapters and 348 pages and is an amusing one to read. Be warned though, it is high on theory and models, but is balanced out by pragmatic examples all through the book illustrating theoretical explanations. The book has a humorous edge too, with tiny bits of quirky statements embedded throughout the book. So is it worth reading? Oh yes, just 94 pages into the book gave me a whole new perception of feedback. And just because the book was written from a receivers point of view does not mean givers of feedback shouldn't read it too, they must. To give you a bit more insight into the book and some of what it covers, each chapter has been briefly reviewed below. The book is split into five distinct parts which are The Feedback Challenge, Truth Triggers, Relationship Triggers, Identity Triggers, and Feedback in Conversation.  The chapters each part contains are shown below.

Part 1 - The Feedback Challenge

Chapter One - Three Triggers: This chapter starts laying a foundation for the whole book by introducing the three feedback triggers of truth, relationship and identity. In feedback, triggers are obstacles that we use to block feedback and also provides information that can help us to understand the source of feedback. According to the authors, understanding our triggers and sorting  out what set them off are the keys to managing our reactions and engaging in feedback conversations with skill. 

Part 2 - Truth Triggers

Chapter Two - Separate, Appreciation, Coaching and Evaluation: This is the first chapter of the second part of the book which concentrates entirely on truth triggers. In this chapter a distinction is made between three types of feedback labelled as appreciation, coaching and evaluation. You will learn why understanding the three types of feedback matter, know how to identify what type of feedback you want as opposed to what type of feedback you are getting.

Chapter Three - First Understand: This chapter examines how to interpret feedback in the sense of where it is coming from, what it is suggesting you do differently and why the feedback giver and receiver may disagree. It also touches on why feedback is difficult. The concepts of wrong spotting - focusing on what is wrong in the feedback, difference spotting - spotting the differences in the way feedback is perceived between the giver and receiver, and right spotting - identifying what may be right in the feedback are introduced. I found these concepts very interesting and useful.

Chapter Four - See Your Blind Spots:  Blind spots are things others see but usually we don't see ourselves. While we may like to believe that we don't have the behaviors which blind spots imply, the truth is we all have blind spots. This chapter concentrates on showing the impact of blind spots and why it is quite challenging for us to see ourselves the way others do. Some suggestions are also offered about how we can beat blind spots. There are some interesting concepts touched upon here. The Gap Map which helps to show the way people want to be seen as opposed to how they are actually seen is a simple model which illustrates differences in intentions versus actually reality between people. Also The Three Blind-Spot Amplifiers help us understand the dynamics that widen how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Part 3 - Relationship Triggers

Chapter Five - Don't Switchtrack: Have you ever been in a situation where you gave feedback about something to someone and the person changed the topic to something else. The authors call this creating a switchtrack conversation. This chapter explains what a switchtrack conversation is, outlines two relationship triggers and also gives some advice on what can help to deal with relationship triggers.

Chapter Six - Identify The Relationship System: In this chapter the authors define a relationship as a system which has many parts. They argue that understanding the relationship system is necessary to decipher feedback clearly and also help the receiver be better prepared to use feedback more constructively.

Part 4 - Identity Triggers

Chapter Seven - Learn How Wiring and Temperament Affect Your Story: In this chapter the authors go a bit "sciency". Evidently people don't react to feedback the same way. The authors believe that the way our brain works might explain why people react to feedback differently. In other words, understanding your wiring will help you to understand your own emotional reactions when receiving feedback. And that's what this chapter deals with.

Chapter Eight - Dismantle Distortions: This chapter examines how we make sense of, and distort feedback. Five way to deal with distortions to feedback are discussed.

Chapter Nine - Cultivate Growth Identity: We all have a self-identity of ourselves, but how do we deal with feedback that contradicts that self identify. In this chapter the authors challenge us to have a growth identity which reflects a growth mindset. so instead of us always comparing feedback to a fixed self-identity we have of ourselves, we should have a self-identity that is changing and evolving as we grow. Great encouragement in this chapter.

Part 5 - Feedback In Conversations

Chapter Ten - How Good Do I have To Be: I find this chapter intriguing because it is about setting boundaries on the amount of feedback you receive which the authors believe is appropriate at certain times. They describe three feedback boundaries which are I may not take your advice, I don't want feedback about that subject, not right now and Stop or I will leave the relationship. Three other crucial areas that this chapter deals with are: how do I know if boundaries are needed, where boundaries would help and turning away feedback with grace and honesty.

Chapter Eleven - Navigate The Conversation: This chapter discusses the anatomy of effective conversations. It looks at the three parts of a conversation which are open, body and close. Under each of these parts key topics are discussed such as understanding whether contents of the conversation is feedback and what type of feedback it is, listening for what's right, listening with purpose and assertion in receiving feedback.

Chapter Twelve - Get Going: This chapter discusses ideas to get going which is about quick ways to solicit feedback, to test out the advice you're getting, to accelerate your learning, and gauge your progress. The five ways to take action or get going discussed are:

  1. Name one thing: In the midst of all the feedback received identify one thing to act on from the feedback. For example after an appraisal you could ask a question such as is there one particular thing you would want me to work on right now.
  2. Try small experiments: try out the feedback in small doses.
  3. Ride put the J curve: commit to work on feedback even if you have to go through a difficult patch as you work on the feedback.
  4. Coach the coach: Discuss the process of what helps you and why with the person giving feedback.
  5. Invite them in: become vulnerable, humble and confident enough to ask for help.

Chapter Thirteen - Pull Together: This is the last chapter and it highlights ways that certain groups can use information in the book. It starts out with a section titled, There are no perfect feedback systems. After that what HR, leadership, team leaders, and feedback givers can do using some of the information in the book is discussed.

I started out reading this book with great excitement, but half way through I started to get a bit bored. I certainly feel that the first part of the book is most useful and the content there should be read by everyone however the latter back of the book almost feels like the authors were repeating themselves but in different language. I am not so sure how much value the bit about the brain adds to the book. The book in my opinion could have been written in 200 pages. Despite my sentiments it is still a very good book with some great insight and I definitely do recommend it.

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Bola Owoade

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