You most probably receive feedback more often than you think and in different shapes and colours.

Can you picture a situation during which you received feedback lately? 
How come you received feedback?

I remember many. Since I have read the book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen my feedback radar is open. 

Noticing feedback

Getting better in receiving feedback starts with noticing feedback.

With my open feedback radar, I notice feedback much more.

To become a feedback spotter, it might be helpful to first clarify what is feedback anyway?

Feedback is a piece of information about yourself that you receive by someone or something (also that is possible) in reaction to something you did, said, or expressed verbally or non-verbally. Or in the words of Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen: “Feedback includes any information you get about yourself.”

With this definition, it becomes evident that feedback is more than an annual appraisal talk. Feedback appears in so many facets and nuances. In fact, you can spot feedback everywhere and all the time.

So feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped. Feedback can be formal or informal, direct or implicit; it can be blunt or baroque, totally obvious to so subtle that your are not sure what it is.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Let’s sum up, feedback can be:

  • Formal, planned, and prepared (the yearly appraisal talk), or on the contrary, rather informal and spontaneous. 
  • Intentional and wanted or accidental and/ or spontaneous.
  • Hidden and indirect. 
  • Carefully packed and delivered with compassion or thrown at you in anger.
  • Solicited by you because you asked for it.
  • Orally or in written, verbal, or non-verbal.
  • Even the universe provides you feedback.

Feedback can have many shades from appreciation to critical evaluation. It is certainly and hopefully more than positive and negative. 

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen differentiate between three types of feedback, each with its purpose:

  • Appreciation: motivates and encourages.
  • Coaching: helps increase knowledge, skill, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.
  • Evaluation: tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making.

Receive feedback with curiosity

Coming back to your last feedback moment, do you remember how you reacted?

I admit from my own feedback practice, that receiving feedback well is not always an easy and smooth process. Feedback is certainly no pill to swallow with a sip of water. But I learned to listen, I have nothing to lose when I listen to what someone is telling me. 

Feedback is certainly no pill to swallow with a sip of water. 

The curious mindset helps. 

Once you start noticing feedback more you will distinguish the different types and shapes of feedback. With your curious attitude you feel less defensive. At least that is my experience. Lean back and listen first to what someone (or something) is telling me.

It’s not yet time to react.

Because the second part of listening goes inwards.

What is triggered here in me?

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen distinguish three triggers that keep us from engaging skilfully in a feedback conversation:

  • Truth triggers — we view the feedback as wrong, unfair, or unhelpful. Thus, we are either defensive, or completely reject the information.
  • Relationship triggers — we question the person giving the feedback or the relationship itself. Thus, we can view the giver as less trustworthy.
  • Identity triggers — something about the feedback causes us to question ourselves. Thus, we can think of ourselves as a ‘failure’ in case the feedback is true.

Unpack feedback to understand it

Coming back to your last feedback moment, do you remember what you did with the piece of information about yourself? 

If feedback is a piece of information about yourself then you have all the right to take the time to understand. 

You are the receiver and that is an active role you play for yourself. Receiving is not the end but the start.

  • Listen curiously: What did this person say and what not? Was there a message between the lines?
  • Explore your own reaction, your eventual triggers.
  • Ask for clarification if needed, engage in a conversation with the feedback giver. Understanding what someone is telling you does not mean you automatically and fully must agree. 

Finally, my insights about receiving feedback well, taught me to give feedback more carefully and consciously. With care and compassion.

If your curiosity is triggered, I invite you to listen our conversation, Ewen Le Borgne and I recorded lately: What is feedback and why is it important? We are sharing some of our insights from our work around feedback. Read also Ewen’s blog post: What we learned about what feedback is and why it feels so hard – a video chat with Nadia (1/3)

Are you interested in improving the way you (and your team) deal with feedback? Feel free to contact us!

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Photo by Christopher Bill on Unplash