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Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

Pull beats push. Feedback is much more effective when it’s wanted by the recipient (pull) than when it’s delivered to an unwilling person (push). Ultimately, it’s up to the recipient to learn or change.

Three triggers that block feedback:

  1. Truth: content is wrong, unjust, etc.
  2. Relationships: lost trust, intentions of givers
  3. Identity: the story about ourselves is under attack

Truth triggers

Try to differentiate appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. We often expect one but get the other. We should also be explicit about what kind of feedback we are asking.

  • First, understand: shift from “that’s wrong” to “tell me more.”
  • The giver and the receiver interpret the label differently.
  • Data and interpretation of data can be different.

Discover how you come across. Three blindspot amplifiers:

  1. Emotional math, discounting emotions. “I’m not [emotion].”
  2. Situation vs character. The fundamental attribution error.
  3. Impact vs intent. We judge ourselves by our intent; others judge us by our impact.

Emotional cues leak out through small facial expressions, the tone of voice, and similar.

Relationship triggers

Don’t switch tracks. It’s too easy to discuss different topics that are intertwined in one discussion. Signposting is an effective approach to resolving this challenge by labeling separate topics/tracks/conversations, and discussing them in turn, not mixing them.

Disentangle what from who. It’s easy to find excuses about the other person and why one shouldn’t accept their feedback.

Ask people you don’t work well with for honest feedback because they see your edges (you’re much nicer with people you like and who like you).

The relationship system. Instead of looking at the behaviors of only two people, look at their roles and environment (the whole system).

Identity triggers

Feedback can challenge stories we tell ourselves, so we apply emotions and distortions to feedback. Dismantling hurtful narratives in the style of cognitive behavioral therapy is really helpful here.

The change from the fixed to the growth mindset.


You always have the choice to take or reject feedback. However, the consequences of the decision on the relationship between the giver and receiver are shared.

Three boundaries:

  1. Thanks and no. I’m ready to hear it, but I might not take it right now.
  2. I don’t want feedback about that subject, not right now.
  3. Stop, or I will leave the relationship. This approach is the strongest and might be required if the giver harms the receiver with the feedback.
  • Prepare beforehand
  • Open by getting aligned on goals and purpose
  • Check for biases
  • Active listening
  • Collaborative problem-solving

Ways to take action

  • “Name one thing” or asking for one point of feedback
  • Listen to themes
  • Try small experiments

In the book, the authors describe several additional ways to ask for feedback and to force yourself to change.

Feedback in organizations: performance management

Leadership and HR:

  1. Don’t just trumpet the benefits, but also explain the trade-offs.
  2. Separate appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

Promote a culture of learners:

  • Highlight learning stories. Explain how good performers learn and adapt to situations.
  • Cultivate growth identities.
  • Discuss second scores. How people respond to feedback, whether they are receptive or not, whether they make plans to improve, and similar.
  • Create multitrack feedback. Evaluation and formal mentoring are on one track; coaching, social interactions, and learning are on the second.
  • Leverage positive social norming. For example, saying, “39% of you haven’t done it, " emphasizes people’s undesirable actions and ignores those who have done it. It’s better to say, “61% of you have done it,” to appreciate people who have done it and show others they’re out of step. Related to Cialdini’s influence and social proof research.

For team leaders:

  1. Model learning and request coaching.
  2. As givers, manage your fears and reservations to provide feedback even when it’s hard. No feedback means the person doesn’t even have a chance to improve.
  3. Be aware of how individual differences collide in organizations.

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