Review: Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

Thanks for the Feedback
This book is a true game-changer. I feel like the advice that Stone and Heen give in Thanks for the Feedback are very useful and practical, and I know there are way too many of us who need to learn how to give and receive feedback in a better way. It’s like I keep doing the same thing everyday and never realize that it could be better, and this book gives me concrete advice on how I can better myself – and, in turn, better others. The first thing I did after reading this book was to give it to my parents, haha.

Introduction

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, co-founders of Triad Consulting Group and lecturers at Harvard Law School, have come together to explain the challenge of giving and receiving feedback, the differences between appreciation and coaching, what switchtracking is and how to deal with it, and ultimately, how to apply better communication skills in both personal and professional settings.

Discussion

Thanks for the Feedback has everything necessary to keep me reading: stories, pictures, lists, tables and charts, and take-home messages. Every chapter or section is tied to case studies, or “stories” exemplifying the main lesson that Stone and Heen want to get through to you. This keeps things from getting too dry or textbook-ish and really sets this book apart from a lot of self-help books I’ve read.

Let’s take an example. You say I’m a reckless driver. That’s the label. Where is it coming from? A specific time we drove together, the fact that I call you from my cell when I’m driving, or your fears about that fender bender I had last year? I’ll be able to more easily decipher the feedback if I know the answer.

There are so many good tips in this book that I just want to share several that really stuck with me:

  • Clarify consequences and expectations when receiving evaluations. Instead of reacting passively to evaluation (one of the examples given was Max saying “I’m surprised by that” when being told that his hearing has decreased by 80%), ask forward-looking questions to clarify what it means to you and what will happen next.
  • Remember that feedback is an interpretation of data. For example, your boss can say that you’re too laid back, but “laid back” is an interpretation. You want to ask for the data and see if it’s your tone or your body language that is at fault before making assumptions about what you need to improve on.
  • Don’t switchtrack. Switchtracking is when the person receiving the feedback switches topics without being consciously aware of what they’re doing; for example, your daughter complains that you’re treating her like a child and asks if you trust her or not, and you reply that she should be grateful that she has a mother who cares. You’re switchtracking and not really responding to your daughter’s complaints!
  • Give yourself a “second score.” This sounds simple, but some people freeze when they hear feedback and refuse to change. How you handle the first score is important because your reaction can help you overcome your challenges. Your second score is for how well you handled that first score.
  • Use “and” instead of “but.” Using “but” when handling feedback kind of cancels out the first part of the sentence: “I really appreciate your mentoring, but I’ve decided to not take your advice.” This makes me feel like you don’t appreciate my mentoring even though you say that you do. Using “and” is a more truthful explanation of what we feel, and will make difficult conversations go a bit more smoothly.

Conclusion

This is a book that really tries to cater to the reader, and I really appreciate how well it’s organized. The extra stimulation by switching between text to pictures to flow diagrams is wonderful, and I love the way Stone and Heen included so many case studies in the form of conversations as real-life examples. There’s also neuroscience and psychology thrown into the mix, which is like icing on the cake, really. Everyone should go and read this book right now!

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