Thanks for the Feedback

I just finished reading Thanks for the Feedback, the widely acclaimed book by the same authors of Difficult Conversations. It was quite an illuminating experience, so I thought I’d share some of the more salient themes that resonated with me personally. 

Feedback Triggers 

Receiving feedback well is a process of sorting and filtering—of learning how the other person sees things… But it’s nearly impossible to do any of this from inside our triggers. [p17] 

It’s easy enough to understand what a trigger is, but the real skill to develop is being able to recognize exactly when/how you’re being triggered so you can maneuver around it and process feedback with a clear mind. As someone with a historically short temper, I’ll admit that I easily fall victim to all the types of triggers described in the book – truth triggers when I don’t believe the feedback, relationship triggers when I have issues with the person delivering it, and identity triggers when my sense of self is violated. 

Separate Feedback Types 

And sometimes, evaluations contain judgements that go beyond the assessment itself… it is the bullwhip of negative judgement that produces much of our anxiety around feedback. [p33] 

Clearly classifying all the types of feedback (and noting that “judgement” is a layer of opinion, not quite feedback) reveals a surprising source of frustration – that parties exchanging feedback are often simply misreading the types! When Coaching is seen as Evaluation, when someone needs Appreciation but receives Coaching, etc. 

As someone who can be a bit dense/oblivious in relationships, I am sure I have mixed up feedback types for others without realizing. To stop the perennial misunderstanding, it will be critical to align on this in all future conversations involving feedback. 

Blind Spots 

Strong emotions can seem as if they are part of the environment rather than part of us… But situations are not tense. People are tense. [p87] 

Separate intentions from impacts when feedback is discussed. [p89] 

The Gap Map

There’s often feedback received that I’ve had trouble believing. Now it’s clear that they were likely in my blind spots – Behaviours and Impacts that I simply cannot observe because my awareness stops at my Intentions. My tone, my face, and my actions likely say things that I don’t intend, and that mismatch leads to surprising feedback. 

I find that I also often lean on my good Intentions to explain away feedback, but now I see that even that is a false crutch – (1) because it doesn’t excuse the resulting Impacts on others and (2) it can’t cover underlying Thoughts/Feelings that drive the leaky Behaviours. The answer is to either be explicit about those Thoughts/Feelings (exercise transparency) or negotiate with them (build empathy) and enlist others for support in calling out the negative patterns. 

Relationship Systems 

Each of us is part of the problem… It takes the two of you being the way you are to create the problem. [p125] 

When two people argue about feedback, it commonly boils down to the sentiment that the other person should change. But in reality, in most circumstances, the friction is caused by the interaction between those specific two people’s personalities/tendencies, the roles they play in their relationship, and the broader system/organization they find themselves operating in. The way to approach a dicey two-person conflict like this is to first take responsibility for your part, then circle back and call out that both of you are contributing to the issue. 

Because I can be quite stubborn (or spun positively, persistent), my mind does default to a defensive stance when faced with personal conflict. Over the years, I’ve learned to pause and seek first to understand others’ perspectives – which helps but leads to resentment if I feel I’m the only one that needs to change. The idea that most personal conflict is a result of a relationship system opens up avenues to more sustained and satisfying resolutions for all involved. 

Identity Triggers 

Simple labels are too black-and-white to be the whole story about who you are. [p185] 

Everyone has a narrative that they tell about themselves, their values, and their identity. Unfortunately, reality is messy and no one can truly be a perfect representation of what they believe they are. So when mistakes are made and feedback is delivered that violates that sense of identity, the natural instinct is to become defensive. 

I admit that I definitely have been cultivating a personal brand and identity over the years, and I am triggered when anything pierces this inflated, moralistic view of myself. For example, if I have to confront evidence that suggests that I’m not a great communicator, not on top of my responsibilities, or even that I’m not accessible to my team, my default instinct would be to disregard and deny. The answer is to accept imperfection, understand there’s complexity behind every situation, and take appropriate responsibility.

Growth Mindset 

While identity is easily triggered by evaluation, it is far less threatened by coaching. [p198] 

The initial evaluation is not the end of the story. It’s the start of the second story about the meaning you’ll make of the experience in your life. [p203] 

An effective way to nullify Identity triggers turns out to be simply reorienting oneself from a defensive, unchanging stance to one that is eager to learn and grow. It sounds simple, but it is estimated that half of people tend to have fixed-identity assumptions. Fortunately, this is corrected with the right framing and practice – specifically: listening for Coaching-type feedback in what could be initially perceived as Evaluation, unpacking Judgement from Evaluation, and grading yourself with a Second Score on how you respond to feedback. 

I have a hunch that my upbringing – in which I recall far more Evaluation than Coaching – has resulted in less of a growth-identity than I would have liked. (Perhaps a theory to explore another time!) Now that I have tools for cultivating more of a growth mindset, I look forward to applying them to pre-empt future Identity triggers. 

These were just some of the more notable concepts from the book that applied to me, but there were plenty of other topics explored – from Switchtracking (talking past each other, anyone?) to navigating tricky conversations in the heat of the feedback. I cannot recommend this book enough, for any and all human beings in personal or work environments. Given how flawed we all intrinsically are, the lessons in this book will go a long way towards less anxiety, more constructive conversations, and maybe even world peace. 🙂

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