Our feedback ‘culture’? (Part one)

I have been reading the book ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen and it got me thinking… How interesting it is that from the moment we are born and starting to understand the world around us, we are getting feedbacks and it seems that even when we are 80, we still cannot receive them well. And it is not only happening with negative feedbacks, we can also feel uneasy when someone is praising us.

Somehow, learning how to take feedbacks is not part of our culture, it is not something they teach us at kindergarten or school…although I think it should be. Our lives would be so much easier and calmer if we were able to and willing to receive feedback cheerfully and regularly.

The first half of ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ talks about the types of feedback and how we can give and receive them better and the second half is about feedback in conversations and how we can promote the right use of it. In this blog post I will write mostly about the first.

The book talks about the three triggers that are activated when someone tells us what they think about us: truth, relationship and identity triggers. There are ways to handle each but let’s explain them a little before we talk about that.

  • Truth trigger switches on when we think right away that the feedback is wrong, it is not helping at all or is unfair.
  • The relationship trigger questions the person who is giving the feedback, we feel that we cannot accept this feedback from them because they are not skilled enough, we cannot trust them or we think they might have questionable motives.
  • Identity is how we see ourselves, what we think we are like and the trigger kicks in when we think the feedback is attacking that.

So what can we do about the triggers?

  • Feedback is coming to us in 3 different forms according to the book. It can be either appreciation, coaching or evaluation. In case of the truth trigger we need to separate these three types and it is important to know which one we are seeking and which one we are getting. We also need to shift from thinking that the feedback is wrong to wanting to know more and understanding it more deeply. Spotting a problem in it is always easy but it defeats learning as well. And we need to see our blind spots, we need to learn to see ourselves through an outsider’s eyes.
  • With relationship triggers we want to separate the what from the who and step back to see the relationship between giver and receiver clearly.
  • For the identity trigger we need to understand our own way to handle stress and positive or negative information and need to see the actual size of the feedback without distorting it. How we see feedbacks also depends on whether we have a fixed or a growth mindset. There is another book called ‘mindset’ by Dr Carol S. Dweck about the two mindsets and how we can ‘change the way we think to fulfil our potential’ if we want to. It is also an good book and a really interesting read.

It would be great to reach a state in our organisations (and in society all together) where we can not only receive feedback well but are constantly seeking it in order to develop ourselves and where we can be more open to change this way. Let’s see later in part two what the book suggests us to do in order to get there.