Cultivating a Growth Identity: Thanks for the Feedback Book Review

thanks for the feedback book cover

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and art of receiving feedback well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen


How often do you ask for feedback? I mean really ask for it knowing very well what’s said could surprise you, affect your opinion of yourself, and even impact your relationship with your interlocutor? Thanks for the Feedback is a 350-page book all about becoming better at receiving and internalizing appreciation, coaching, evaluation.

If I think about popular business books, there are many guides on how to be a better communicator and how to be a decisive leader. But seeking out coaching and knowing how to receive criticism are skills that will serve absolutely everyone in their personal and professional lives.

Thanks for the Feedback talks about common miscommunications, relationship dynamics, and practical tips on thriving under the microscope. It also presents neurological and psychological explanations as to why we can feel so attacked by the simplest comment.

Understanding the three triggers that block feedback

Personally, I have mixed emotions when I’m given feedback. I encourage everyone to noodle this for a second and to think back to the times when negative feedback has rattled you. In school, I welcomed feedback because criticism is part of the agreement of being a student.

Later on in life, it’s not so easy because power dynamics are less clear than teacher and student. Sure, there are still authority figures like bosses and supervisors, but outside of the classroom, feedback flows up, down, sideways, and sometimes, shows up totally out of nowhere.

In the book, the authors posit that there are three main triggers that can get in the way of us hearing, accepting, and growing from the feedback we get:

  • Truth trigger: i.e. I don’t feel this to be true, therefore, I will ignore you.
  • Relationship trigger: i.e. Who are you to tell me this?
  • Identity trigger: i.e. That’s not who I am, is it? I’ll never recover from this.

Understanding these triggers was so helpful in really breaking through those initial feelings of shock, anger, betrayal, defensiveness, or sadness that can come from feedback. I saw applications for this in my personal relationships as well as in a work context. In truth triggers, we’re taught to go from “that’s wrong” to “tell me more” and to use the feedback to really dig into our blind spots.

Relationship triggers were an interesting part of the book that revealed how often we accidentally (or intentionally) switchtrack and attack people back instead of listening to what they have to say and address it first. When you’re able to tackle one thing at a time and truly listen, you can break patterns that are harmful and counterproductive.

What is a growth identity?

In the chapters on identity triggers, the authors used psychology to explain why some people receive feedback, learn, and grow, and ultimately crave feedback, and why others are shattered by it. There’s obviously a whole spectrum in between these two extremes. And when you factor in relationship triggers, even the most rational people can get tripped up.

However, there’s real science that supports that about half of people are glass-half-full thinkers and the other half only see what’s lacking. Your specific wiring and temperament have a huge impact on the degree to which negative or positive feedback affects you and how long those feelings are sustained.

We can’t change everything about how our brains work, but scientists say there is wiggle room to change our reactions into more growth-oriented ones. The book outlines several ways in which we can embrace a growth mindset that will allow feedback to feed us rather than deflate us.

On the flip side, some people might be too confident and actually miss out on really valuable insight because they brush off negative feedback too easily. I highly recommend this book if you’re particularly sensitive to negative feedback. It will change your worldview dramatically!

Is it appreciation, coaching, or evaluation?

Another key takeaway for me was being able to recognize the difference between appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. It’s so valuable to be able to identify the type of feedback I’m hearing, to understand what people are looking to get, and to better align the type of feedback I’m giving.

Some people will ask for feedback and they really just want a compliment or encouragement. Some people want to know how they can do better and are open to criticism. And some people simply want to know if they met your expectations and move on. This can be difficult to decipher but it’s ok to ask follow-up questions so you can get on the same page and deliver what would be helpful in the situation.

Coach your coach

Another point, among many insightful and practical lessons in this book, is to coach your coach. Similar to the last point about feedback types, as a feedback receiver, you need to ask for what you want. One phrase you can use to get more helpful coaching is: “What’s one thing you see me doing that’s getting in my own way”, or something similar that applies to your situation.

Lastly, remember that change is hard and that often, there’s a decrease in happiness before there’s an upswing. The “J Curve” is a natural part of any change and growth that’s lasting and worthwhile. Embrace it and know that developing your resilience, listening skills, and ability to dialogue through difficult feedback is a skill that will open you up to incredible possibilities.

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