It’s Thanksgiving and time to give thanks for all things, but feedback? According to Thanks for the Feedback authors Heen and Stone, it’s how you master both giving and receiving input.

The Benefits

It’s a stretch, but there are well-documented benefits for learning to receive feedback well:

  • It benefits all our relationships, making them richer and more honest.
  • We learn from feedback, and then we get better at things and feel good about it.
  • Our toughest interactions come to feel a little less threatening.

Further, the research shows that “feedback-seeking behavior” (as it is coined in research literature) is linked to:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Greater creativity on the job
  • Faster adaptation in a new organization or role
  • Lower turnover
  • Higher performance ratings

“It is not surprising that people who are willing to look at themselves are just easier to work with and to live with. Being with people who are grounded and open is energizing. When you’re open to feedback your working relationships have more trust and more humor, you collaborate more productively and solve problems more easily.” —Heen and Stone, authors of Thanks for the Feedback

Why We Get Triggered and What Helps?

  1. Truth Triggers: The feedback is wrong, unfair, unhelpful.
  2. Relationship Triggers: I can’t hear this feedback from you.
  3. Identity Triggers: This feedback is threatening and I’m off balance.

For Truth Triggers, sometimes we do get bad or unjust input, or it’s just flat out wrong.

Our first tendency is to reject it, outwardly or inwardly. What helps is to try understanding it well enough to evaluate it. The authors recommend you first seek to fully understand what type of feedback this is, and where the person is coming from. Be willing to get insight into your own blind spots regarding the topic. Even if the person is wrong, you can benefit from the insight into seeing how others may see you.

  • Shift from “that’s wrong” to “tell me more.”
  • See your blind spots and discover how you come across.

For Relationship Triggers, be aware that it can produce hurt, suspicion, and sometimes anger. The way out is to disentangle the feedback from the relationship issues it triggers, and to discuss both, clearly and separately—much easier said than done, of course. (The authors give some great examples and ways to do this.) However, if you can set aside the relationship—this is the peer competing for your job promotion, or the person who talked behind your back—and simply explore the feedback, it will go much smoother.

  • Don’t Switchtrack: Separate WE from WHAT. Talk about both the feedback and the relationship issues.
  • Identify the Relationship System: Take three steps back to examine ways you are each contributing to the relationship problems.

Identity Triggers are the hardest since they tie into the stories we tell about ourselves. Our security alarms go off and our brain’s defense mechanisms kick in. Our response can range from emotionally distracting for an hour to a crippling setback for days. The authors give tools to dismantle our distortions and understand how your personal wiring and temperament will affect your resiliency and what you can do about it. An example of one of the tools is to cultivate a growth identity. Much like the ideas presented by Growth Mindset author Carol Dweck, one way of telling our story is to assume our traits are “fixed.” Identity assumes a fixed story—I’m shy or out-going, I’m smart or dull, lovable or difficult, we are as we are. Feedback reveals “how we are,” so there’s a lot at stake. Those who handle feedback more positively have an identity story with a different assumption—they see themselves as ever evolving, learning, and growing. With this stance, feedback is helpful, enlightening, and contributes to their transformation.

  • Learn how your wiring affects how we hear feedback.
  • Dismantle distortions: See feedback at “actual size.”
  • Cultivate a growth identity: Sort toward coaching (using feedback to improve).

There is much more in this book, and it’s worth studying and putting into practice. If you are leading others, your openness to feedback sets an example for others. In addition, the more you live these principles, you will be more sensitive to how you give feedback to those you lead and will likely make a greater impact on their growth.

Here’s a Challenge!

A way to get started in developing feedback-seeking behavior and learning about your blind spots, ask others at work or at a family gathering this holiday season…

What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my own way?

Further Resources

Other book by the authors

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving! Relax, enjoy, refresh, and keep growing!


Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

Meet Elaine and get started.

Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris