Margin Notes



In Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it’s off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood), Harvard Law School lecturers Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define feedback in this way:

Feedback includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people—how we learn from life…so feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped. Feedback can be formal or informal, direct or implicit; it can be blunt or baroque, totally obvious or so subtle that you’re not sure what it is. (p. 4)

Although it is directed toward the feedback receiver, Thanks for the Feedback offers a wealth of information for educators to consider when creating the conditions for feedback to be both given and received effectively. Because they define feedback so broadly, and because we are all givers and receivers of feedback in various contexts, Stone and Heen, have written a resource that will help every reader improve their communication.

According to Stone and Heen, there are three kinds of feedback:

  1. Appreciation “is fundamentally about relationship and human connection. At a literal level it says, ‘Thanks.’ But appreciation also conveys, ‘I see you,’ ‘I know how hard you’ve been working,’ and ‘You matter to me.’” (p. 31)
  2. Coaching “is “aimed at trying to help someone learn, grow or change.” (p. 32)
  3. Evaluation “tells you where you stand. It’s an assessment, ranking, or rating…Evaluations are always in some respect comparisons, implicitly or explicitly, against others or against a particular set of standards.” (p. 33)

It is important for both the giver and receiver to be aware of three potential triggers that can block feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers “are set off by the substance of the feedback itself—it’s somehow off, unhelpful, or simply untrue.” (p.16)
  2. Relationship Triggers “are tripped by the particular person who is giving us the gift of feedback. All feedback is colored by the relationship between giver and receiver, and we can have reactions based on what we believe about the giver…or how we feel treated by the giver.” (p.16)
  3. Identity Triggers “are all about us. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, something about it has caused our identity—our sense of who we are—to come undone.” (p.16)

Recognizing our feedback triggers helps us manage our reactions to feedback and approach it with a stance of curiosity. Knowing our tendencies to react to certain feedback in certain ways allows us to engage in feedback conversations as learners, even when we don’t agree with the feedback.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from Thanks for the Feedback for educators to consider when creating optimal conditions for giving and receiving feedback in the classroom:

  • It’s essential to align the type of feedback with its purpose and for both the giver and receiver to be aligned on the purpose for feedback.
  • Before we can determine whether feedback is right or wrong, we have to understand it.
  • Strong reactions to feedback often result in “extreme interpretations” of feedback (for example, a suggestion to change one thing is heard as “change everything”).
  • Identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and when feedback contradicts or challenges our identity, it can cause our identity to unravel.
  • Even if feedback is accurate, timely, and communicated well, if it involves too many ideas or suggestions for change, it’s unlikely to be received.
  • Feedback isn’t only about the quality of its content; the quality of the relationship between giver and receiver is just, if not more, important.

Thanks for the Feedback is not specifically for educators, but many of the ideas are very applicable to feedback in the classroom context. I found the information fascinating because it sheds light on strategies to make any interaction—professional or personal, formal or informal, planned or impromptu—more effective.

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