7 min read

Book Summary for "Thanks for the Feedback" by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get better at listening, and especially to Product Managers where listening is an essential job function.
Book Summary for "Thanks for the Feedback" by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
The book Thanks for the Feedback is highly useful for Product Managers.

As Product Managers we spend a lot of time taking feedback. Feedback about our products mostly, but also about our collaboration style, communication style and more.  I read "Thanks for the Feedback" by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone in 2016. And I wish I had read this book earlier. It would have helped me so much in my career. It gave me lots of growth ideas both personally and professionally.

It's now 2022 and re-read it again.  It's still awesome. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get better at listening, and especially to Product Managers where listening is an essential job function. If you want to save some time reading the full book, I share with you my key takeaways here.

1. Understand what’s beneath the label. 🏷

Our brains put order to the world by slapping a label on incoming data.  The feedback you get will come in the form of a label. Get under the label to understand

1) what the data is, and

2) where the feedback is coming from.

For example, a salesperson gets this feedback from their boss "you’re too laid back when you sell."  Laid back was the label here. The boss is conveying that the customer is interpreting the salesperson's body language as a lack of care.
It turns out, the boss had some experience with losing deals when customers feel this way. This is good background context to find out. So get under the label and ask what the label means, and also where it may be coming from. You can say something like, "tell me more" or "can you give me an example."

2. The question to ask.❓

To solicit good feedback, use this question:

"What do you see me doing or failing to do that is getting in my own way?”

Then listen for feedback. Look for consistent feedback from multiple sources. Look for the same data with different interpretations.  

3. Emotions distort the feedback.  😠

Our feelings color the story we tell.  If we are frustrated we tell a frustrated story. If we are sad we tell a sad story. When we Google ourselves while in a good mood, we focus on all the great results; but when in a bad mood, we focus on the bad results.

This means the thoughts we focus on will vary with our emotion.  This can go both ways. Sometimes the thoughts cause emotion instead.  For example, this happened to me, but perhaps it is also familiar to you.  

I am running late to an event I'm organizing and start to imagine all possible disasters (thoughts).  This causes me to feel panicked that my event will fall apart without me (emotion). Now when I arrive and the tables are not delivered yet (situation). I jump to the conclusion that I have failed to organize (thoughts) and label myself a loser (emotion). So now I'm extra-panicked (emotion). If I had held my emotion in check, I would've checked with my co-organizer, who actually called about the tables and they're arriving in 10 minutes (situation). The emotional spiral led me to focus on the wrong part of the situation.

There are multiple ways to counter this tendency to distort the feedback:

  • Be prepared if you can.  Get into the feedback state of mind and dial your emotions to neutral.
  • Know your feedback reactions, notice what is happening
  • Separate the stands, in every feedback situation there are four strands:
  • 1) The feeling, 2) the story you tell yourself, 3) the threat, 4)the actual feedback
  • Right size your feedback, here are some ways to keep the feedback in perspective
  • Create a feedback containment chart.  Create 2 columns: (1) what is the feedback about, (2) what is the feedback not about.  
  • Stay balanced. The emotional mind wants to push toward extreme statements like "I'm always doing things wrong." or "I'm a failure." Resist that urge. Remember "not everything" and "not always."
  • Be aware of distortion. There are 2 categories, (1) things that do happen and (2) things that might happen. Don’t overestimate negatives that might happen.
  • Chance your vantage point. Imagine that the feedback was directed at someone else
  • Look back from the future. Or Cast the comedy. See how funny the situation would look from a future vantage point.
  • Accept you can't control how others see you.
  • Have compassion for the feedback giver.
  • Note for parents: If your child was told they are stupid by another, don't just say 'you are not stupid.' Help your child separate the feedback using this technique so she can realize for herself that she is not stupid.

4. People cannot hear their own tones 👂

This post is for subscribers only