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Understanding Our Triggers When Receiving Feedback

  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “feedback”? (Images, thoughts, words, memories, feelings, sensations)

  • Where do you feel the word “feedback” in your body? 

  • What’s a positive experience of giving or receiving feedback that you can remember? 

  • What were the conditions that made this experience memorable for you? 

  • What’s a negative experience of giving or receiving feedback that you can recall? 

  • What were the conditions that made this experience unpleasant for you? 


Sometimes if not often, feedback can be hard to deal with. 

We are bombarded daily by feedback from ourselves, friends, family, teachers, coaches, bosses, and even strangers.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 - I still need a lot of work, 10- I am confident and capable), how would you rate your ability to GIVE feedback? Why do you say so?

On a scale of 1-10 (1 - I still need a lot of work, 10- I am confident and capable), how would you rate your ability to RECEIVE feedback? Why do you say so?

Even though there is merit in teaching how to give feedback, it is even more important to teach how to receive feedback well, especially since the person receiving the feedback is responsible for accepting and carrying out whatever change is needed based on that feedback. 

"Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well," by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, explores the nuanced and often challenging world of feedback, dissecting how it is received and perceived by individuals. Here are some insights from the book:

Feedback is more about the receiver than the giver. One of the core insights promoted in the book is the idea that the key to effectively receiving feedback isn't just about the giver's skill in delivering it but significantly about the receiver's mindset and receptivity. Feedback is less effective when the receiver isn't open or prepared to process it. Learning to receive feedback well is a crucial skill that requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a commitment to personal development. 

Our “wiring” impacts how we receive feedback. Stone and Heen delve into the psychological and emotional barriers that often make receiving feedback challenging. They explain how factors such as our upbringing, personal insecurities, and past experiences can predispose us to react defensively to feedback. 

The authors introduced the concept of “triggers” that cause us to react poorly to feedback. These triggers are:

  • Truth triggers- (disputing the accuracy of the feedback) are activated when we perceive the feedback as incorrect or unfounded. This trigger is about the content of the feedback itself—when it seems off-base or misinformed, we are quick to dismiss it. Our reaction to this type of feedback is often defensive because it conflicts with our self-perception or understanding of the situation. 

  • Relationship triggers (the relationship affects how the feedback is received) - set off by the nature of our relationship with the feedback giver. If we do not trust the person giving feedback, or if there is a history of conflict, we are likely to discount their comments, no matter how accurate or helpful they might be. This trigger underscores the importance of relationship dynamics in feedback exchanges. 

  • Identity triggers (the feedback hits a nerve about our identity)- involves feedback that challenges our sense of self. This can be the most emotionally charged trigger, as it taps into our insecurities and fears about our capabilities, values, or identity. When activated, we might feel threatened, leading to a strong emotional response that can overshadow the feedback's content. 

By understanding and managing our reactions to triggers, we can become more adept at receiving and benefiting from feedback, turning potentially challenging conversations into opportunities for learning and growth. Recognizing and understanding our triggers can help us receive feedback more constructively, even when it's hard to hear.

  • For truth triggers, it is helpful to separate our immediate defensive responses from the potential value in the feedback by seeking to understand the feedback giver's perspective and finding any grain of truth that might be beneficial.

  • When it comes to relationship triggers, building strong, positive relationships can enhance our openness to feedback while also highlighting the need to assess feedback on its own merits, independent of the source.

  • Identity triggers can be addressed by developing a more flexible sense of self and learning to see feedback as an opportunity for growth, rather than a personal attack.


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