Book Notes: Make the most of feedback in your negotiations

By — on / Dealmaking

It’s time to negotiate a promotion, but whether you meet that goal will depend on how your latest performance evaluation unfolds. You’re trying to improve your relationship, but you don’t like the advice you’re getting from your therapist. Your newest client seems satisfied overall, but he finds something trivial to criticize whenever the two of you speak.

Feedback: It’s everywhere, especially in our negotiations, yet few of us are adequately prepared to receive it and, when warranted, act on it. That’s the message of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and, Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) (Viking, 2014), a new book by Harvard Law School lecturers Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

Accepting the reams of feedback that come our way is challenging. That’s partly because feedback is often flawed (see the book’s subtitle). It’s also because feedback lies at the intersection of two great needs, according to Stone and Heen: Our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance. Even badly expressed feedback often contains nuggets of wisdom, yet the desire to be perceived and to perceive ourselves as competent and capable leads us to overlook them. That’s a shame, because those who not only accept feedback but also actively seek it out are more satisfied with their jobs, more creative, and adapt better to their roles than those who do not, research shows.

In Thanks for the Feedback, Stone and Heen offer several strategies that can improve our response to feedback and help us identify and implement the best of the advice and “constructive criticism” we receive. These include identifying our blind spots (those idiosyncrasies that others notice and we don’t), staying on topic even when feedback makes us feel insecure, and identifying any deeper problem that may lie at the root of the message.

Cultivate a growth identity
One important step in the process of becoming more accepting of feedback is to cultivate a “growth identity”— that is, moving from viewing our traits as fixed aspects of who we are toward viewing ourselves as capable of growth and change.

Three practices can help point us in this direction:

1. Adopt a coaching frame. If a supervisor asks you to try a new approach to a task, you could hear implicit criticism in the advice (“You’ve been doing it wrong”) or you could take it as nonjudgmental coaching (“I wanted to share this method because it’s worked great for me”). When you make a conscious effort to view feedback as coaching, you improve your ability to adapt.

2. Unpack judgment. When feedback is in fact an evaluation of how you’ve done, it can challenge your identity. Breaking this type of feedback down into three basic parts can help you determine which aspects you need to discuss further: assessment (how you rate or rank), consequences (how your behavior will affect what could or will happen next), and judgment (both your and the feedback giver’s view of how you performed).

3. Give yourself a “second score.” Negative evaluations and their consequences can be devastating: You don’t get the promotion, your relationship unravels, you lose the client. In the midst of failure, give yourself a second score based on how well you handled the first one. “Even when you get an F for the situation itself, you can still earn an A+ for how you deal with it,” write Stone and Heen. Strive to make learning from the past—and getting a good second score—a part of your identity.

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