I have started reading my copy of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Stone and Heen are two of the authors of Difficult Conversations and both lecture on negotiation at the Harvard Law School. I got my Kindle copy today, and it's a very fine read indeed. You can see more information at
Giving feedback is a source of concern in businesses and other organizations. It is of particular interest, I believe, for pastors and other church leaders. We in the preacher tribe are not generally all that adept at giving helpful feedback. And we are even worse (perhaps I can only speak for myself...) at receiving critical and negative feedback.
Stone and Heen suggest that the real key in this interaction is not the giver of the feedback. Rather they emphasize the role of the receiver. "And we came to see," they write, "how this could transform not just how we handle performance reviews on the job, but how we lead, and behave in our professional lives and in our personal lives" (page 3).
Two things strike me early in my reading of the book. The first is what the authors describe as "the tension between learning and being accepted." This grabbed me because one of my strongest strengths is that of "learner." And yet, when it comes to learning about myself, I am less than excited--especially when the feedback describes my shortcomings. Stone and Heen note that such feedback can feel less like a "gift of learning" and far more like a colonoscopy.
I resemble that remark. The good news is that receiving feedback is, at least in part, a set of skills to be learned and practiced. It is also dependent on one's mental and spiritual condition at the feedback moment (and I can do something about that as well!). So, immediately, I am reminding myself today that feedback is first of all information. I like to learn, so I need to reframe as best I can the feedback that I receive from others.
The second thing that caught my attention is the role of leaders in forming a feedback culture in an organization. This is not primarily about learning as a leader to give more effective feedback (although that is a very useful thing to do). Instead, the most powerful way to foster a feedback culture depends on how the leader or leaders receive feedback from others and especially from those with less power in the organization.
"Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback," write Stone and Heen (page 10). The higher up we get in an organization, the less accurate feedback we get. So this will take work. But the authors note that working to get that feedback "creates a culture of learning, problem solving, and adaptive high performance."
I, for one, desire to pay more attention to how I receive feedback in my ministry. We know that other members will observe and imitate the behavior of the visible public leaders. I can therefore impact the ways in which others accept feedback by how I model that acceptance myself.
Now we come to the hard part. This means that as a leader I need to seek out greater amounts of accurately critical feedback. I need to do that for two reasons. First, I can model helpful responses to such feedback. Second, this is where the real learning and growth are.
If only my feelings didn't get hurt so easily. Know what I mean?