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Think Tank

The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback

If you look at the neuroscience, the way that we're wired has a profound effect on how we hear and respond to feedback,” says Sheila Heen, the co-author, with Douglas Stone, of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. “Now, we took a look at three variables that are particularly important in terms of your reaction to feedback.  The first is your baseline.  In the literature this is called set point sometimes.  It's sort of a ‘how happy or unhappy are you,’ in the absence of other events in your life.  Where's that level that you come back to?”

Heen points to research that found that people who won the lottery or were sent to jail, a year later, they’re as happy or unhappy as when their luck changed. We each have a baseline. “Now, the reason this matters for feedback, particularly if you have a low set point or baseline, positive feedback can be muffled for you.  The volume is turned down; it's harder for you to hear it,” explains Heen.

Regardless of what your baseline is, there’s an art to receiving feedback. “The ability to turn down feedback and create boundaries is crucial to receiving feedback well and really to creating healthy relationships,” says Stone, Heen's co-author.  

He advises that there are three boundaries that are useful. “One is simply saying I’m willing to listen to your thoughts and your advice but I may not take it.  Another is saying the place that I’m in right now, your advice is not helpful so I would prefer that you not give it to me.  And then the most stringent boundary is saying do not give me this advice and if you continue to give me this advice I’m going to have to leave the relationship,” Stone explains. 

Many of us are too worried about rocking the boat that we simply nod our heads to feedback even if it’s not constructive. This does not serve our own happiness or help us maintain quality relationships. We can’t control others, but we can control how we react to the feedback we are given. As Heen and Stone discuss in their new book, we do have options, and how we handle feedback can have a big impact. 

To watch clips from Big Think’s interviews with Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, the co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, watch the videos below. 

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