Finding the Coaching in Criticism: HBR Explores Why Feedback Doesn’t Work

by Francine Gaillour, MD on January 1, 2014

in Transformational Leadership

In the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone explore a conundrum in their article, Find the Coaching in Criticism: 

Feedback is important, and yet, feedback doesn’t work.

More from the article:

 What makes receiving feedback so hard? The process strikes at the tension between two core human needs—the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are. As a result, even a seemingly benign suggestion can leave you feeling angry, anxious, badly treated, or profoundly threatened. A hedge such as “Don’t take this personally” does nothing to soften the blow.Getting better at receiving feedback starts with understanding and managing those feelings. You might think there are a thousand ways in which feedback can push your buttons, but in fact there are only three.

The notion of difficulty recieving feedback is especially important for physicians.  This is a group of high achievers accustomed to “straight As” and being in the top 10% of their classes since high school at least.  Not only do they expect stellar achievements from themselves, they are unaccustomed to a more nuanced and narrative evaluation that many performance reviews present.

Authors Heen and Stone recommend six steps to improving the receiver‘s ability to accept and act on feedback.  Their premise is that it’s incumbent upon the receiver perhaps more than the giver to solicit feedback and coaching in order to improve effectiveness.

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