Knowing how to receive feedback is important. In the game industry we are receiving them from our players, through online discussions, feedback forms or interviews and we evaluate it to improve our game’s experience and gameplay. Mark Brown created video essay on this topic in his series Game Maker Toolkit. But what about interpersonal feedback? Listening to negative feedback about your game can be hard. But what can do feedback to your person with your mood, enthusiasm or relationships? You can find a lot of literature about how to give feedback. But what about receiving? Maybe this should be our first step. A few months ago my colleague recommended the book “Thanks for the feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. I borrowed it from the company’s library, but later I decided to get my own copy. And now it have important place on my bookshelf. In this article I want to share one of the most important topic from this book. At least from my point of view.

3 types of feedback

One of the often basic issues in feedback giving/receiving is a different expectation between what we want heart vs what we will get. Of course, this sounds very obvious, but continue reading. In their book Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen distinguish three types of feedback: appreciation, evaluation and coaching. First, let’s look closer on differences and their purposes.

Appreciation is a basic form of feedback. Already small children require it in some form. It’s an important part of human relationships and connection, because it’s a signal that others registered our effort, work and being. In a work environment, everybody needs from time to time to hear that somebody cares about how hard is working and how important their work is for a team/company/family. Appreciation is something, what people often mean if they are asking for feedback. Especially when they feel that their participation in joint effort is overlooked. In the same principle it works in personal life.

If we talk about a result of highschool test or annual meeting with a supervisor, the essence is the same. Evaluation is comparison against others or against standards and tells about where you stand. The fact that we can take different directions as we are expecting can bring more or less anxiety into this kind of feedback. Plus concern about real or imagined consequences make it even harder. Do you will be promoted, do you fulfill expectations or is your team satisfied with your style of leading? That’s all important questions and we have to be able to listen to this kind of feedback and choose the right next steps based on them.

The main intention of coaching is to help someone to grow, learn or change. When you ask someone more skilled in your craft how you can become better and you will get an specific answer, that is coaching. Master in your craft can identify easier, where you should focus your effort. And because we often can’t clearly see our weak spots, coaching becomes a crucial source of important information about ourselves or about the results of our work. But in a wider context coaching can come from any directions, and not always on demand. It can be your grandma who will give you well-meaning advice, or a seller in your local shop with sport equipment. So coaching helps us to improve and in the work environment it is important in career growth and improving our skills. A complication about coaching is the fact that it always contains an evaluation.


Cross transaction
The main challenge during feedback conversation is to stay clear, that feedback giver and receiver is on the same page about which kind of feedback is given, received and wanted. In different stages of your work or live you can have different needs. Let’s explain it in a short simplified example.

Imagine that you spent several months on a big project for your company. Project was successful, but the last few weeks were very stressful. On the first meeting with your boss after this experience you will get a concrete suggestion, how you could cooperate with your team better and deliver the project without complications. After this meeting, you are not sure what happened. You delivered the project on time and on budget, and you need just to hear some appreciation. The coaching you get was useful, but does it mean that nobody sees how you solved complications you met in the last weeks of finishing the project? Aren’t your bosses satisfied with your work? Do they count with you next year?

This is the problem of cross-transaction. You wanted appreciation and got coaching. In other cases it can be vice-versa, or it can be a different combination of appreciation, coaching and evaluation. In this case we can easily fall into the wrong interpretation, what isn’t useful for anybody.

To avoid this complication is important to align what you want to hear and what is offered to you. If you are not sure about the purpose of a feedback you get, discuss it. Even if you aren’t happy from a result, it’s better to be clear, than live in misunderstanding.

Coaching always contain evaluation
When you will get advice about how to do your work better, does it mean that you are not good enough? Usually it’s on us, how we translate this message (I’m not good enough as I might vs. I can be even better). And the reasons why we tend to do this can be varied. It can be based on our current mood, about our relationship with a feedback giver or we can just think that we have more accurate information. So feedback givers have only partial control about how their message will be received. But important is to stay open. To think only about the evaluation part of coaching can drown everything else.

The recommendation here is to separate whole feedback into individual parts. This is something, what you as receiver don’t have directly under control. But you can ask for it, if you feel that the discussion took the wrong direction. The evaluation should be the first part. Only after you know where you stand you can move and focus on how to improve.

And this is just tip of a iceberg

At the end, I would like to recommend the book, which served as the main resource for this article – “Thanks for the feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. In their book you will find complex views on this topic with a lot of examples and specific recommendations. And because we get feedback every day, there are usually a lot of opportunities to practice and become better feedback receiver and giver.