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December 2019

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In chapter 4 of Pedagogical Partnerships: A How-To Guide for Faculty, Students, and Academic Developers in Higher Education, we mention that there are different ways of conceptualizing feedback that are worth considering in the context of student-faculty pedagogical partnerships. In this resource we share the approach that Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Director of Faculty Development at Berea College, has developed.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. (2014). Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.  Penguin.

Stone and Heen are lecturers on Law at Harvard Law School and work with the Harvard Negotiation Project.  They are also co-authors with Bruce Patton of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (2000).

Three types of feedback*

Appreciation—involves letting the receiver be “seen” and feel understood by someone in relationship with them

Coaching—focuses on encouraging growth and development for the receiver

Evaluation—provides the receiver with information about where they stand, how they are doing in relation to a standard measure or to others

Three triggers that block feedback

Truth triggers—the content of the feedback triggers the receiver because it is perceived to be untrue, off, or unhelpful   (-> feelings:  “indignant, wronged, exasperated”)

Relationship triggers—the person providing the feedback triggers the receiver because of the relationship involved and how the receiver feels about the feedback giver or feels treated by the giver  (-> focus shifts away from the content toward the person as audacious, stupid, etc.)

Identity triggers—the receiver’s own identity is at stake in some way in relation to the feedback (-> leads to a sense of feeling ashamed, threatened, “overwhelmed, defensive, or off balance”)

Recommendations for receivers of feedback

  1. Work to clarify or assure “alignment” between the giver and the receiver of the feedback
  2. Discern what is evaluation and separate it from what is actually coaching or appreciation
  3. “Know your tendencies”**
  4. “Disentangle the ‘what’ from the ‘who’”**
  5. Be curious and learn more about the feedback by asking questions (what does this mean? in what circumstances? what are the exact changes that need to happen?  etc.)
  6.  “Ask for just one thing”**
  7. “Engage in small experiments”**


* Heen & Stone (2014).  Thanks for the Feedback: The Art and Science of Receiving Feedback Well. New York: Penguin.

**Heen & Stone (2014).  “Find the Coaching the Criticism.” Harvard Business Review.  Jan-Feb.

Provided by Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Director of Faculty Development at Berea College