The 3 Types of Feedback: Evaluate, Coach, Appreciate

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Thanks for the Feedback" by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the 3 types of feedback? Is it best to deliver different forms of feedback together or separately?

In their book Thanks For the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen maintain that there are 3 types of feedback: 1) evaluation feedback, 2) coaching feedback, and 3) appreciation feedback. Further, they say that it’s best to separate these three strands when giving feedback because they can drown each other out when offered together.

Keep reading to learn about the characteristics of the 3 types of feedback and some tips on how to best deliver them.

How to Classify Feedback 

According to Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, there are 3 types of feedback:

  • Evaluation: Here’s where you stand.
  • Coaching: You could fix this part.
  • Appreciation: Great job!

Evaluation

Evaluation is assessment. It accomplishes a number of things:

  • It tells you where you stand, how you rank, or how you are doing in relation to expectations and to other people. Report cards, performance reviews, medals, and even nicknames are all evaluations.
  • It aligns expectations between two people. Your performance review lets you know what your manager wants from you.
  • It clarifies consequences. Your rating determines your bonus.
  • It guides decision making. We decide whether or not to apply for the new position based on our understanding of how much our managers currently value us.

Coaching

Coaching is advice. It is aimed at helping you improve, learn, grow, or change, either to meet new challenges or to correct an existing problem. It helps you focus your time and energy where it matters, maintain strong relationships, and keep your efforts productive. 

Appreciation

Appreciation is recognition and thanks. It lets you know that your efforts are noticed, making you feel worthwhile. It taps into our primitive need for acceptance. It can be motivating; the anticipation of being appreciated can encourage a person to put in extra effort. It can also be very personal; some people will look for appreciation from a formal recognition program while others will feel more valued after a good word from a mentor. 

Feedback Types Should Be Separated

Feedback is often more effective when each of the three strands is offered separately. Offered together, one type can drown out another. If you receive evaluation along with coaching, you might get caught up processing the assessment and are less able to properly digest the advice. If you receive appreciation, it can feel tempered if it is partnered with coaching. 

In general, evaluation feedback should come before either coaching or appreciation. Before a person can accept coaching or appreciation feedback, she needs to know where she stands. Knowing where she stands puts all other feedback into context. In the absence of clear evaluation, we try to use signals from coaching feedback or appreciation to determine where we stand. 

For example, if your manager is giving you a lot of coaching, you might assume your standing is weak, but that may not be the case. If she gives thanks for a recent project you may deduce that your standing is strong, but that may also not be the case overall. Or you might be thanked for this project, but not for that one, and may then infer that your standing has lessened.

Be Purposeful About Which Type You Need

When seeking feedback, be clear about whether you are looking for advice, assessment, or appreciation. This will prevent you from getting frustrated or discouraged if you receive the wrong type. Sometimes your emotional responses to feedback are a reaction to a mismatch between which type of feedback you are expecting and which type you actually receive.

For example, if you are looking for encouragement on a project, but instead you get a list of things you did wrong (coaching instead of appreciation), or you are looking for specific ways to improve a project, but you get a vague “Not quite there yet” (evaluation instead of coaching), you are unlikely to be either happy or clear on what to do next.

Accept That Feedback Isn’t Objective

Regardless of which type of feedback you’re receiving, and no matter how objective a giver of feedback tries to be, there is always, inherent in any feedback, an element of judgment and interpretation. But as much as we may value objectivity and strive for it when giving feedback, total objectivity is not actually the goal.

Proper judgments and interpretations are what moves us forward towards improvement. People who are skilled at giving feedback are valuable precisely because their judgments are sound. 

The goal of understanding feedback is not to eliminate judgments but to understand them so that you can discuss them: Why is this more important, why was that excluded? Is coming in just above projections good, or should you have greatly exceeded it?

The 3 Types of Feedback: Evaluate, Coach, Appreciate

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Here's what you'll find in our full Thanks for the Feedback summary:

  • How to better receive feedback, rather than just giving it
  • Why people tend to respond negatively towards feedback
  • How to successfully incorporate feedback into your life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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