“Listen Like You’re Wrong”: Tips for Effective Feedback

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by Renee Shea


Organizational psychologist Adam Grant advises to “argue like you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong.” And he’s not advising our budding rhetoricians in AP® Lang but high powered leaders of business, industry, and government. His message is the same, though: listen to multiple perspectives and listen to learn, even when it’s not what you expect or want to hear.


A Grant google will yield multiple books, podcasts, Ted Talks, and publications you’d expect from a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, but I met him when I watched a Brief But Spectacular segment on PBS. He’s just there on the screen in a gray t-shirt telling his story, yet it’s a terrific little story that demonstrates in its own way the ethos, pathos, and logos introduction in the opening chapter of TLC3e. The bonus is that it strikes the right chord for all of AP® Lang when it comes to paying attention, thinking straight, and listening actively.


He starts out by citing a study that shows “that highly creative adults grew up in families where their parents argued in front of their children.” Counterintuitive? You bet. But the research leads to the conclusion that if you never hear your parents argue, you think there’s only one right answer; seeing them argue helps you see multiple perspectives.  The caveat: all depends upon “how constructively they argue.”


So, he says: “argue like you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong” – and you might become better at hearing criticism in the bargain. At this point, he’s using logic, logos, and bringing reason into his story.


He continues adding some pathos by telling stories about Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, who, he says is “obsessed with feedback.” (Full disclosure: she’s his coauthor on a recent book.) Anyway, he describes some of her strategies for eliciting feedback, and it’ll be the rare one of us or our students who doesn’t hear some resonance in Sandburg’s behavior.


I like Grant best, though, for the ethos. He introduces the research at the outset by referring to his own experience as a dad, so already we have some shared values. The last story, though, is a clincher. He recalls leading a motivation seminar when he was 26 for generals and colonels in the Air Force. By his own admission, it was disastrous. One of the feedback forms declared, “I gained nothing from the session, but I trust the instructor gained useful insight.” Ouch! Most of us have been there, maybe not in the military but with our colleagues or classes. Grant returned the next day – and changed his approach after having “listened” to those feedback forms. Take a listen to how he did it and what he learned by “admitting [his] limitations.”


Explicitly, it’s a Brief But Spectacular lesson in giving and receiving feedback; implicitly, it’s a study in that triumvirate of rhetorical appeals. And it’s only four minutes long. Who knows? It might inspire your students to do their own Brief But Spectacular episodes.



Grant bio:  https://mgmt.wharton.upenn.edu/profile/grantad/

PBS Brief but Spectacular:  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-to-give-feedback-so-people-hear-youre-trying-to-help