Published June 28, 2018

3 Variables in How We React to Feedback—Sheila Heen—2018 GLS Faculty Spotlight


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We are thrilled to welcome Summit favorite Sheila Heen back to The Global Leadership Summit! With two New York Times best-selling books and over 20 years at the Harvard Negotiation Project and Triad Consulting Group, Sheila will show us how to engage in the conversations that are critical to learning, collaboration, innovation and sound decision-making in our organizations.

Sheila Heen (GLS 2015) has spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project, specializing in our most difficult conversations—where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained. Her firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to strengthen working relationships, work through tough conversations and make sound decisions together. Her most recent New York Times bestseller is Thanks for the Feedback.

Sheila Heen Video

 If you look at the neuroscience, you discover that the way we’re wired has a profound effect on how we hear and respond to feedback. We will take a look at three variables that are particularly important in terms of reaction to feedback.

The first variable is your baseline

Your baseline is how happy or unhappy you are in the absence of other events in your life. Where is that level you come back to? If it’s a scale of 1-10, some people simply live their lives at 9. They’re unbelievably happy and cheerful about everything. From a cup of coffee to a promotion, they are always just thrilled.

This research comes from looking at lottery winners. A year after they win, they are still about as happy as they were the year before they won the lottery. And people who go to jail are about as happy as a year before they went to jail.

The reason this matters for feedback is, the positive feedback can be muffled for you—particularly if you have a low baseline, it’s harder for you to hear it.

Now we look at the second variable, which is swing

When you receive positive or negative feedback, how far off does it knock you off your base? The same piece of feedback could be devastating for one person and merely annoying to another person.

The third variable is how long it takes for you to come back to your baseline

How long do you sustain positive feeling? Or, how long does it take you to recover from a negative feeling?

Those three variables are where the big variation in sensitivity comes from. That’s why some people are extremely sensitive and other people are pretty insensitive.

Here are two reasons why this is particularly important

1) Your own feedback profile not only influences how you receive feedback, it also influences how you give feedback.

If you are pretty even-keeled, it could be that you are more likely to be direct or harsh in your feedback because you think, This isn’t that big of a deal and you are overreacting to it.

Other people who are very sensitive are likely to tip-toe around issues, and if they’re talking with someone who is particularly even-keeled, they might not know they’re being given feedback. You have to be pretty direct to even get through to them.

2) If you swing negative, it can actually distort your sense of the feedback itself and your own sense of yourself.

One piece of feedback can trigger an overwhelming flood of emotion, and the feedback itself overruns its borders. These people think, It’s not one thing, it’s everything. Or, It’s not just now, it’s forever.

The challenge is, how do you dismantle the distortions so you can see the feedback itself in actual size? Then it doesn’t become so overwhelming, and you’re in a place to learn—hearing the feedback for what it does and doesn’t represent.

This video was originally featured on Big Think.

About the Author(s)
Global Leadership Network

Global Leadership Network

GLN Staff Writer

The Global Leadership Network is a community committed to learning from each other and using our influence to accomplish God’s purposes on earth. No matter where your influence is, when you commit to grow your leadership, everyone around you wins—businesses work for good, communities are transformed and churches thrive! Both global and diverse, our network includes partners in 1,400+ cities and 135+ countries. We are committed to deliver fresh, actionable and inspiring leadership content both at The Global Leadership Summit, and year-round through our digital platforms.

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