Sheila Heen, founder of the Triad Consulting Group and Faculty member at Harvard Law School, will be joining us for the 2015 Global Leadership Summit.  Sheila has taught courses on negotiation at Harvard for two decades, specialising in helping organisations work through their most difficult conflicts.

William Ury (GLS 2012 speaker), founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, recommended that we look into her work.  When we learned that Sheila had released a new book addressing the topic of feedback, we were intrigued.  After reading it, we were sold.

Sheila Heen and her co-author Douglas Stone conducted groundbreaking research, looking at feedback from a new perspective – that of the feedback receiver.

The article Sensitive or Stone Cold Stoic: How Your Wiring Affects Your Well-Being first appeared in Time Magazine.  The excerpt below will give you a little flavour of what you can expect to learn from Sheila at this year’s GLS.

We swim in an ocean of feedback.  It’s not just those performance reviews at work.  It’s your reflection in the mirror, the comment your spouse made at breakfast, or the accusatory note you just found in your mailbox from your neighbour.

Recent research suggests that how you react to that feedback – whether you take it in stride or get flattened by it – is due at least in part to your wiring.  When it comes to sensitivity to feedback, individuals can vary up to 3,000% in terms of how far they swing emotionally and how long it takes them to recover.  And that has profound implications for their ability to hear the feedback they get, and to learn anything from it.

Take Alita.  She has been highly sensitive to criticism since she was a child.  Now an accomplished obstetrician, her skills and confidence have matured, yet her sensitivity to feedback is just as strong as it was when she was young.  “Three years ago we did patient satisfaction surveys,” Alita explains.  “My patients love the attention I give them and my reviews were largely positive.  Yet there were a few comments from patients who were frustrated that I sometimes run late.”  She adds, “I haven’t felt the same way about my practice since.”

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Three factors can be used to measure our sensitivity to feedback.

The first is Baseline, which measures your general state of happiness or contentment.  In the wake of positive or negative events (or feedback), we all tend to gravitate back toward our baseline.  Some people have a relatively high baseline – like Elaine in the next cubicle who always seems so (gratingly) cheerful no matter how much pressure the team is under.  Others – like Mortimer down in purchasing – have a relatively low happiness baseline, perpetually dissatisfied with their lives (and with you), regardless of how well things may be going.

The second variable is Swing – how far up or down you go as a result of positive or negative feedback. Someone with small swing is “even keeled”:  Nothing excites them much, and few things really get them too upset.  If you swing wider emotionally, your ups and downs will be more intense and you’ll require less stimulation to move you off your baseline.

And finally, Sustain or Recovery, which measures how long it takes you to return to your baseline.  How long do you sustain a bounce in your step in the wake of an appreciative email from an important customer?  How long does it take you to recover from the public dressing-down you got from your boss in the staff room? Recent findings from neuro-imaging show that positive and negative swing and recovery can operate independently.  If you have small swing and short sustain on positive feedback, and wide swing and long recovery on the negatives, that’s a tough combination.  Positive feedback disappears quickly, while negative feedback hits you hard and keeps you down for a good long while.

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