Bestselling Author Tells Attendees At Women’s Summit The Importance Of Feedback

By Kate Bramson The Providence Journal, R.I.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Ahhhhh....feedback. There's an inherent tension at the core of feedback. People are working to balance the fact they really do want to learn and grow against the need to be accepted or respected just the way they are now. So what are women in business supposed to do? Bestselling author Sheila Heen say do NOT make vague requests for feedback, such as, "Do you have any feedback for me?" It's much better, she said, to ask in a more direct way: "What's one thing that you think I'm failing to do that if I changed it, it would make a difference?"

SMITHFIELD, R.I.

Kati Machtley kicked off Bryant University's 19th annual Women's Summit on Friday encouraging about 1,100 women to take the time to attend workshops, draw strength from each other and consider: "How will you make your mark? How will you be remembered?"

And then the day's first keynote speaker was introduced as someone who's learning new lessons every day on how to resolve conflict -- from her three children.

With that, bestselling author Sheila Heen began an interactive session that got women talking to each other about how they receive feedback and why they may reject some suggestions yet heed others. Heen has spent the last 20 years developing negotiation theory with the Harvard Negotiation Project and has provided training to the Obama White House, the Federal Reserve Bank and Unilever.

"If you want a little more conflict in your life, write a book about receiving feedback," quipped Heen, author of "How to Discuss What Matters Most" and "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When it's Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You're Not in the Mood)."

Heen then launched into a story about how reading an early version of her book prompted her mother-in-law to ask, "Remember your wedding dress?" Sure, Heen replied, from 20 years earlier. "Didn't like it," her mother-in-law replied, "And you know your house would be a lot cleaner if you didn't have that dog."

The dog was hardly the problem, Heen replied, she recounted to her audience.

Getting down to business, Heen said it's the receiver of the feedback who's in charge, who decides what to let in, and whether to change. And if receiving feedback is a skill, she said, then we can get better at it -- something that has ramifications for women at work, within their family and among friends.

Yet there's an inherent tension at the core of feedback. People are working to balance the fact they really do want to learn and grow against the need to be accepted or respected just the way they are now.

As other speakers did throughout the day, Heen acknowledged that many women who attend the annual summit have risen at work to management positions. They don't stop needing feedback -- but having risen to the top, they're less likely to get it because people are reluctant to tell a boss how to do better, Heen said.

Heen urged her audience not to make vague requests for feedback, such as, "Do you have any feedback for me?"

It's much better, she said, to ask in a more direct way: "What's one thing that you think I'm failing to do that if I changed it, it would make a difference?"

And if there's one thing you're failing to do as a leader, she said, who knows what it is? "All the people who work for you."

She ended her talk by showing a victorious picture of her young daughter after the most strenuous hike the family had ever taken together -- in Denali National Park. They had to bushwhack their way across miles of backcountry and across a river, with a guide, because they trekked through parkland with no trails. Navigating the hike was difficult, she said, but the kids in the family weren't the problem -- and there was her daughter, arms raised triumphantly at the end, showing she got through just fine.

Go out into the world of work, and life, Heen urged the women around her, and determine this: "What mountain do I want to climb?"

 

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