I’m Not Sensitive, You’re Just Wrong

Kris Dunn Assessments, Performance Reviews, Retention, Talent Management

“I’m very laid back. I only care about two things:

1) everyone on earth and their opinion of me, and

2) the crushing psychological weight of being alive.”

–author unknown


Let’s say you’re a hiring manager trying to fill a key position. You think you might want to know how well someone can take feedback?

Of course you do. As part of the broader assessment, most providers are  going to give you a lot of line of sight into how sensitive the candidate is in a broad range of interactions.

Good job!  Now you have your tool, and it’s helped you measure what we’ll broadly call “Sensitivity.” Candidates who are low sensitivity can take feedback like a champ, no matter how direct and stinging the feedback is. They’ll hear what you say, it will sting for about 60 seconds, then they’ll move on to figure out the truth in the feedback you delivered. They don’t dwell on the sting for long – they’re not divas in that way.

The low sensitivity candidate can take feedback. You want more of those. Check. You’re done, right?

Not so fast my friend. The interesting thing about assessments is that significant strengths often come attached with weaknesses/opportunities that must be managed.

Case in point – me, aka, “KD.” I’m low sensitivity. Here’s a hypothetical list of the ways my low sensitivity impacts you – my coworker, my boss, my spouse. Enjoy the list/scenarios and then we’ll be back to talk about it after the jump.

  1. You gave me feedback that was critical in nature. You were nervous in that feedback session and weren’t sure at the time how it went. Later that day you see me in the elevator and I shoot the s**t like nothing is wrong and, better yet, the next day you get an email from me with a change that suggests I heard your coaching (You believe you are a candidate for coach of the year).
  2. You task me with the responsibility of laying off 20 people on Tuesday in a division that our company is shuttering for good reasons. You see me on Tuesday morning, and I’m completely chill while you feel like a nervous wreck for the company. You mention to me that you had a hard time sleeping given the task at hand, even though you’re not doing it – I am. I look at you for three seconds like people do when they are faking regret/compassion or looking at an abandoned pet, then I tell you I got 9 straight hours of sleep and everything’s going to be fine (You think I might have been a special forces sniper in a previous career, but you guess you’re glad I’m wired like that today).
  3. You’ve noticed in your interactions with Jill (a member of my team) that she’s been a little bit off the last month. You make it a point to skip a level down and take Jill to lunch and in your conversation, learn that Jill is getting ready to go through a divorce. Being the team player you are, you come to talk to me about it. You’re unsure if I knew the name of Jill’s spouse before you came to talk to me, and I certainly wasn’t aware of the situation. I cover the seriousness of the situation and my low empathy by exclaiming, “Dammit, Jim!” in my best POTA Charlton Heston voice once you confirm his name (You try to tell yourself that I’m just simply all business, but you certainly wish I would have been aware of the situation).
  4. You’ve noted in the past that I’m often the calmest one in the room during periods of crisis. You’ve also noticed that at times I couldn’t care less what the priorities of my peers are, because let’s face it – if their things aren’t on my list, they can’t be that important, right? (The fact that I’m a high performer in relation to things ON my list makes it difficult to coach me on my apathy for the dreams and aspirations of others).

Welcome to the low sensitivity candidate/employee. People with the low sensitivity marker are dreams to give feedback to, but they’re less empathetic towards how others feel and have a relaxed sense of urgency related to everything spinning around them.

High sensitivity individuals are the opposite. If you’re going to give them feedback, you better find an hour on their calendar, because they’re going to need to be talked down from a ledge a bit. That’s the downside. The upside is their empathy towards others (a better sense for how those around them feel) as well as a heightened sense of urgency towards tasks important to others (side note from the low sensitivity author of this post – if everything is urgent, is anything urgent? Sorry, couldn’t resist).

As is the case with so many behavioral dimensions, strengths are relative and likely come paired with a developmental opportunityand which one matters most is generally situationally dependent.  That’s why it takes a village, and behavioral diversity across your team is key.

Hit me in the comments with your feedback. As a low sensitivity player, I might not get to it immediately, but I’ll internalize it for sure once I arrive.