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Why Low Sensitivity in Job Candidates is an Incredible Strength (And an Incredible Weakness)...

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?

Sure you do.  So you do what seems like a good idea and fire up one of the 1,000 assessments that are out there on the market to help you dig into what makes the candidate tick (full disclosure - we use one at Kinetix <my company> called "Talent DNA", which I'm biased towards, but I like a lot).

The good news is that all the assessment companies base their solution on the same body of research.  The key is in how it's presented - that's really what separates different assessments from each other, so as a company you should find one you like and roll with it.

So - you have your tool, and it's helped you measure what the assessment we use calls "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're on to figure out the truth in the feedback you delivered.  They don't dwell on the sting long - they're not divas in that way.

The low sensitivity candidate can take feedback.  Check.  You're done, right?

Not so fast my friend.  The intereresting thing about assessments is that significant strengths often come attached with huge weaknesses that have to managed.  For example, low sensitivity is great because the candidate can take feedback for improvement very, very well.  BUT - they're low sensitivity, which means that they have a low sense of empathy for how other people are feeling.

Which can be a huge problem on any team, and for the company at large.  Consider this description of Netflix CEO Reid Hastings from Business Insider:

"In an interview with CNETNetflixed author Gina Keating says sources told her Hastings had an "emotional IQ of zero."

That meant that Hastings wasn't able to anticipate how Netflix customers would react to the price hike and the decision to move Netflix's DVD rental service over to a new business, Qwikster, which would require a separate login and monthly bill.

Here's how Keating described Hastings:

He just doesn't have any kind of empathy toward people in terms of consumers. I think with a lot of great CEOs, there's a little bit of a blind spot there. That was interesting to discover because knowing him for so long I never knew he had that. I just felt that he was one of the smartest CEOs I'd ever met and this little vanity thing was really interesting to me. I think maybe he just didn't value it very much. He didn't understand how important it was until Qwikster happened and it became very obvious to him.

You may be wondering, how did Hastings build such a big business if he didn't understand his customers? Keating suggests his co-founder, Marc Randolph, who has been largely written out of the picture had a lot to do with Netflix's success:

Netflix now is extremely different from Netflix when Marc Randolph was there. But the platform the founding team created and the attitude that they had about what they were doing -- that they were supposed to benefit customers first -- that was all Marc Randolph.

It's hard to believe that Hastings could build a wildly successful company over the course of a decade without having a pretty good sense of his customers. And even CEOs who obsess about their customers occasionally blow it. But we suppose there has to be an explanation for everything."

What happened to Netflix when they changed their pricing model is a pretty good example of low sensitivity.  If Hastings has an emotional IQ of zero, he's going to build an organization over time that's probably not real tuned into how people will react - it's not who he is as a low sensitivity guy.

The good news is that he can take feedback really well.  Problem is, for Hastings that's not real valuable - he's in charge!

Flip side of the sensitivity scale is high sensitivity - which means the person would be very empathetic to how others feel, but the tradeoff is that you'll have to talk that person off the ledge every time you give them feedback for improvement.  

Good times.  Check our sensitivity levels for an interesting angle to your next hiring process.



Yes, I am dealing with this exact situation currently with a member of my staff. Getting someone to understand how a message is received by others that have more sensitivity is a difficult thing to articulate.

Also, I have seen this a lot with executives and how they make decisions pertaining to employees.

Once a person has achieved a certain level of income and standard of living, it seems to become challenging for them to realize that life for the rest of the employees is not the same as theirs. This is especially true in companies where the majority of the workforce are entry-level and hourly.

For example, in a call center. You have people that make six figures (and have presumably been doing so for some time)making decisions about compensation and benefits for people that typically make $10-$15 per hour. These two lifestyles are completely different.

I think someone needs to be able to have a frank and realistic discussion with leaders about what life is truly like for the masses so they can make better decisions.


Good post - but what about the leader that has low sensitivity toward employees but high sensitivity regarding him or herself?

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