What a new book about receiving feedback reveals about language, meaning and the human conditionby Josephine Livingstone / April 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Italo Calvino was prone to falling in love with the sound of English words. As with all types of love, he sometimes didn’t realise that he’d fallen for the wrong thing until it was too late. Fortunately, his translator, William Weaver, was there to save Calvino from himself. Some years ago Weaver gave an interview to the Paris Review which included a lovely reminiscence about Calvino’s lexical crushes: “At one point he fell madly in love with the word feedback, and he didn’t realise that in America feedback is like closure or spinning out of control, something you hear constantly on television. It’s jargon and cliché, and you can’t use it anymore.” Not merely jargon: “dead to literature,” as Weaver went on to explain. Still, Calvino kept putting it back in and Weaver kept taking it back out, back and forth. In the end, the translator won: “Finally the last proofs came, and I took it out definitively. And I’m sorry to say he died before he had the book in his hands, so he never knew that I’d done this to him.”
If only Italo Calvino had lived long enough to see the publication of Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When it is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and, Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood). I doubt that there exists a book that employs the word more times.
Stone and Heen teach a negotiation class at Harvard Law School and cofounded something called the Triad Consulting Group, which sounds like an accessory to Cantonese organised crime but is sadly just a “global corporate education and communication consulting firm.” Stone and Heen’s new book is business-flavoured self-help. It teaches you how to be a better, happier, more efficient person in the workplace and in life, by receiving feedback better.
On their joint website, Stone and Heen have written a little bit about each other. Doug notes that Sheila was named a Lecturer on Law at Harvard at age 26. “From her point of view, it took forever,” he says. Sheila says the following about Doug:
“He is the only member of the Harvard Law School faculty ever recruited to submit writing samples to write for Beavis and Butthead before it debuted on MTV. He declined.” “Although he is now among the most…