Two to Tango: Kristen DeTienne

Great Wall

Organizational leadership and strategy professor Kristen DeTienne is, at the same time, both leading and following.

She’s following, literally, in the footsteps of her husband, as they pursue a new joint interest—Argentine tango.

“It’s really a different kind of hobby,” DeTienne says. “Every step is led. It’s not like ballroom dance, where there are a series of steps that both people know. The woman has no idea what’s coming up next, and you’ve got to react in real time so that your steps are in complete unison. It’s very powerful because of the mind-body reaction.”

This recent pastime has helped DeTienne and her husband, David, to ward off the loneliness of being empty-nesters, their two children are away at college. “Tango has helped fill the void,” she says.

20151004dkAs a professor at the Marriott School, DeTienne is also leading as she conducts pioneering research in her field, studying the framing of survey response tools to change customer experience, improve processes, and prime for positive feedback. It is the intersection of organizational behavior and marketing that has DeTienne paving the way for increased organizational effectiveness in business.

“People aren’t looking at this topic,” she says, “but we have a number of studies in a lot of different arenas that all point to the same conclusion: you can change how someone thinks about you or your business by how you frame your feedback mechanisms.”

In addition to more effective business processes, DeTienne studies and teaches about negotiation, a topic she’s actually had experience with from a young age. After a disinterested high school English teacher and unruly class forced her to approach the principal, she was denied the chance to switch classes and learned through the failed negotiation: that life isn’t always fair.

“I’ve always been interested in issues related to fairness,” she says. “I get it, not everything will always be fair. But there is such a thing as fair, and my research has proven that.”

This early developmental experience took DeTienne full circle as she teaches, conducts new research, and helps students at the Marriott School. She notes that some of her most meaningful experiences have not been authoring countless books and papers (like the article she published this year in the Business and Professional Ethics Journal) but rather engaging students in out-of-classroom mentoring experiences, like the Global Marketing and European Business Study Abroad programs she directed in 2011 and 2013.

“In terms of a professionally rewarding experience, those are just unbelievable,” she says. “Experiential learning changes a student’s life. That’s part of why I believe so strongly in this as a learning mechanism. Students learn so much more than they ever would in a classroom.”

Her students, her colleagues, and her research—these are the things that keep DeTienne calling BYU home.

“I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else,” she says. “Although I didn’t expect to come and stay here for twenty-four years, it’s been a fantastic place to have a career, and I have a great deal of love and respect for my students and colleagues.”