Ep 110: How to Have Difficult Conversations – Part 2 (with Sheila Heen)

by Joan Garry

Accepting criticism is an important leadership skill. But how might we exercise that skill when it feels off base, unfair, or poorly delivered?


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There sure are a lot of difficult conversations happening right now. All over the place. We learned all about how to approach them in part 1 of this 2-part episode.

Today, we’ll dig deeper into a critical component of a productive difficult conversation. Receiving feedback.

Receiving feedback can be especially difficult, particularly when you think it’s not deserved. Not needed. Not wanted.

But if you won’t listen, nothing will change. And conversely, if you’re the one giving the feedback, your listener won’t be open to what you’re saying if they’re feeling judged. If you don’t approach it the right way.

Remember, the goal in these conversations isn’t to “be right”. It’s to affect change in some way. To improve something that’s been going on.

My guest, consultant and author Sheila Heen, discusses three triggers that can help us process feedback productively, even when it feels “off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood”.

About Sheila Heen

Sheila is a Founder of Triad Consulting Group and has been on the Harvard Law School faculty since 1995. Sheila’s corporate clients include Pixar, Hugo Boss, the NBA, the Federal Reserve Bank, Ford, Novartis, AT&T and numerous family businesses. She often works with executive teams, helping them to work through conflict, repair working relationships, and make sound decisions together.

In the public sector she has also provided training for the New England Organ Bank, the Singapore Supreme Court, the Obama White House, and theologians struggling with disagreement over the nature of truth and God. Sheila has spent more than twenty years with the Harvard Negotiation Project, developing negotiation theory and practice. She specializes in particularly difficult negotiations – where emotions run high and relationships become strained.

Sheila is co-author of two New York Times bestsellers: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Penguin 2nd ed 2010), and the recently released 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) (Penguin 2014).

She has written for the Harvard Business Review, for the New York Times as a guest expert and as a Modern Love writer. Sheila has appeared on shows as diverse as Oprah and the G. Gordon Liddy show, NPR, Fox News, and CNBC’s Power Lunch. She has spoken at the Global Leadership Summit, Nordic Business Forum, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Harvard Negotiation Journal, and Real Simple.

Sheila is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Harvard Law School. She is schooled in negotiation daily by her three children.

In this Podcast:

  • I am so skillful in giving feedback, why can’t you hear me?
  • Is feedback always judgmental?
  • What are the three triggers and why does it matter to recognize them?
  • Three different types of feedback with distinct purposes
  • What if the person evaluating me doesn’t know me well enough?
  • What if as an E.D. I am not crushing my job because I have a weak board chair?