Sheila Heen — How to Master the Difficult Art of Receiving (and Giving) Feedback (#703)

Sheila Heen — How to Master the Difficult Art of Receiving (and Giving) Feedback (#703)
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Sheila Heen has spent the last three decades working to understand how people can better navigate conflict, with a particular specialty in difficult conversations. 

She is a founder of Triad Consulting Group, a professor at Harvard Law School, and a co-author of 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), with Douglas Stone, and Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Mostwith Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton (with a newly updated third edition that was released in August).

Sheila and her colleagues at Triad work with leaders and organizations to build their capacity to have the conversations that matter most. Her clients have included Pixar, American Express, the NBA, the Singapore Supreme Court, the Obama White House, and theologians struggling with the nature of truth and God.

She is schooled in negotiation daily by her three children. You can find my first conversation with Sheila at

Please enjoy!

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#703: Sheila Heen — How to Master The Difficult Art of Receiving (and Giving) Feedback

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Want to hear Sheila’s last appearance on this program? Have a listen to our conversation in which we discussed three categories of difficult conversations, conveying curiosity without coming off as condescending, finding common ground amid a disconnect, rewriting the scripts for bad apologies, setting behavioral expectations, presenting obstacles as shared problems, blame-absorbers versus blame-shifters, and much more.

#532: Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project — How to Navigate Hard Conversations, the Subtle Art of Apologizing, and a Powerful 60-Day Challenge

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.




  • [07:01] Conversations are the relationship.
  • [08:12] How should we talk about feedback?
  • [11:16] De-escalating the ask.
  • [13:30] Addressing victim-blaming feedback for the new edition of Difficult Conversations.
  • [28:48] How I’ve dealt with reader (and proofreader) feedback.
  • [41:18] Making use of the three types of feedback.
  • [49:05] Received difficult feedback? Phone a friend.
  • [54:36] Discovering a good/bad match early in the dating game.
  • [00:59:30] How I’ve traditionally handled conflict and stress.
  • [1:07:50] The conundrum of feedback’s source.
  • [1:09:03] Three triggered reactions to feedback.
  • [1:12:09] The you plus me combination.
  • [1:20:16] What does resolution look like?
  • [1:22:52] The Gottman Institute.
  • [1:29:35] Coping with a relationship’s unresolvable frictions.
  • [1:33:41] The courtship of Sheila’s sister.
  • [1:37:11] A thirst for vindictiveness and other deal breakers.
  • [1:43:31] Learning from the comfort of our strengths.
  • [1:45:43] Perspective from three positions.
  • [1:47:09] How to extend positive reinforcement.
  • [1:51:26] Giving feedback without starting a fight.
  • [1:55:12] Asking “one thing” questions as a leader.
  • [1:57:43] Are you aware of your need to receive feedback?
  • [2:02:13] Parting thoughts.


“Being an honest mirror is asking a friend to help you see what might be right about this feedback.”

“We uncovered some evidence that suggests that, in terms of sensitivity to feedback, how upset we get and how long it takes us to recover, that can vary by up to 3,000 percent.”

“We have the biggest emotional reaction to the evaluation part because we hate being judged. It’s hard. It’s really hard to feel judged, so we’re quick to hear it in anything.”

“The need to give feedback is a felt problem. I have feedback for you. I’m carrying it around with myself because I don’t know how to give it to you, or I’ve tried to give it to you and you’re not taking it. If there’s a book that would help me do that, I would buy that book, and could use some help. The need to receive feedback from other people who are carrying it around and not giving it to us is not necessarily a felt problem. I’m oblivious to it. I have mixed feelings about it.”


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.