Sheila Heen: Tackling Tough Conversations | E51

#51: Tackling Tough Conversations with Sheila Heen

“Hey, we need to talk…” <– if these words scare you, trust that you’re not alone!

Whether we’re dealing with an under-performing employee, upset with our spouse, or facing issues with a difficult client, we attempt or avoid difficult conversations everyday. Healthy relationships are built around communication and transparency, and so learning how to navigate tough conversations with less stress and more success can help optimize our relationships.

Join us this week on YAP as we tackle tough conversations with best-selling co-author of the business classic Difficult Conversations and Harvard Law lecturer, Sheila Heen.

Tune in to learn the three layers of difficult conversations and how to overcome each one of them, the benefit of telling a third story to start your discussions off on the right foot and learn how to enhance the skill of receiving feedback by understanding the common initial reactions we all have when receiving negative feedback and how to deal with them in a positive way.

#51: Tackling Tough Conversations with Sheila Heen

[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Did you know that the rate of reviews plays a huge factor in YAP's Apple Podcast ranking. If you listen to YAP on Apple Podcasts, but never gave us a review, we'd greatly appreciate if you left one and took a few minutes of your time to share your feedback, this will help us secure sponsorships and remain a free resource to you all.

[00:00:17] Thanks in advance for your Apple Podcast review. You're listening to Young And Profiting Podcast, a place where you can listen, learn and profit. I'm your host Hala Taha. And today we're talking with Sheila Heenis the founder of Triad Consulting Group and a lecture at Harvard Law School. She also has coauthored two best-selling business books alongside Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations, and Thanks for the Feedback.

[00:00:45] Today we're yapping with Sheila about the. Have difficult conversations and how to overcome each one of them, the benefit of telling a third story to start your discussions off on the right foot and how to enhance the skill of receiving feedback by understanding the [00:01:00] common initial reactions we all have when receiving negative feedback and how we can counteract them in a positive way.

[00:01:07] Hi Sheila, welcome to Young And Profiting Podcast.

[00:01:10] Sheila Heen: I'm delighted to be here.

[00:01:12] Hala Taha: Likewise. We're so excited to have this conversation with you. So to kick it off, let's give an introduction. You and your business partner, co author Douglas Stone wrote a very successful book called Difficult Conversations nearly 20 years ago.

[00:01:27] Now this book is a business and communication classic. It's one of the top 75 Penguin Classics of all time. And people still swear by it even two decades. So tell us about this book and help my listeners understand just how far of a reach this book had and what impact you've witnessed since you released it 20 years ago.

[00:01:47] Sheila Heen: Oh gosh. Big question. So yeah, when I showed up at the Harvard negotiation project, I was in Law School. I took the negotiation course. I totally fell in love. With the field [00:02:00] and just the interdisciplinary nature of it, but also the stance of curiosity and learning and practicality. That really was a big part of what the Harvard negotiation project stood for and aspired to in the world, the founder, his name was Roger Fisher.

[00:02:16] He wrote Getting To Yes, had fought in world war II. And so he'd dedicated the rest of his life to trying to find better ways for us to handle conflict. So his, big push was about creating theory for practitioners, creating theory that people could actually pick up and use to try to solve and address real-world problems.

[00:02:37] And that really appealed to me and he felt strongly that we need to keep one foot in the academic world to step back and reflect on what we're learning and the patterns we're seeing. And then one foot in the real world, helping people with real problems so that we stay connected to the real challenges that people face.

[00:02:55] That's all happening in the eighties. I show up right around 1990 as a student, [00:03:00] and then I come on full-time after I graduate. And one of the things that we were noticing is that the negotiation advice that we were giving was. Useful, but then there were certain conversations where it wasn't really helping, including conversations in my own life.

[00:03:16] Where I was trying to do a really good job of problem solving, but the other person was being completely uncooperative and difficult and we thought okay, what is it that we're not getting here? If our advice isn't working. What's missing. And that's what led us to the material that became difficult conversations.

[00:03:36] We were inviting people to come in with real-world problems and we were taking them apart to try and understand why they were stuck. And also what would actually. And then people would go out and try out what would help. And so that was really the work that spanned about seven or eight years, that became the book Difficult Conversations.

[00:03:56] And so when people ask me, how long did it take you [00:04:00] guys to write that book? It's when do you want to start counting? And also, although the book isn't that long, we felt really strongly that to be useful, it needed to be very spare, very practical and as short as we could make it. So it's, 260 pages or something, that's actually including the material we added for the 10 year anniversary edition.

[00:04:19] But every single word of that book was rewritten about 14 times because our aspiration was that people anywhere in the world could pick it up and find something that resonated for them. And find something that they could try that might help improve the situation. Yeah, it's been fun and funny anecdote.

[00:04:36] I had just moved to a very small town in Massachusetts about 15 years ago. And I was at like a school fundraiser dinner, and I didn't really know anybody cause we had just moved to town and I sat next to this woman and we were talking about what do you do whatever? And she said, She teaches dance class.

[00:04:55] And then she asked what I did. And I said I teach negotiation and difficult conversations. And she said, oh, there's a book [00:05:00] called that. And I said, I do know about it actually, because I co-wrote that book. And she said, oh my goodness, like we use it to teach dance. Oh my gosh. And I thought, wait, what?

[00:05:13] Like that. Didn't even occur to us. And she said I teach a form of tango. That is a really, the partners have to be very connected. So my students tend to be married couples or couples who are together, who come into learn the tango. And she goes, the whole first lesson is them fighting about you're not leaving strongly enough or you're not listening as usual.

[00:05:32] And so she's all of the issues in their relationship end up in the middle of their dancing. And she goes, so I send them home with a copy of the book.

[00:05:41] Hala Taha: Yeah. It's so incredible. As we were doing our research, we noticed that the book was used everywhere from obvious places like college courses to not so obvious ways like the Palestinian and Israeli conflict or, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

[00:05:58] Yep. Yeah. [00:06:00] Amazing that your book has been used in such like high stakes situations and also like lower stakes situations, like a dance class.

[00:06:08] Sheila Heen: Exactly. And one of the fun things for us is that we feel like we learn from readers all the time who write to us, or reach out to us to say, Hey, here's how I've been using it, or I've been teaching it or I've been using it in prisons, or there's actually a copy of it uploaded onto the international space station.

[00:06:24] I was I had your reaction wow, that wouldn't have occurred to me, but at NASA they said look, you're on the space station. You're in very tight quarters with other people, usually from other countries. And you've got to be able to get along and work together because there's really no getting away from each other.
[00:06:40] So it makes a lot of.

[00:06:42] Hala Taha: Completely. So tell us about your latest book. Thanks for the Feedback you wrote it. 14 years later, again, with Douglas Stone, what was the reasoning behind writing that book and why such a long delay between both the works?

[00:06:55] Sheila Heen: I know sometimes I look back and think what the heck were we doing that whole time?

[00:06:59] And I'm like, oh [00:07:00] I was having three kids and running a business and teaching and trying to learn something new. That's the biggest thing. After difficult conversations started to do well, the publishing world of course, turns around and says, great, what's next? What are you going to write that we can publish in the next year or two?

[00:07:15] And, there were a lot of obvious extension books, difficult conversations at work and at home and on the patio. And, with a chef, you could do an endless variation. I guess for our own sake, as well as maybe the sake of our readers, we felt like we didn't want to write the same book over and over again.

[00:07:32] That just didn't seem that interesting to us. So we felt like we needed to wait until we had learned something new enough and different enough. And big enough that it was book worthy as opposed to an article, right? That would be a little bit narrower. One of our pet peeves is books that have one really genuinely good idea, but then it's padded into 300 pages and we may be overcompensate because our books tend to be [00:08:00] chock-full of ideas that will keep you busy for the rest of your life.

[00:08:03] But we feel at least you're getting your money's worth. So we were spending that 20 years of pre-publication and then all the way up to the feedback book. Going around the world, working with leaders on their toughest conversations and feedback conversations kept coming up again and again, as one of the kinds of conversations that everybody in the world struggles with and feels like they don't work the way they're supposed to.

[00:08:29] I try to give them feedback. They're defensive. And then eventually they say, and then other people have this horrible feedback for me, that's totally inaccurate and unfair. And it was like, okay, whether you're the giver, the receiver it's not working. Yeah. So what is there here that we have to learn?

[00:08:44] And that's, I think what took us so long was that we were looking for the right question and it was really Doug who, after about 10 years of wrestling with these feedback conversations questions, suddenly one day said hang on. [00:09:00] Maybe we're missing half the equation, in a change of feedback was going to give her an, a receiver.

[00:09:05] It's actually the receiver who's in charge. They're deciding what they're going to let in and what sense they're going to make of it and whether and how they're going to change. Maybe we've been going about this backwards by focusing mostly on the givers and how to give feedback. Maybe we should be trying to understand.

[00:09:21] What's so hard about receiving feedback for all of us, by the way, in all areas of our life, like formal feedback, obviously from clients or bosses, etcetera, performance reviews, but also all of the informal offhand, unsolicited little tips and suggestions that everybody in our lives. For us for how they want us to change.

[00:09:41] And that was a really interesting question. We looked around and so what's out there on that and there was almost nothing. And so that's really what launched us in the direction of the feedback book. Now we're five years out from the feedback book and we're on the hunt for our next question.

[00:09:57] Hala Taha: Very cool. I want to focus [00:10:00] most of our time today on both those two topics, Difficult Conversations and feedback. So let's get right to it, starting with Difficult Conversations. So what is your definition of a Difficult Conversation? I thought this would be the best way to start it off.

[00:10:14] Sheila Heen: There's an easy answer, which is if it feels difficult to you, it counts.

[00:10:19] So they tend to be conversations that either keep us up at night, worrying about them. Debating. Should I even have the conversation because I can sense it's not going to go well, they're not going to change sometimes their conversations that we have over and over again. It's an argument that we can't seem to handle well enough.

[00:10:38] And so it's just a point of conflict in the relationship that isn't working, but if it's causing you anxiety, or if it's not getting you the result. That you want or need it counts as a difficult conversation. And part of was interesting to us is that answer is different for everybody.

[00:10:56] Hala Taha: Yeah. Basically anything that makes you uncomfortable. So [00:11:00] what are the most common reasons for avoiding a difficult conversation?

[00:11:04] Sheila Heen: I think we're weighing the potential cost. I don't think it's going to be worth it. Cause I don't think they're going to agree with me or they're going to be willing to change or they're not even going to think that this is a problem.

[00:11:16] They're gonna think it's my problem. Or I just don't want to create tension or stress in the relationship. And it's interesting because there already is tension and stress in the relationship is just that it's tension and stress for you. And maybe not for them, they may be totally oblivious. That you are frustrated or feel like this isn't working, but it's more comfortable for me to be mad at you than to risk that you're going to be mad.

[00:11:39] Hala Taha: Yeah. When you bring up this relationships that reminded me of something that I heard you say before, where you point out that these conversations, some people think that you're having a conversation in a relationship, but really these conversations are what build your relationships. Could you elaborate on that?

[00:11:54] Sheila Heen: Absolutely. This really comes from the work done by John Gottman on [00:12:00] marriage. He's a marriage researcher up in Seattle. But he's famous for saying that he can watch a married couple talk about a stressful issue in their relationship. He can watch them have that conversation for five minutes and predict with 90 to 93% accuracy, whether or not they're going to divorce within three to five years.

[00:12:20] Yeah. And so what he points out really from his research is that how we have these conversations is really at the heart of the relationship. That if we have ways to listen to each other, to feel heard and to work, to find solutions, even if we still don't agree. It's not that we never disagree actually, but it's that how we handle that disagreement or that conflict means that the relationship will thrive and, stay healthy.

[00:12:48] And if we don't handle that well, either by avoiding it or by escalating it dismissing, he codes, contempt or dismissal where it's like, Ugh, [00:13:00] Where you just basically shut down to anything legitimate that your partner has to say as one of the biggest danger signs in relationships, because the relationship itself starts to fray, right?

[00:13:13] So there's this funny situation where, whether it's a work relationship or a personal relationship, these conversations are where the rubber meets the road. And it's I don't want to bring it up because I don't want to hurt the relationship, but the relationship is already jeopardized. Because we can't talk about it or we can't talk about it effectively.

[00:13:32] And so finding a better way to have that conversation, I think is really the only solution that I've found, because it's not that you can't, you can find relationships where you're not going to have any kids.

[00:13:45] Hala Taha: Exactly and conflict is healthy. And a little bit of conflict is what keeps the relationship healthy in the end.

[00:13:51] If you never bring up anything bad later down the line, it might blow up worse than it would have been. If you just brought it up when you were having the bad feelings.

[00:13:59] Sheila Heen: Totally. [00:14:00] Because I don't say anything, but I silently resent it. And then the next time it happens, I'm reacting deciding whether to bring it up, deciding not to.

[00:14:11] Adding that to my resentment bucket. And then eventually you do the same thing again, and it just, I can't handle it. And then I am reacting, not just to what you did a few minutes ago today. I'm reacting to the 17 times you've done this year. And to you, it seems like I'm overreacting, right? But to me, I'm actually reacting totally proportionately to how ridiculous and frustrating you are to work with.

[00:14:39] And that's dangerous, right? That's it's not a healthy relationship because we have all these workarounds and it's also incredibly stressful to be in relationships like that, where you have to tiptoe around and carry a bunch of resentment.

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[00:15:35] In your book, you say that there are three layers of difficult discussions. The what happened, conversation, the feelings conversation.

[00:15:42] And the identity conversation. Would you break these down for our listeners and perhaps let's just focus on the key characteristics of these layers for now and then we can work on solutioning them in a bit.

[00:15:53] Sheila Heen: Yeah, absolutely. So part of what we mean is that if [00:16:00] you look at or listen to a difficult conversation to really understand what's going on, you have to listen beyond what people are saying to each other.

[00:16:09] Listen to what they're really thinking and feeling and not saying, in other words, have a conversation with them about what's going on with them during the conversation and what their internal voice we would call it is preoccupied with. And what we've found is that your internal voice is preoccupied essentially with three things.

[00:16:27] Each of the three conversations that you talked about. First, I'm having a conversation with myself about what happened, what has happened, what is happening now, as we're trying to talk about it and what I think should happen to solve the problem. And I have a story about that, right? And that story actually itself has three key components.

[00:16:45] I'm pretty preoccupied with what? I'm pretty sure I'm right. About whose fault this is, that we're having this problem, mostly you yours, but it's not actually any easier. If I feel like it's my fault. Like I should've seen this coming. I can't believe I left. Get [00:17:00] into this situation, etcetera. The story always involves some blame for why we're in this fix and having this conflict.

[00:17:09] And then the third piece is I have a story about why you're acting the way you're acting. Why are you being so difficult? What do you like as a person? You just have to control things. Are you. Are jealous or threatened by me or something. I have some theory about what's going on with you that is causing you to act this way.

[00:17:28] And all of that is part of my story about what's happening. That's the most obvious piece. Maybe that's the part that we vent about to our friends when we talk about the situation. But under that, there are two more things. The second is a feelings conversation. What do I do with the strong feelings I'm having?

[00:17:46] Of frustration or confusion or anxiety or sadness or guilt, and particularly, maybe in a professional relationship where it feels like I'm not really supposed to be having feelings, but of course it's just not the way human beings are built. [00:18:00] So we have all these strong reactions to reading our email or, trying to solve a problem in a meeting.

[00:18:07] And then I'm trying to figure out what to do with. And then the last is at the deepest level, if a conversation feels difficult to you, chances are there's something about identity that is at stake. There's something the situation suggests about you. That is an issue. Might be like, I'm being a wimp.

[00:18:23] Why am I not sticking up for myself? Why do they think they can take advantage of me? Am I not being fair? Am I not a good boss? Am I not up to the job? There's something that the situation suggests about who I am and what I'm capable of that feels like it's at stake. And that's part of what then raises.

[00:18:40] Temperature on the feelings, the anxiety, etcetera, and frustration. And then that colors the story we tell about what happened. So that's the underlying structure of any difficult conversation.

[00:18:51] Hala Taha: Yeah. This was so interesting to me, from my understanding, what we should do is turn each one of these layers into a learning conversation and [00:19:00] flip it on its head, basically turning the conversation into one that promotes peace and compromise and avoids, blaming and fighting.

[00:19:07] When it comes to the, what happened layer, how do you suggest that we turn it around and stop blaming each other?

[00:19:14] Sheila Heen: Yeah, it's a great question. And I usually. Explain them in this order, but just for fun, I have an instinct. We should do them in the opposite order because the identity conversation is often where I can ground myself and not be so reactive.

[00:19:31] So if I can identify, what does the situation seem to suggest about me? That's so frustrating or upsetting that actually helps me understand why I'm having such a hard time with it. So just a couple of examples. I have a couple of clients who. Ask for things repeatedly. And I have a really hard time saying no, because I think of myself, like part of my story, my identity story is I'm really responsive and I'm very helpful to clients and they always get more than they bargained for.

[00:19:57] Now anytime like their scope creeper, they ask, oh, [00:20:00] could you do add one more thing or could you stay and do the following, could we add this? Saying? No, isn't just saying, no, it feels like I'm not being the person I want to be. But at the same time, I also don't feel like this scope creep is fair and now I feel I'm being taken advantage of.

[00:20:17] So like I've got two identities that are intention and if I can just figure out what's at the heart of it for me often I can be like, oh, okay. Now I get why this is hard. And it's more complicated. Like we hold identity as very either or black or white, like either I'm a generous person, totally selfish and that's of course ridiculous in the real world and in business and family life.

[00:20:37] We have to find a happy medium, and sometimes I might even want to say, look, I love adding whatever we can to make sure you get the most value we possibly can. This does feel like it's beyond what we originally talked about. So let's talk about how to handle that. Now we can talk about some options, but I at least feel more comfortable putting it on the table cause I'm naming it.

[00:20:56] So you were talking about turning each on its head. That's how [00:21:00] I would get a little bit of insight into what's going on with me in the identity conversation. And then that actually changes. The feelings conversation, because it's just easier for me to name the feelings I'm feeling. Yeah. I guess I feel like I'm in a little bit of a dilemma or I don't, I'm not sure actually that I have a solution yet, or it feels to me like this is the kind of thing that we should table for the moment and make sure the first phase goes well, and then we can revisit it, whatever.

[00:21:28] But I can just be very transparent and straightforward about. Feelings, including how I feel treated and how they feel treated so that I can say, I want to make sure that you really walk away feeling like you got your money's worth and that is out of budget. So let's talk about some options so that we can think about together, how to put your money, where it's going to matter most.

[00:21:51] Now we're on the same side solving that problem. And part of that is making sure that they feel well-treated. That then brings us back to the what happened conversation, which is [00:22:00] the first one you talked about turning on its head, but now it's actually easier for me to shift what I'm preoccupied with.

[00:22:08] So rather than being focused on what I'm right about to get curious about why is it that we see this differently? And why does it matter to you? And then let me share why it matters to me, if that's my purpose, instead of proving to you that I'm right. It just changes the whole, my whole stance in the conversation.

[00:22:23] Cause I have a different purpose for it. And that makes it easier for me to shift from blame to thinking about joint contribution. We've probably each done or failed to do some things that got us here. Like you guys have been adding some things. Which I have just included and not flagged, but now we're at the 11th hour and you're wanting to add something that's really important that you might've traded off, but we've already done the previous work.

[00:22:44] So I've contributed to this. That doesn't necessarily mean we don't still have a budget problem. But it doesn't mean I'll take responsibility for my part. And that makes it easier for me to hold you accountable for your part too. And that puts us in a problem solving [00:23:00] stance.

[00:23:00] Hala Taha: Yeah. I think this is like really great advice. And I think that was a great example that you pulled and what really resonates with me. Yeah. And the, what happens stage is your first negotiation is really with yourself.

[00:23:14] Sheila Heen: Totally.

[00:23:14] Hala Taha: Something that you've mentioned in past interviews. And so you really need to start looking at how did I contribute to this?

[00:23:21] How can I look at what they're thinking about differently and see their view a bit more clearly. Cool. So sticking on feelings a bit. Can you explain why our inner voice and exploring our emotional footprint and emotional patterns can help us navigate these difficult conversations better?

[00:23:40] Sheila Heen: Yeah, I think that the role of feelings in life start there, but also in the workplace has really changed in the last 20 years.

[00:23:51] And that's been really interesting to watch where there's a much more awareness of the ways in which. Emotion drives [00:24:00] conversation, but also drives working relationships and, engagement scores and people's commitment and the culture of an organization. And so thinking about. What role are feelings playing in how we work together or how we live together.

[00:24:18] Our friendships, our family relationships can help us get to the heart of what's really going on sometimes because by the time something becomes a difficult conversation. Typically we've got at least two problems. We've got the surface problem, which is what should we do about the budget, or, you know what's a reasonable timeline for this project.

[00:24:36] But if it's starting to feel difficult, chances are. Second deeper problem, which is how we each feel treated when we disagree about things, right? You never listen. Why am I even offering my opinion? I was actually on the phone with a friend last night whose business partner routinely just ignores what she has to say.

[00:24:56] And then it creates all this conflict that [00:25:00] ripples out to everybody below them. And, they had a big conflict about whether. A great idea that the first business partner got super excited about was actually strategically a priority is that where we should be putting all of our time and resources because we're really burning out our staff.

[00:25:18] And I don't think it's necessarily the most important thing we need to do next year. And they had several conversations about it. And then in a public forum, the first person got up and announced, and we're doing this next year. And my friend was like, Am I even here, I feel invisible. This is ridiculous.

[00:25:36] We didn't come to agreement, but you're going to do whatever you want to do. So how I'm feeling treated is maybe the deeper problem and whatever we decide on this particular priority, the surface problem, that deeper problem is going to resurface again and again. So if we're not dealing with the feelings problem, then we're not actually.

[00:25:55] Changing how we work together in order to work together more effectively.

[00:25:59] Hala Taha: [00:26:00] Yeah. That makes total sense. Something else that was really interesting to me is that you say that anger is typically a secondary feeling. Could you explain that a bit?

[00:26:10] Sheila Heen: Something that I learned from others that was pointed out to me, two things, maybe one is anger is often as you say, a secondary feeling and it's prompted by something first.

[00:26:23] So it might be. Hurt or surprise or feeling left out of something like why wasn't I in that conversation when that decision was made and now I'm surprised about it. And then that turns quickly too, and I shouldn't be surprised about it. So now I'm angry. Or I shouldn't be feeling badly treated by you over and over again.

[00:26:44] And now I'm angry with you. And so that translation from either hurt or surprise or embarrassment or anxiety into anger happens so quickly that we don't even notice it. We just know that we're angry and [00:27:00] anger, I think in many workplaces and maybe there's talk that it's more acceptable for men to be angry and less acceptable for women to be angry.

[00:27:09] But anger is more acceptable generally in society then hurt. It's pretty rare for someone to come to a meeting and say, I guess I'm just feeling really hurt that I was left out. That's actually what they're feeling. That's the most important thing, probably that they're feeling. Instead, they make an argument about why they should have been included.

[00:27:28] And it comes out as frustration or anger. And so part of it is just making sure what are the range of feelings I'm feeling? I am also feeling anger, but that's not the only thing. And often there's more subtle. You're usually feeling a bundle of feelings and being more complete about them makes it easier to talk about them.

[00:27:46] So that it's easier to say. I guess I was surprised to hear that this decision had been made. I feel confused about why I wasn't included. In that conversation. And then I wonder whether I'm confused [00:28:00] about whether am I in here or am I yeah. And so I'm frustrated because this isn't the first time it's happened.

[00:28:07] That's a much easier thing to say because you're naming all of the different things that you're feeling and they can then respond to that range of feelings.

[00:28:14] Hala Taha: Yeah. Do you suggest in like a work setting or a business setting that you do show that level of weakness and business?

[00:28:22] Sheila Heen: Yeah. So I'll maybe say two things about it. One is I would make a big distinction between describing emotion and being emotional. So I think it is. Relatively rare that it's a good idea to be emotional at work, meaning yelling, crying, etcetera.

[00:28:40] Hala Taha: Yeah.

[00:28:41] Sheila Heen: But saying very calmly naming feelings, I guess I'm frustrated we're going in circles.

[00:28:47] I'm not understanding why or I feel like you're not listening to what I'm saying. And I can't tell whether you just disagree or you're not really understanding why. I see it this [00:29:00] way. So just naming that actually gets to the heart of it quickly and is coded as quite professional. So I would say that people won't even notice if you get good at that, they won't even notice that you're naming feelings.

[00:29:14] They'll just notice that you're a much easier person to work with because you can talk about anything and figure it out together. So yeah, I am actually suggesting that and I would not actually code that as weakness.

[00:29:25] Hala Taha: Yeah, I agree.

[00:29:26] Sheila Heen: I would code that actually. Yeah. Wow. You're just very transparent and problem focused.

[00:29:31] So I actually am not going to try to put one over on you because you're going to call me on it. And that actually conveys a lot more confidence and strength than trying to hide it.

[00:29:40] Hala Taha: I totally agree. Last question on Difficult Conversations so that we can move on to feedback. I'd like you to share your advice on telling a third story instead of using our own.

[00:29:52] Dave to open up a conversation and how this third story concepts can help us have better conversations.

[00:29:58] Sheila Heen: Yeah. So [00:30:00] the third story really comes out of an observation that how you start the conversation has a big predictive impact on where the conversation is going to end up the outcomes you get. If you listen to the first few minutes, three minutes of a conversation that will highly predict.

[00:30:19] Where you land hours later in some cases. And it's partly because you're really setting the frame about what the conversation is about. And the mistake that we make is that we tend to start the conversation from inside our own story. And inside my story about what's going on, you are the problem. And if you would change, we wouldn't have a problem.

[00:30:39] So I will tend to open the conversation with those things implicit, in what I'm saying, I might say something like. I'll, I think we just need to sit down and talk about whether you're committed to this enterprise or not. Because I'm not sure you're really all in, and that's affecting the business when I cast you as the bad guy on the [00:31:00] problem and describe the problem that way.

[00:31:03] That's not the story that you live. Like you have your own version of what's really going on. And that's not an invitation to a conversation that you're likely to want to take. You're like I don't want to be part of that story. I'm cast as the villain there. So instead of starting inside what we would call the first position, your own story, or even starting inside the other person's story, which leaves yours out, we suggest starting from the third story, which is the way that a mediator or observer might describe.

[00:31:32] And the key word is difference. So if you can think of how would someone describe the difference between us that's leading to this conflict? It might sound something like, Hala I would love to sit down and talk a little bit about the effort that we're each putting into this enterprise, because I wonder whether we have really different assumptions about the time commitment that we're making or the priority that we're putting on it in our lives.

[00:31:59] Yeah. [00:32:00] So my sense is that I'm putting in a lot more time and effort and energy. And that was my assumption that we would both be doing that, but it could be that wasn't your assumption. And so I'm curious to learn more about how you see how things are going and also. Whether you feel like it's working because I'm starting to worry.

[00:32:19] So I'm basically saying, I think we have something that is different here and that is causing a problem. And I would like to talk about it, to both learn more about your perspective and to share my perspective. And by starting in the third story, I'm signaling that both of our stories are part of this conversation.

[00:32:36] It's not all about what you think, and it's not all about what I think it's about putting those together and comparing them and then figuring out what to do. And that starting from the third story.

[00:32:44] Hala Taha: That's one piece of advice that I'm going to implement the next time. I have a difficult conversation for sure.

[00:32:49] That was definitely one of my favorite takeaways I had from the book. So moving on to feedback, like I mentioned previously, you and your coauthor Douglas Stone wrote [00:33:00] Thanks for the Feedback. The Science And Art of Receiving Feedback. I've really enjoyed this topic, so let's just dive right into it.

[00:33:06] Since we're running out of time, negative feedback can be tough. People have a problem receiving negative feedback and tend to shy away from it. Can you tell us why people have such an issue with receiving negative feedback and why receiving this type of feedback is actually really important to our self-development?

[00:33:24] Sheila Heen: Yeah, it's a great question. There's a way in which the feedback. Book and material is really just a deep dive into the identity conversation, right? Because any feedback, particularly negative feedback about who I am or how I'm impacting the people around me in my personal life or my professional life can be among the most painful experiences in our lives.

[00:33:44] And I think. We do at least theoretically, want to learn and grow. And we know from experience as well as because this is what we're supposed to say. That feedback is good for us, like eating your vegetables. And at the same time, [00:34:00] there's a part of us that just really wants to be accepted and respected the way we are now.

[00:34:04] And finding out that how I am now is not totally okay with the people around me is really painful. And so we have all kinds of triggered reactions. When people offer us feedback directly or indirectly, formally, or informally, and those triggered reactions can also get in the way they cause us to reject feedback almost impulsively or immediately so that we're not.

[00:34:29] Able to find whatever value there might be in it, because we're listening for what's wrong with it rather than what might be right about it.

[00:34:37] Hala Taha: Yeah. Let's talk about those triggered reactions a bit. Can you tell us more about truth triggers, relationship triggers and identity triggers?

[00:34:46] Sheila Heen: Yeah, totally. So when feedback is incoming, I think each of us has an instinct to be scanning it for what's wrong.

[00:34:53] What they're saying? Isn't true. And those they're three kinds of things that can be wrong with it are three kinds of triggers that [00:35:00] human beings have when feedback is incoming. So as you say, the first one is truth. Is this feedback. Is that what happened or are you misunderstanding the situation?

[00:35:08] Do you have all the information? Is this good advice? Would it work in the situation? All of that is evaluating the accuracy or the value of the feedback itself. And that's what we call truth trigger. And if I can find something wrong with your feedback then I can set it aside and relax and go on with my life and just rejected outright.

[00:35:30] The second kind of trigger is, as you say, a relationship trigger, and this has everything to do with, who's giving me the feedback because all feedback lives in that relationship between giver and receiver. So I often have a bigger reaction to the who then the what? I don't like you, I don't respect you.

[00:35:46] I don't want to be like you, you don't know what you're talking about or like I trusted you and your. Not being fair to me. So in some way, I'm having a reaction to who is offering me the feedback that is [00:36:00] causing me to reject what they're saying as well. And this is why your best friend can tell you things that nobody else can, but it's also why sometimes the people closest to us can't get through to us because it's just too upsetting, feedback from your spouse.

[00:36:13] I don't even code as Sonos as feedback is just like him being in. And I can hear the very same thing from somebody like a stranger and I just hear it totally differently. Less. It was less threatening and then the last one is identity triggers. And this has to do with our emotional reaction to the feedback, but also our sensitivity to feedback in the course of our research on the the book.

[00:36:35] We came across some evidence suggesting that in terms of sensitivity to feedback, how upset we get and how long it takes us to recover, individual sensitivity can vary by up to 3000%. And then we're all working together on teams together, in families together.

[00:36:52] Having really different reactions to the feedback that we get.

[00:36:56] Hala Taha: Yeah. That was to me. So alarming the fact that these triggered [00:37:00] reactions can vary by 3000%.

[00:37:04] Sheila Heen: What's your instinct about, are you on the more sensitive end or are you. More even keel.

[00:37:09] Hala Taha: You know what? I am very sensitive, but I do notice that oftentimes people give me feedback and I definitely let it roll off my shoulders because I'm very confident at the same time.

[00:37:21] So I'll take feedback sometimes not so seriously where I should probably be listening a little bit harder, but then at the same time, I'm very sensitive. So I think I'm one of the biggest triggers is who is telling me to feedback.

[00:37:33] Sheila Heen: I'm glad you said that because. Although we're saying like, oh, there's as much as a 3000% difference in sensitivity versus being very, even killed.

[00:37:42] Of course, it's more complicated than that. You're always going to be more sensitive about some things, more sensitive to some people there's going to be moments where you quickly dismiss something. And then other moments where even something that's pretty mild, like you totally take to heart and it like scars your soul.

[00:37:58] So it's always [00:38:00] more complicated than that. And then you add. Sort of our physiology, which is sensitivity and reactivity, and it gets complicated pretty quick and it's not better or worse by the way. It's not better or worse to be highly sensitive, generally speaking or under sensitive is just that there are different challenges.

[00:38:22] If you're highly sensitive, You can overreact to feedback, meaning like this, isn't just one thing. It's everything like I've never done anything great, anything decent in my entire life. And our sense of the feedback is supersized and distorted. And in that state, like you can't learn, you have to be able to sort of dismantled the distortions to see the feedback at actual size. Where you can learn from it and not have it threatened who you are.

[00:38:48] Hala Taha: How can we tell if someone might be particularly sensitive to feedback? What are the traits of somebody who might take feedback very poorly?

[00:38:56] Sheila Heen: You're going to probably notice from experience with them.[00:39:00]

[00:39:00] Several people have asked me is there like an app or is there a. Like way I can know. And it's just a more analog answer to that, which is you could ask them one of the most useful things to conversations to have with the people that you work with, including clients, by the way for me is to talk about sensitivity to feedback and how we want to handle feedback.

[00:39:25] In our working relationship or in our personal relationship and serve, talking about sensitivity or here's a couple of my pet peeves about feedback. Here's what I really appreciate. So when you have coaching for me or ideas and suggestions, give them to me right away, or I'd love to talk about them at the end of the day, because then I can sleep on it.

[00:39:46] And I'll probably come back to you with questions, but just having a conversation about how do we work together, and offer each other suggestions and coaching when we have it can be one of the best foundation conversations to have.

[00:39:58] Hala Taha: Yeah. So [00:40:00] last question on this topic, since we're running out of time, I'll just let you give your best advice when it comes to feedback.

[00:40:07] So these triggers that we just mentioned, true triggers, relationship triggers, identity triggers. They don't really go away. We just have to deal with them. So what's your advice on dealing with these in the most positive way?

[00:40:18] Sheila Heen: Yeah. So probably the thing that helps me the most in the moment is to notice my trigger reaction, but not to let that be the end of the story. Like the fact that I can find something wrong with it doesn't mean that there isn't also something right about it. You're always going to be, I'll find something wrong with any piece of feedback that you get. And it could even be, 80 or 90% wrong, but the last 10 or 20% might be something would be useful.

[00:40:45] For you to keep thinking about, so I try to notice my triggered reaction, but then get curious to ask more questions about what my giver means. What do they want me to do differently? What is that I'm [00:41:00] doing? That's giving them the impression that they have, what were they hoping for? So I need to actually lean into the conversation and just learn more and not decide now whether they're right or wrong, or I accept the feedback or I'm rejecting the feedback.

[00:41:12] Just hold that question, set it aside for a moment and then ask a bunch of questions to listen for both. What's wrong with feedback. Cause I'm going to notice that right away. But also to listen for what might be right about it. And to always have both of those questions in mind. And if I walk away confused to go to someone I trust to say, Hey, I just got some feedback that it feels unfair.

[00:41:36] I can't quite figure out, can you help me sort through it? Let's go out and for a beer or a glass of wine and we can vent about what's wrong with their feedback and how unreasonable they're being. But then when I'm ready, can you help me see what might be right about it and what I should pay attention to?

[00:41:52] Maybe there, I don't agree with our solution and I don't think it would work, but they're pointing out a problem that might be a bigger problem than I thought it was. [00:42:00] So I'll find my own solution, but that's what might be right about it, which is there's something I wasn't paying close enough attention to as an example.

[00:42:07] And that stance I think has really changed the way that I think about feedback and hopefully respond to other people when they do offer me something.

[00:42:18] Hala Taha: Totally great advice. We ask a question to everybody who comes on the show. What would you say is your secret to profiting in life?

[00:42:27] Sheila Heen: I'm gonna probably say something that a lot of other people have said, which is, find something that you love doing, because then you're going to want to be the best in the world at it.

[00:42:39] And once you get really good. It becomes valuable to other people. So maybe I'll add one more thing on the negotiation front that maybe others haven't said, which is one of the hardest conversations I notice is about money, right? The services I'm offering you, what are they worth? And [00:43:00] recognizing that number one conversations about money are always about more than just money.

[00:43:05] They're also. Identity and emotion and what money represents to me in terms of self-worth or freedom or success or respect. So that's one thing to keep in mind. And then the second thing is I should just be looking to other criteria for what the market says this is worth. And that's an easier thing for me too, argue and defend, which is, this is what this work is worth.

[00:43:34] And I can point to a lot of other criteria. It's not just what I want. It's the value that you're doing. And we'll align the budget around the value that we're able to provide or what you would pay others for this in the market. And that actually helps remove sort of the identity conversation a little bit from the negotiation because I'm pointing to other objective criteria

[00:44:00] that help you also explain why this contractor, this deal is fair and you're getting your money worth.

[00:44:06] Hala Taha: Oh, I really like that. And just quick question, I had Chris Voss on the show. He wrote, Never Split The Difference of the perspective that you should never compromise on your price. What's your view on that?

[00:44:18] Sheila Heen: That was a strong statement who never compromise on your price. We try to price really consistently across clients.

[00:44:26] And that enables us to say, we want to be fair to everyone. So it's not fair to someone else. If you get this for less, but I'm totally happy to work with you. On scope so we can do less or we can staff it differently or we can, let's prioritize what's most important. And we'll find a budget that works for you.

[00:44:46] I, Chris may not code that as compromising, that may be consistent with what he's saying, which I suspect is what he means. But I think that the never compromise is a way to get people's attention because I think we're a little [00:45:00] too quick sometimes to give in just because someone asked, could I get this for that?

[00:45:05] And I tend to say Great question. We can definitely do something for less. Let's talk about what we could do for less, but now we're talking about scope as well as money.

[00:45:15] Hala Taha: That makes sense. And where can our listeners go to learn more about you and everything that you do?

[00:45:19] Sheila Heen: If you just Google my name, Sheila Heen, you will come up with our website

[00:45:26] We have a nav at the very top of the page called help yourself. That has a bunch of free resources that you can use. And you can also learn just a little bit more about the various things that we do.

[00:45:35] Hala Taha: Awesome. Sheila, thank you so much for coming on Young And Profiting Podcast.

[00:45:39] Sheila Heen: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:45:41] Hala Taha: Thanks for listening to Young And Profiting Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to leave us a review or comment on your favorite platform. Follow YAP on Instagram @youngandprofiting and check us out at And now you can chat live. Every single day on the YAP Society on Slack, check out our show [00:46:00] notes or for the registration link.

[00:46:02] And if you're already active on YAP society, share the wealth and invite your friends. You can find me on Instagram @yapwithhala or LinkedIn, just search for my name. Hala Taha big, thanks to the YAP team as always stay blessed and I'll catch you next time. This is Hala signing off.

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