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Sheila Heen  

CEO of Triad Consulting; Lecturer at Harvard Law School; Co-Author of "Difficult Conversations" & "Thanks for the Feedback"

Sheila Heen specializes in particularly challenging conversations, where emotions run high and relationships are frayed. She offers the insight and skills to tackle the conversations and conflicts that leaders face every day.

She is a 20-year member of the world-renowned Harvard Negotiation Project, a Harvard faculty member and co-author of two New York Times best sellers.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is used by leaders all over the world and has even been loaded onto the International Space Station to help astronauts collaborate effectively in that high-stakes, high-pressure environment. Named one of 50 psychology classics alongside Freud and Jung, Difficult Conversations was also named by Penguin as one of the most important books it has ever published.

In the revolutionary Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila brings a fresh perspective to our universal struggles with feedback in every organization by recognizing that in any exchange between giver and receiver, it’s the receiver who is in charge. It’s the receiver who decides what to let in, how to make sense of it, and whether and how to choose to change. The key to accelerating your own learning, as well as the culture of feedback on your team, is understanding the universal challenges of receiving feedback well. From examining our conflicted relationship with feedback, to identifying the triggers that create defensiveness and denial, Sheila’s highly interactive sessions bring insight, practical tools and concrete skills for transforming your own relationship with feedback.

A sought-after commentator and writer, her articles have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, O, The Oprah Magazine, the New York Times, Fortune and Real Simple. She has been featured on NPR and FOX News, Wharton Leadership Radio, CNBC’s Power Lunch and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her corporate clients span six continents and a dozen industries, including banking, defense, consumer goods, mining, insurance, IT, pharma and biotech, education and media/entertainment. In the public sector, she has provided training for the New England Organ Bank, the Singapore Supreme Court, Greek and Turkish Cypriots grappling with the conflict that divides their island, and theologians struggling with disagreement over the nature of truth and God.

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

Speech Topics

Speaking Up

Speaking up clearly and effectively is a critical skill for leaders and team members alike. When people can’t speak up to raise a concern or disagree with the decision in the meeting itself, you have to attend the meeting after the meeting to find out whether you have actual alignment or covert opposition. These all-too-common dynamics can compromise safety, divide teams, waste time and energy, result in poor decision-making or in decisions not being made at all.

And yet, even highly accomplished professionals struggle with the decision to speak up, to communicate decisions clearly or engage disagreement effectively. Meaningful improvement on this front must go beyond motivation, beyond the simple exhortation to “be assertive” or “encourage your team to speak their mind.” It must start by understanding why even confident, well-respected professionals hesitate. Smart leaders worry about creating tension, slowing progress, creating defensiveness, violating cultural norms, or being perceived as a troublemaker or not a team player. And what if they’re wrong about their concerns?

In this session, we examine four common roadblocks to our ability to speak up and offer a menu of options to help each leader create an atmosphere where they and others speak up in ways that will be heard and move the conversations forward.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Leaders, managers, colleagues and direct reports face difficult conversations every day, and as leaders become more senior, they spend more and more of their time tackling difficult conversations. These difficult conversations—conflicts between functions or geographies with key alliance partners or your biggest clients—are the complex messes that get kicked upstairs because no one below has clear answers. Handling these conversations efficiently is no longer just a good idea, it’s integral to the success of each leader, their division and ultimately, the entire organization. Failure comes at a high cost—conflicts that fester and consume energy, sap creativity and destroy teamwork.

Based on 20 years of work at the Harvard Negotiation Project, this session provides a framework for understanding why some of our most important conversations are so hard, examines the common mistakes we all make, and offers a step-by-step method for handling them with less anxiety and better results. Tailored to the day-to-day challenges leaders face, this session offers insight and strategies for looking beneath the surface to understand disagreement, increase accountability, and manage your own reactions when under stress.

Thanks for the Feedback (Even When It’s Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood)

High performance, collaboration and innovation rely on honest, continuous feedback. Yet every organization and every leader on earth struggles with performance feedback in one way or another. Honest feedback isn’t given, or if it is, it is met with defensiveness or demotivation. The usual solution—teaching managers how to give feedback more effectively—has failed to solve the problem. Sheila Heen turns conventional wisdom on its head and demonstrates why the smart money is on teaching leaders how to receive feedback well themselves and becoming role models for what they value and expect from those around them. Sheila’s warmth and authenticity helps even seasoned executives recognize their own (normal, human) triggered reactions to feedback: “that's just wrong,” “who asked you?” or “I’m not the real problem here.” She offers practical advice for turning even unskilled, crazy-making feedback into genuine learning. And once you get leaders motivated and eager to learn—willing to engage with others to see their blind spots and look at their own areas for growth—you get a modeling effect that quickly catches fire.

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