Sheila Heen is a founder of Triad Consulting Group and a lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.
Heen’s corporate clients include MITRE, BAE Systems, HSBC, Tatweer of Dubai, Unilever, the Federal Reserve Bank, Standard Bank of South Africa, Merck, 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.
Heen has spent the last 20 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. Heen is co-author of the New York Times business best sellers Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Penguin 2000), and 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) (Viking/Penguin 2014).
One of the side benefits of writing Difficult Conversations has been the chance to appear on shows as diverse as Oprah and The G. Gordon Liddy Show, NPR’s Diane Rehms Show, FOX News, and CNBC’s Power Lunch.
Heen is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Harvard Law School. She is schooled in negotiation daily by her three children.
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.
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.
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.
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