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!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

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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.


“You know that hand mirror that you find in barbershops or hair salons? The reason we use that shape of mirror is because when the barber or the hairstylist shows it to you, they’re showing you the back of your head. They spin you around so that you can look in the mirror and see something that you can’t see by yourself. Being an honest mirror is asking a friend to help you see what might be right about this feedback.”

— Sheila Heen

“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.”

— Sheila Heen

“Part of what you’re trying to figure out when you’re dating is . . . ‘Who am I in this relationship as it’s starting to develop? Do I like the way that I am in this relationship and the way I’m showing up?’”

— Sheila Heen

“There’s a point where you have to decide, ‘If I assume this person is not going to change, can I live with that? Can we each live with that?’”

— Sheila Heen

“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.”

— Sheila Heen

“For some people, part of what makes them feel safe or secure or reassured in a relationship is to rock the boat. I’ve had some relationships like that, [where] rocking the boat so that we have something to process helps me feel connected to you. It’s redemonstrating that you care. And that processing, emotional processing, goes to a place that feels comfortable to me and feels reassuring to me.”

— Sheila Heen


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.

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

  1. Sheila Heen episode: The best way to learn something is to teach it: you Should write a relationship book, and give yourself a 3 month deadline… you can always overwrite it later with a 2nd edition, or even just title it with the caveat “My 2023 relationship strategies and presumptions”

  2. I am going to listen to this episode again. I think of myself as an excellent communicator, but lately I’ve been realizing that I might have some blind spots.

    Definitely realizing that I’m difficult to be in a relationship with because of my general anxiety and need for reassurance. Something I must be more aware of in my future relationships.

    On the topic of lasting relationships- I found this podcast episode to be very helpful. I’m single/divorced at the age of 49 for many reasons, but one of them is that I desire a good sexual relationship with my partner, not just a comfortable existence with routine sex (I kept my ex husband happy by initiating sex every 2-3 days for all of our 7 years together- but only out of obligation, not because I really wanted it).

  3. Hi Tim – hope all is well sir and thanks for all your amazing work.

    I recently listened to some of the speeches at the Texas Business Hall of Fame ceremony last week (for which I hope you are inducted one day) and wanted to highlight this amazing speech from Daniel Lubetzky, founder of KIND snacks and the Starts with Us movement. Incredible words and hope to hear him on your podcast one day (you guys can tape in Austin as neighbors!). All the best. Steve

    [Moderator: YouTube link to “Daniel Lubetzky – Acceptance Speech 2023” removed per embed policy.]

  4. Tim, I loved the dialectic discussion you and Sheila were having. Writing books are about the reader so a if a message is not communicating well .. it just isn’t. At the heart of it, something struck me that brought together the example of readers reaction to the contribution of someone experiencing sexual harassment with the example of friends thinking that “feedback” means encouragement. Society often decides what things are the “only” acceptable reaction to certain things. Nuance is often lost in society. I think this is partially because with so many people, there will be (many) people who get it wrong.

    Interestingly, sexual abuse is on the short list issues that has an agreed upon response: “don’t blame the victim.” Meanwhile, there are other (even similar) issues where it’s ok to have a mixed response. Also, this notion that friends need to be only encouraging and validating likely stems from the avoidance of (American) society’s “hater” label, even in close personal relationships.

    I wonder if public reaction to the sexual harassment would have been different if it were presented as autobiographic. Were people defending the person Sheila wrote about, not knowing that she clearly didn’t need defending? I wonder if the reaction would have been different if the sex of the victim and harasser were reversed. Are we wired to protect women at all costs, especially considering focusing on “contribution” has historically kept the more vulnerable women of the 1900s in abusive relationships?