Sheila HeenDifficult Conversations

Lesson 4: In this GrowthTrack session, you will learn how to identify the complex feelings and identity issues that are triggered in when we are in conflict.

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Whenever we engage in conflict, the difficult conversations we need to have operate on multiple levels. Last week, we looked at the What Happened? Conversation—and how our perceptions color the way we view the “facts”. This week, we’ll explore the ways that difficult conversations trigger complex feelings and identity issues inside of us.

Watch the two videos below. Then go through the reflection questions.

The Complicated Feelings in a Difficult Conversation

What are some strategies to become more self-aware of the complex feelings you are bringing to a difficult conversation?

How Your Identity is Impacted by a Difficult Conversation

Conflict often threatens aspects of our core self-identity. In this clip, Sheila Heen explores the challenges of black-and-white thinking and how being able to embrace the ‘and’ will allow us to shift to a learning stance.

Talk about how all-or-nothing thinking affects The Identity Conversation. What are some ways we can “complexify” our identities?




Reflect on the feelings you bring to your difficult conversation.

1. What feelings do you bring to this conversation? List them out in your journal.

2. Sheila suggested that we try adopting the “and stance”. How are your feelings “complex”?

3. What feelings do you think the other person is bringing to the conversation?


Think about how your difficult conversation is impacting your identity.

1.  Sheila suggested we fill in the following sentence with three adjectives and then flipping it with opposite adjectives. Try that exercise right now with the adjectives that apply to your difficult conversation.

  • If I know nothing more about myself, I know I am _______________.
    Opposite Adjective: ___________________
  • If I know nothing more about myself, I know I am _______________.
    Opposite Adjective: ___________________
  • If I know nothing more about myself, I know I am _______________.
    Opposite Adjective: ___________________


2. What do those adjectives say about the aspects of your core identity that are being triggered.


3. What identity labels might the other person be struggling with?


4. How can you complexify your self-image in this situation? (i.e., not all-or-nothing)


You have completed a lot of preparation for your difficult conversation. Now’s the time to follow through on your commitment to have it.

1. Pray beforehand.

2. Bring your notes about the three conversations.

3. Focus on making the conversation a learning experience and truly understanding the other person’s story.

4. Be prepared that all issues might not be resolved at the end of one conversation. The peace-making process takes time. Know that your conversation is an important step on the journey.

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