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Whether You Re Dealing With An Under Performing Employee, Disagreeing With Your Spouse About Money Or Child Rearing, Negotiating With A Difficult Client, Or Simply Saying No, Or I M Sorry, Or I Love You, We Attempt Or Avoid Difficult Conversation Every Day Based On Fifteen Years Of Research At The Harvard Negotiation Project, Difficult Conversations Walks You Through A Step By Step Proven Approach To Having Your Toughest Conversations With Less Stress And Success You Will Learn How To Start The Conversation Without Defensiveness Why What Is Not Said Is As Important As What Is Ways Of Keeping And Regaining Your Balance In The Face Of Attacks And Accusations How To Decipher The Underlying Structure Of Every Difficult ConversationFilled With Examples From Everyday Life, Difficult Conversations Will Help You On Your Job, At Home, Or Out Of The World It Is A Book You Will Turn To Again And Again For Advice, Practical Skills, And Reassurance


10 thoughts on “Difficult Conversations

  1. says:

    Difficult Conversations is a how to self help book on negotiating conflict in emotionally loaded discussions between two people Authored by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project which sounds awfully prestigious , the book is lucid and accessible.A difficult conversation, according to Stone et al, is anything you find it hard to talk about Sexuality, race, gender, politics, and religion come quickly to mind as difficult topics to discuss, and for many of us they are But discomfort and awkwardness are not limited to topics on the editorial page Anytime we feel vulnerable or our self esteem is implicated, when issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain, when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it, there is potential for us to experience the conversation as difficult.Per the authors, there are three dimensions to a difficult conversation practical substance the What Happened conversation , emotional or inter personal subtext, and identity or inner personal subtext Pointing out something that s both obvious and easy to miss, Stone et al point out that difficult conversations are rarely about what s true so much as they re about what s important, and a lot of trouble can be saved when participants are careful to distinguish between factual claims and value claims The What Happened conversation consists of the concrete matter of dispute, such as a friend s drug abuse or a boss bullying Stone et al urge readers to keep in mind that facts fit into a story, and disagreements usually stem from different stories rather than conflicting facts To get past this, it s important to be clear about what happened according to you, including the assumptions, values, and past experiences which inform your story and of course it s just as important to clearly understand the other person s what happened story, and where they re coming from For example, an undocumented migrant laborer and a member of the Romney clan will have very different life experiences to inform their views on, say, the police This doesn t mean both are equally right it just means that if you want to communicate, you ve gotta get clear about what you re saying and what the other person s saying Because at bottom, difficult conversations are about feelings This sounds a little hippie woo woo, sure, but when you think about it, what could be obvious than the fact that emotionally difficult conversations are difficult because of the emotions at their core If anger is what s getting in the way of a productive exchange, then you ve gotta deal with anger and the brew of other emotions which are almost always simmering underneath it.And these strong emotions which can make conversations so difficult are connected not only to the other person, but to internal issues of self image, confidence, and identity Your correspondent can report that in his own emotional travails, the times when he s gotten pissy and brutal have been only weakly correlated to something shitty the other person did When I m internally okay, it s hard for other people to hurt me Incidents of pissy brutality strongly correlate, on the other hand, to my own shame, inadequacy, etc When I m hurting and desperate, I ll find something to be angry about Anger is an easier emotion to handle than self loathing or incompetence like a nation which goes to war rather than address domestic inequality, getting pissed off is a way to dodge your own spiritual self improvement.So those are the three conversations the What Happened conversation, the emotions conversation, and the identity conversation The three bleed into each other like pages of a damp sketchpad, with What Happened You tattled on me to the boss serving as an unconscious metaphor for emotional I feel betrayed, hurt, angry, and confused and identity I fear that other people don t value me or take me seriously subtext Again, this all sounds really whiny and touchy feeling, like a new age inner child symposium complete with re birthing ceremonies and Song of Myself creative re writes But, again, here s the juice people fundamentally act based on emotion and self identity We are not a species of Spocks we are a species of McCoys If you want to ignore emotions, you re free to emulate the hollow machismo of Sly Stallone and the GOP but if you want to have productive conversations about blood pressure raising topics, you ve gotta address identity and emotions And if you want to behave rationally, you ve gotta manage your emotions first You cannot will yourself to emotional balance This means doing stuff like learning to listen to your own emotions, and thinking hard about which emotions you ve learned are appropriate and which are taboo, and thinking about how you ve learned to express your emotions.Strategies for hearing where the other person is coming from, and for difficultly conversing in general, include Shut up and listen Don t pretend to listen, don t interrupt, don t nod while thinking about how you re going to respond Listen If you re too keyed up and can t listen, then say so What you re saying is important to me and I want to hear it But I m having a hard time concentrating on what you re saying, because I feel really angry and cornered right now Having put that out there, I d like to try again to hear what you ve got to say Ask questions real questions, not statements cloaked as rhetorical questions or cross examination questions designed to show the internal contradiction in what the other person is saying Genuinely try to understand where the other person is coming from Paraphrase what you re hearing from them, to make sure you ve got it right What s their story What s at stake for them What s the cost for them to accept your version of the story Find common ground between your story and theirs by thinking of how a disinterested observer might describe things Jesse smokes a pack a day He does this because cigarettes help him deal with stress and depression, and he s afraid of failing if he tries to quit His sister Joan hates that he smokes because of smoking s health effects, plus she finds cigarettes gross Stone et al call this the Third Story You can talk about What Happened and how it was perceived and felt by both parties in neutral terms indeed, that s often what we mean when we refer to reality it s just consensus perception Doing this gets all the important pieces out in the open without triggering anyone Acknowledge what you hear from them Sometimes someone really just needs to be hears I hear that you were hurt by what I did Sometimes that s all you need And by the way, acknowledging agreeing or ceding your view Beware either or dichotomies Speaking of neither either nor or, you should make it a habit to say and instead of either or in difficult conversations I didn t finish the assignment by the deadline AND I thought I communicated clearly that I was behind schedule AND I hear you when you say that you didn t find that to be clearly communicated AND part of why I was behind was the other extra work you asked me to do AND I can see how it impacts you for me to miss the deadline ANDetc As Whitman put it, Do I contradict myself Very well, I contradict myself I am large, I contain multitudes Don t oversimplify the issue, like politicians do e.g Either you support the war, or you don t love America Recognize the smorgasbord of facts, observations, values, interpretations, etc which inform both you and the other person Disentangle intent from impact what the other person meant to do what their effect was You know what their impact was you don t know what their intent was At the same time, good intentions don t sanitize bad impact think of drunk driving Own your impact Don t refrain from re framing Figure out how to frame the issue in a way that s accurate and rings true while also allowing you to work toward a solution The difference between I m a useless scumhole junkie and I struggle with addiction is nothing other than framing, but that difference is the basis of recovery Name the Dynamic if there s some sort of pattern which keeps the conversation from moving forward the other person keeps cutting you off, or changing the subject you can make that pattern itself a topic of the conversation I ve noticed that several times when I ve started to talk about the class schedule, you ve interrupted me Does that seem accurate to you Can you think of what might be causing that The downside of this tactic is that it distracts the conversation e.g about the class schedule into a meta conversation Work on a solution together, as a joint exploration Consider alternatives and compromises, and always try to work on the assumption that the other person is acting in good faith and on honest purposes recall their impact their intentions.Blame vs ContributionDon t talk about blame talk about contributions to the problem This is philosophy 101 stuff, but the difference between having caused something vs being responsible for something is massive Cause is about the chain of events which lead to some outcome Responsibility or blame is a complex, socially constructed ethical claim Think again of a drunk driver who runs over a pedestrian it s obvious that the driver is responsible or blameworthy for the accident But it s also obvious that the pedestrian contributed to the accident by walking across the street similarly, the driver s friends contributed by not doing to keep him from drinking and driving Talking about blame is useful if the goal of the conversation is figuring out who to punish But if your goal is to problem solve, then talking about contribution instead of blame frees you from decreeing a judgment and lets you concentrate on the practical question of, What can we change to fix this in the future Concentrating on blame also prevents the conversation from addressing systems of contribution, by focusing on individual actors for example, it s much easier to blame Romney or Obama or whoever than it is to think about the complex web of contribution which causes the US government to behave in the way that it does That doesn t mean you shouldn t get angry, just that your anger should be directed toward finding solutions rather than scapegoats Also, when you try to raise the issue of contributions during a difficult conversation, own your contributions to the problem first, then explain what you think they contributed This may take the other person off the defensive and make them open to hearing about their own contribution, because it signals that you re not trying to cast them as the sole villain And always make your reasoning explicit Here s what I think you contributed, and here s why I think that 3 Facts About Yourself Which Are Helpful to Keep In Mind1 I will make mistakes 2 My intentions are complex 3 I have contributed to the problem 4 Ways to Regain Balance When You Feel a Mel Gibson level Freakout Coming On1 Let go of trying to control their reaction That s outside your power.2 Prepare emotionally, ahead of time for their response.3 Imagine yourself in the distant future, to get some perspective on just how important this conversation really is.4 Take a break if you need it.4 Liberating Assumptions1 It s not my responsibility to make things better it s my responsibility to try my best.2 They have limitations, too 3 This conflict is not about who I am 4 Letting go doesn t mean I no longer care Bonus I am the ultimate authority on me how I feel, what I value, how I m affected, etc 3 Purposes In a Conversation That Work 1 Learning the other person s story.2 Expressing your views and feelings.3 Problem solving together.4 Convincing the other person it s their fault, thus proving you re an impeccable badass Even If You Can t Work It OutKeep in mind that all this hippie dippy stuff about listening to the other person s story and exploring feelings and reframing blame into contribution doesn t mean you cave into whatever they want you to do Contra John McCain, there is a difference between listening to someone you disagree with and consenting to their demands You can make strong demands on someone without acting like a bully or a blowhard.If you do end up without an amenable solution, be clear about what you re doing and why Don t be passive aggressive be calm assertive While I think I understand why you want me to stay, I m still going to leave this company in two weeks As I ve said, the pay is better, and I don t feel confident enough about working conditions here for me to stay on But I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this with meetc.


  2. says:

    I read this on a recommendation from a friend who gave it to me on a list of business books to read But it was so much It gives you a great framework for thinking through why people have communication issues whether in personal or professional relationships.The best piece of advice that stuck with me is to always explain where you are coming from in a discussion I did it this way because Sometimes we think its obvious and it isn t, and it always helps the conversation when people understand your reasoning.


  3. says:

    My husband and I both have ADHD, and that makes for some major communication challenges This book will help anyone get a better handle on tricky interactions It should be required reading for anyone who hasn t done mediation or communication training I have, but still learned a lot.Difficult Conversations separates readers from our own narrative and reveals the reasons underlying others hot headed and often baffling reactions.Buyer beware, though this isn t the only book you ll ever need to go happily on your way to communication mastery Difficult Conversations provides a solid foundation to understand what contributes to communication meltdowns It won t help you use the skills in real time or, most important, widen the gap between stimulus and response To be successful, you ll need to recognize and inhibit knee jerk reactions before they leave your mouth You ll also need to remember your new communication skills in the moment This is easier said that done.As a result, I experienced a lot of frustration as I read this book Every chapter feels like well articulated common sense, which makes the difficulty of implementation all the demoralizing ADHD adults and other communication challenged people embarking on this journey will need a partner willing to endure a lot of practice, reflection, and setbacks.That said, Difficult Conversations still provided an indispensable Step One on the path to better relationships full review at


  4. says:

    You know that book that you recommend to everyone because you feel so strongly it can help anyone change their life in profound ways This one is mine It sat in my book pile for years and I would pick it up and put it down I wish I had truly read it years earlier and I wish the same for you In case you re wondering, yes I have used what I learned in this book on you If you re lucky I ll use it on you again in the future.


  5. says:

    I don t read many self help books any and apparently according to Goodreads I ve already read this one before and rated it 3 stars.This time it goes up to 4 stars And I found it so interesting and potentially helpful I replaced my library copy with a tree one as soon as I finished.I m not good at having difficult conversations I do everything the authors say will happen if you avoid them complain to my family, friends, co workers Anything to avoid confronting the object of my discomfort And in the past, when I have tried to deal directly with someone, I have either blown up in self righteous anger or retreated in self blame.So this book offers a third path Lots of concrete suggestions as to how to make these conversations work avoiding blame and replacing it with contributions that come from both sides starting from a third story what a mediator might see as having happened listening with genuine curiosity, and knowing how one s own identity gets triggered in these kinds of conversations.Lots of interesting scenarios And answers to questions the authors have fielded in the past.I want to reread this one and take notes Then try it out at work.


  6. says:

    I constantly recommend this book to friends, family and colleagues It was introduced to me in a negotiations class and I learned the most from this book over any other book I was made to read in my graduate studies Although everyone would benefit from this book I especially recommend this book to women for a particular reason Female characteristics and emotions such as empathy and sensitivity can be great assets in life don t let men tell you otherwise However, especially in the male dominated upper echelons of Corporate North America, it is important that we women know how to set those emotions aside and be equal powers at the discussion table While many of us will naturally mature and learn from our mentors, this book will give you some tools that will put you way ahead of the game in terms of these critical skills The evidence is out there One of the reasons women are consistently paid less than men is because we avoid or aren t as strong at the difficult conversations that matter most negotiating our raises, advocating for ourselves and taking credit for our accomplishments So by that logic, reading this book will make you money in your career


  7. says:

    Although some of the tips may sound a little corny, I think this is a great book for pretty much everyone to read I definitely noticed a lot of the negative traps I fall into and I want to try some of the new tips suggested in the book.


  8. says:

    I cannot recommend this book enough Clear, precise, to the point, it does exactly what it sets out to do.Although the book comes too late to save many a conversation I wish I d never had, but hopefully I ll be able to manage my conversations skillfully in the future.


  9. says:

    It s a brilliant book that tells how humans sometimes fail to create impact in conversation because they fail to see the point of view of other people.


  10. says:

    This is a true missing manual Contains so many effective strategies for getting to the heart of difficult issues and exploring them collaboratively I ve noticed that some books in communication have manipulative approaches for influencing others , so I like how this one focuses on genuinely trying to understand the other person and how to express yourself in a way that is productive.Overall, very insightful Definitely will be able to use some of these tips on a daily basis.