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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most Paperback – April 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014028852X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140288520
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

We've all been there: We know we must confront a coworker, store clerk, or friend about some especially sticky situation--and we know the encounter will be uncomfortable. So we repeatedly mull it over until we can no longer put it off, and then finally stumble through the confrontation. Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, offers advice for handling these unpleasant exchanges in a manner that accomplishes their objective and diminishes the possibility that anyone will be needlessly hurt. The authors, associated with Harvard Law School and the Harvard Project on Negotiation, show how such dialogues actually comprise three separate components: the "what happened" conversation (verbalizing what we believe really was said and done), the "feelings" conversation (communicating and acknowledging each party's emotional impact), and the "identity" conversation (expressing the situation's underlying personal meaning). The explanations and suggested improvements are, admittedly, somewhat complicated. And they certainly don't guarantee positive results. But if you honestly are interested in elevating your communication skills, this book will walk you through both mistakes and remedies in a way that will boost your confidence when such unavoidable clashes arise. --Howard Rothman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bringing together the insights of such diverse disciplines as law, organizational behavior, cognitive, family and social psychology and "dialogue" studies, Stone, Patton and Heen, who teach at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Negotiation Project, illustrate how to handle the challenges involved in effectively resolving "difficult conversations," whether in an interpersonal, business or political context. While many of their points are simplisticAdon't ignore your feelings, consider the other person's intentions, take a break from the situationAthey're often overlooked in stressful moments. Most useful are the strategies for disarming the impulse to lay blame and for exploring one's own contribution to a tense situation. Also of value are specific recommendations for bringing emotions directly into a difficult discussion by talking about them and paying attention to the way they can subtly inform judgments and accusations. If these recommendations aren't followed, the authors contend, emotions will seep into the discussion in other, usually damaging, ways. Stone, Patton and Heen illustrate their points with anecdotes, scripted conversations and familiar examples in a clear, easy-to-browse format. While "difficult conversations" may not have the intrinsic appeal of the Harvard Negotiation Project's previous bestseller, Getting to Yes, this book is a cogent resource for those who see the sense in preparing for tough talks in advance. Agent, Esther Newberg. Ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: Patton is the co-author of Getting to Yes.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Sheila Heen has been with the Harvard Negotiation Project for twenty years, teaching negotiation and difficult conversations at Harvard Law School and in Harvard's executive education programs.

She is also CEO of Triad Consulting in Harvard Square, where she specializes in working with executive teams on issues where there is strong disagreement and emotions run high. She has worked with corporate clients on six continents, with the US White House, the Singapore Supreme Court, and with theologians with disagreements on the nature of truth and God.

Visit Sheila and Doug's author page at www.stoneandheen.com, and Triad Consulting at www.triadconsultinggroup.com.

Sheila's husband, John Richardson, also teaches negotiation -- down the street at MIT. He is the author of "Negotiation Analysis" with Howard Raiffa and of "Getting it Done" with Roger Fisher and Alan Sharpe. They are both schooled in negotiation daily by their three children.

Customer Reviews

Difficult Conversations is a great book for learning how to communicate.
Staci Sheldon
This book provides a conceptual framework within which to understand difficult conversations.
Michael Gering
This book is well written, easy to read, and full of very good, "real life" examples.
K. Sink

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

273 of 281 people found the following review helpful By Billykev on October 30, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
There were 3 aspects of this book that made a differecne for me: Thinking Differently, Making Shifts, and understanding the Structure found in all difficult conversations. If you understand these aspects it will significantly improve how well you handle difficult conversations.
This is about Thinking Differently-- 1. This is an approach. 2. It's not about doing differently; it's about thinking differently. 3. It's about shifting from a message delivery stance to a learning stance. 4. All difficult conversations have the same structure. The structure is almost always "below the surface." It is hidden in what people are thinking and feeling, but not saying.
Shifts (with this approach)-- We must shift our internal orientation: FROM: Certainty (I understand) TO: Curiosity (Help me understand); FROM: I am right TO: I am curious; FROM: I know what was intended TO:I know the impact; FROM: I know who is to blame TO: I know who contributed what; FROM: Debate TO: Exploration; FROM: Simplicity TO: Complexity; FROM: "Either/or" TO: "And".
Understanding the Structure-- 1. All difficult conversations share a common structure. To make the structure visible, we not only need to understand what was said, but also what was not said. We need to understand what the people involved are thinking and feeling, but not saying to each other. This is usually where the real action is. 2. What makes a conversation difficult? The gap between what you are really thinking and what you are saying is part of it. 3. Our thoughts and feelings of all difficult conversations fall into the same three categories, or "conversations". 4. And, in each of the conversations, we make predictable errors that distort our thoughts and feelings and get us in trouble. 5.
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129 of 136 people found the following review helpful By M. A. ZAIDI on April 10, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Everyone of us has gone through difficult conversations, arguments that were leading no where or felt that we were unjustifiably being taken advantage of. The solution - read this book. The authors have done a remarkable work in presenting conversations (real examples) that we can relate to. They educate the reader with the pitfalls and means o avoid them.
In difficult conversations the participants generally fall trap to the three common crippling assumptions which are:
1. The Truth assumption : I am right you are wrong
2. The Intention Invention : When the other persons intentions are unclear a common perception is
that they are bad
3. The Blame Frame : Blame the other produces disagreement, denial and little learning
The authors map a path by showing how to avoid the pitfalls when facing a difficult conversation and come out as a winner. In our life we prepare for almost every thing, like schooling and college for career etc. it is somewhat surprising that conversations that truly are a means to progress we spend little time on; this is one of the books in this area. I highly recommend that you read it.
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76 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Alice Stamm on May 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Isn't there someone you've been wanting to discuss something with for years and, for one reason or another, couldn't broach the subject? Perhaps the subject is sensitive. Perhaps the other person isn't easy to communicate with. Perhaps you, yourself, want to avoid what you know will be a confrontational situation. I've had this problem for years with someone about a subject that needed clarification. No matter how many scenarios I mulled over in my mind in anticipation of having this conversation, they all pointed to disaster.
Not only did I read "Difficult Conversations" from cover to cover, but have already employed the authors' suggestions in broaching a sensitive subject with a family member. After years of worrying about the potential horrific reactions, I was able to elicit a positive response. The other party didn't become defensive, but, rather, wonderfully receptive to what had been preying on my mind for years.
If you're worrying about having one of those difficult conversations, believe me, it's needless. Pick up a copy of this very clearly written and powerfully effective book and discover that no conversation has to be difficult as long as you have the right attitude and tools.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Andrew A. Hoover on February 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
Stone, Patton and Bruce have written a very useful and critical work on the dynamics of all conversations - the ones we've had and regret; the ones we don't have, because they seem too risky; and the ones we need to have to enhance our personal and professional relationships. They argue that there are three categories of conversations, which encompass every aspect of what transpires in our daily exchanges. They are: (1) The "what happened?" conversation (2) The feelings conversation and (3) The identity conversation. We can become more skilled and efficient in our conversations, if we begin to check our often flawed assumptions about what happened, how we're feeling and how our self-perceptions impact our understanding of what others say. Typically, we assume we are right and others are wrong, we assume the intentions of others, we don't treat feelings as facts, and we associate our identities too closely with the contexts of specific conflicts. To have productive difficult conversations, we need to change the way we talk to ourselves and how we approach our communications with others.
One can't help wondering, however, if the only people reading this book are already self-actualized or so well on their way that they are, in fact, the best communicators among us. The authors' failed to address the lingering doubt left with the critical, reflective reader: that most difficult conversations are the fruits of difficult people, who, unless they read this book, have little capacity or motivation to be anything but difficult. In any case, Difficult Conversations is mostly devoted to explaining and analyzing the three conversations and how one can use these categories to have more productive exchanges.
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