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276 of 284 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2000
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. There predictable errors can be overcome this specific strategies that the authors suggest.
I have developed workshops based on this material that we are finding very helpful in our hospital setting.
Spend some time with this book - it will be worth your while.
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131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2002
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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78 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2000
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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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2003
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. The book has many useful graphic organizers, including a checklist and a roadmap for engaging in difficult conversations.
In effect, Stone and his colleagues argue that we must shift from a perspective of "knowing" to "learning". Meaningful conversations can take place when we don't permit our assumptions to rule the moment, rather when we take control by being curious, open, and self-aware. To find out what happened, we need to explore each other's stories, separate intent from impact, abandon the blame framework, and to consider all conflicts as a system ("the contribution system"), to which every party has contributed in some way. They argue that the blame framework is a clue that feelings are playing a significant role in a conflict. Feelings often get translated into judgements, attributions, characterizations, or solutions. The key to managing feelings is to treat them as facts by acknowledging them, and considering how they are part of the problem and exploring them fully. All too often our feelings emerge from the sense that our identity is somehow at stake. Most of us frame our identities around one or all of three core themes: competence, virtue, or worthiness. When we feel any of these is questioned, we revert to fight or flight. We can best manage the identity issue by understanding ourselves as complex, by knowing we make mistakes, by acknowledging that our intentions are not simple, and by recognizing that all parties contribute to problems. The "learning" must begin within ourselves before we can understand issues or problems with others.
We can affect our own conversational "learning" by engaging in "the third story" conversation, which requires us to consider how a third party would describe and analyze the situation. This sets up a process of internal dialogue, which is necessary to check our own perceptions, feelings, and interests. Further, the authors encourage listening from the inside out, speaking for yourself, and taking the initiative. While the book combines theory, examples, and description, it is also a very handy guide to improving one's communication style in the workplace or at home.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 1999
This is an exceptional book. Not since picking up Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" over 10 years ago have I come across a book that is destined to have great impact on both myself and millions of other readers.
In essence "Difficult Conversations" is a practical everyday guide for living and breathing Stephen's fifth habit - "Seek first to understand then to be understood". It can be thought of as a "conversational handbook" - applicable in both your personal and business lives. Recently married couples, parents of teenage children and newly appointed managers will find the book especially powerful.
The concepts are simple and if internalised could for eaxmple save the needless destruction of countless marriages. What excites me most is that it is so very readable and that its lessons are sufficiently simple that although it might take a life time to master - when applied you can see results in your own conversations and relationships immediately.
Although I've yet to find any reference to the discipline of "dialogue" (as developed by the physicist David Bohm) in the book - it falls squarely within this subject area.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
There's nothing like the difficult conversation that has to be done. You may have to tell a friend something that you know will hurt them deeply, you may have to tell the boss that you are quitting after many years of a friendly working environment, you may have to break off a relationship or who knows what else. Difficult conversations are a part of life and often a staple part of life with a teenager. That is where this book comes in. The authors discuss the structure of these conversations and how you can get to the heart of the matter with compassion and clarity so that each party gets through it as a team or with a minimum of emotional pain. It also examines why they are difficult conversations. In short it teaches how to examine situations in terms of how each person perceived what happened, how each person feels about the situation or is likely to feel when they are confronted, and the identity issues that are involved when discussing the subject. A fine book that will help many people learn how to deal with a difficult conversation, but should be augmented by "Words that Hurt; Words the Heal" or a similar text.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2003
My wife is volatile and I have a temper, so I have to walk on egg shells sometimes. I read this book and learned how to deal with my wife when she is angry and when we have different opinions. It really helped me. Another book that changed my life completely is Optimal Thinking; How to be your best self. Optimal Thinking showed me how to be my best amd make the most of any situation.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2006
I'm writing this review of the 5-CD audiobook, not the book. The CD is a must-have, whether you've read the book or not. In it, actual examples are acted out of all kinds of conversations before and after the techniques are used. After listening to the CD I can easily recall what to do when I find myself suddenly in a difficult conversation, because i've actually heard it. Also, as you move through the sessions, the authors go just a bit deeper and deeper until one finds oneself admitting some very personal truths. I think the reviewer below who recommends Dale Carnegie instead didn't hear the CDs -- I didn't get the same result from Dale's books, as I have from listening to these CDs. The ultimate result of having listened to the series a few times? I don't get thrown off balance (their term) so often when I suddenly realize the other person is reacting negatively to what I thought was positive, and vice versa. I just switch into a different mode and many times, the person (either me or my companion) has forgotten they were upset at all.

Now for my complaints, which lost them a star: the CDs are extremely low budget. The packaging has no guide and the content within the CDs is not organized very professionally. There is no heading labeling each track, so if one has to stop listening one won't know where they left off. Also, sometimes a section that should be on its own track begins within a track, somewhere in the middle, so if you want to find where it begins, you have to go back and search for a while for the exact beginning of the idea. How they thought that was logical I don't know. And, they don't have a recording at the beginning of each CD so you know where you are, to help you in remembering so you can refer back to which CD has what you want. Finally, the voices used to herald new chapters/key points, are not consistent - so that it's easy to miss them as they go by, if you're doing something else at the same time. This is a major no-no in radio presentation, which I would have thought the experts at Harvard would be on top of.
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2002
Read 2 pages 233-234 "A Difficult Conversations Checklist". In a simplistic view, these two pages are all you need from this book out of some 250 pages.... If you need to clarify and know more, read the subsequent section "A Road Map to Difficult Conversations" p235-248. This section resembles table of contents. Skim through this section and read sections that you don't understand. Very similar to Getting to Yes book in writing style. Some readers may get annoyed by overdescriptions and examples of the material.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2004
After a painful and difficult series of conversations with my mom and brother over Christmas (read: angry, frustrating), before he left, my brother asked me to find a simple set of rules for conversation, because he knows I like to do little research projects.
Several months earlier at work (a very hierarchical organization), I had a disagreement with a client and there was much internal company disagreement over how to handle it. I later realized that however justified I felt (or was), I made some mistakes and could have handled it better--just wasn't sure how. This may seem naive, but it takes some people time to get it--I'm one of them, though generally deferential.
Now, with the prospect of another project with this client, I was anxious about how to salvage relationships and do better this time.
To handle the family problems, I found some good books on conversation that had useful insights and techniques. But they were just Ok.
When I looked for "negotiation techniques" to handle the relationship to my client better, I remembered a brief encounter with _Getting to Yes_. That led me to _Difficult Conversations_. All I did was read the summary/index at the end of the book, and I saw that it had what I needed right now for both my personal and work life. In fact, its general strength is not compartmentalizing. It's pragmatic, and focuses its systematic analysis on one's thinking, rather than laying out a formula of "quotations" and words to use. There's some of that, but it's a small part.
Unlike some other similar books I read through in the bookstore, the book isn't written as a "yes-book" (like a "yes-man") for people that want their ego to be stroked (or that like to be told that they're a bad person, either)--it's honest, direct, balanced, and helpful. I just wish they would have cited their primary sources and gave more description of actual case studies, rather than fictional, composite case studies.
I sent copies of relevant pages to my family members, and we're going to see how well it works when we get together in two weeks! We have multiple, individual issues, but I think this will help us move forward with respect and concern, without each of us falling into familiar traps.
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