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.
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.
on January 11, 2011
A book on CD called to me when I saw its captivating title: DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: HOW TO DISUCSS WHAT MATTERS MOST--written and read by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.
The fact that Patton was one of the authors also caught my attention, in that he was the coauthor of one of my favorite books on negotiations, GETTING TO YES!
This effort covers such topics as dealing with your ex-husband who can't seem to show up reliably for weekends with the kinds navigating a workplace fraught with office politics or racial tensions, and saying "I'm sorry" or "I love you." No matter who we are, we've all had to have similar conversations and too often, they don't go as well as we would like.
DIFFICULT CONVERSATONS at least makes them easier by providing such useful advice as the following:
* Use "and" to help you become clearer; e.g.,, "I understand what you're saying, and I feel this way."
* Put things on the table without judgments.
* Saying "I feel" will cause the other person to be less likely to argue with you.
* Postponing a conversation can sometimes be helpful.
* Sometimes, actions are better than conversations; e.g., going to a mother's home rather than always being asked, "When are you going to come home?"
* People are more likely to change when they don't have to.
* If you don't have a question, don't ask one; e.g., "Are you going to clean the refrigerator?" vs. "Please clean the refrigerator."
And this one final tidbit, which I have personally found very useful: Be careful when making judgments. It is easy to say, "Spanking is wrong," but a better way to say this might well be, "I believe spanking is wrong."
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.
on December 7, 2010
This book (the 2000 version) saved my sanity once and got me through a very stressful family time. Not only did it help with my relationships, it helped me to think about the problem in a different way that gave me greater peace of mind and clarity of thought and purpose. Everyone on the planet should buy, not borrow, this book, and read it every year.
on May 18, 2012
I don't normally write reviews, but this book was great. I was skeptical and figured it would just list a bunch of suggestions that aren't practical in the real world, but I was wrong. Some of the material was very eye-opening, especially the topics that deal with looking at yourself to see how you may be contributing to the problem. Highly recommended!
on September 17, 2013
I like this book. It doesn't presume that it will solve your problems. It acknowledges that the other party has to want to participate in fixing the problem. It basically just tells you techniques on how not to make the situation worse, and what will likely lead to an improvement.
After reading it, the problems don't seem less daunting, but I do feel more confident knowing what mistakes I've been making in the past. I used to be the type who thought if I had the loudest and most fear-inducing bark, then I'd be sure to get my way. I figured out after a number of shouting matches hurling hurtful words that that doesn't work. Eventually, I became the type to avoid arguments altogether believing they weren't worth it, and whatever problem it was, I'd have to live with it (b/c from my experience no matter what is said or done people are going to see only their point of view and therefore not desire to accommodate me). That made me miserable. I became the most passive aggressive person you'll ever meet, lol. I wouldn't bother to have a conversation, just react by cutting off the person, avoiding eye contact with them, or just quitting.
This book has been really enlighting b/c I do so many of the things they warn against. I definitely suffer identity crises, and take the all-or-nothing stance. I do assume I know someone's intent when their actions have affected me negatively. This is going to take a lot of practice, but I already know the alternative, and I don't want to end up alone and jobless, so this is what I'll have to do.
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.
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.
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.