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

4.6 out of 5 stars 470 customer reviews

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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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014028852X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140288520
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (470 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
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."
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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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