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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most Paperback – November 2, 2010
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“Does this book deliver on its promise of an effective way through sticky situations, whether ‘with your babysitter or your biggest client’? It does.”
—The New York Times
“These talented communicators blend a daunting array of disciplines into highly readable and practical advice.”
“I’m on my third reading. Half the pages are dog-eared. This is a mind-bogglingly powerful book. For life.”
“A user-friendly guide to mastering the talks we dread . . . a keeper.”
“Emotional intelligence applied to life’s toughest moments.”
—Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Working with Emotional Intelligence
“The only people who shouldn’t read Difficult Conversations are those who never work with people, anywhere.”
—Peter M. Senge, bestselling author of The Fifth Discipline
“How do you confront your ex-spouse who’s late picking up the kids? How do you tell a client their project took longer than expected and the bill is twice as high? How do you say ‘I’m sorry’? Start by picking up Difficult Conversations.”
“Difficult Conversations will be appreciated by readers who wish to improve oral communication in all aspects of their daily lives.”
“Stone, Patton, and Heen illustrate their points with anecdotes, scripted conversations and familiar examples in a clear, easy-to-browse format.”
“The central insights of Difficult Conversations so resonate with common sense that it is easy to overlook just how remarkable of a book it is . . . a must-read.”
—Harvard Negotiation Law Review
“Examples more clear-headed and advice more precise than we’ve seen before.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Stone, Patton, and Heen have written an extremely clear and unpretentious exposition of how to develop effective communication skills and a guide to achieving openness and constructive outcomes in dialogue . . . this book is, and probably for some time to come will be definitive.”
—Southern Communication Journal
About the Author
Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen teach at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Negotiation Project. They have been consultants to businesspeople, governments, organizations, communities, and individuals around the world, and have written on negotiation and communication in publications ranging from the New York Times to Parents magazine. Bruce Patton is also a co-author of Getting to Yes. Each of them lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Stone and Heen are the authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You're Not in the Mood) (Viking/Penguin, 2014)
Roger Fisher is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law Emeritus, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and the founder of two consulting organizations devoted to strategic advice and negotiation training.
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This book should not be kept as a secret tool that successful people use to further their ambitions. I believe that this information should be shared broadly even if in a watered down version. I will be so bold even to say this should be a part of high school curriculum. The more any group of people are implementing these principles the more productive that group will be.
Difficult conversations are a normal part of life - we have them with friends, colleagues, relatives, in a variety of settings. Examples of conversations discussed are breaking up in a relationship, asking for a raise, dealing with an ex on child-related issues, dealing with perceived racism at work, dealing with perceived poor workmanship. This is the stuff of everyday life.
The authors contend that each difficult conversation is really three conversations - one involves what happened, one involves feelings, and the third involves self-identity.
WHAT HAPPENED? With respect to what happened, we need to be open to and curious about another person's perception of what happened, instead of clinging to our own version of the truth. The authors caution us not to speculate about others' intents, be genuinely curious about the other person's perspective, and embrace the "and stance." You may be right and they may be right. Don't assume that all of they stories are mutually exclusive. We need to focus on contributions to the situation, not blame, and try to understand our own roles in contributing to the conflict. Being unapproachable, avoiding conflict, and allowing a bad situation to remain unchecked are all forms of contribution.
FEELINGS. Feelings should be expressed and described carefully, without judging, blaming, or attributing. When we don't share our feelings, we are depriving other persons of an opportunity to learn how their behavior impacts us. Keeping our feelings to ourselves really keeps us out of the relationship and makes problem-solving more difficult.
IDENTITY. This discussion was the most enlightening part of the book for me. The authors contend that difficult conversations threaten our own identity, because they may require us to say something that is inconsistent with our own self-image. I can't fire someone, because I am a nice person and a nice person wouldn't cause someone to lose his job. I can't admit I made a mistake because I am a competent professional who doesn't deliver shoddy work. I can't confront my child's teacher because I'm not one of those pain-in-the-rear parents who try to run the school. I can't ask for a raise - what if my boss tells me that I'm not performing as well as my colleagues. Identity issues can cause us to be in denial, and we can allow others' feedback to define us. The trick here is again, to embrace the "and stance." Know that others may perceive us differently that we perceive ourselves; both perceptions are reality. We can be a nice person and at the same time fire someone.
The authors also note that the other party to a conversation has an identity, also, and we must be mindful of our comments that shake their identity.
APPROACHING THE CONVERSATION.
After discussing the "three conversations," the authors outline how to approach the difficult conversation. Is this issue even worth raising? If so, you want to learn the other party's story, express your own feelings, and seek a path forward.
The best starting point is from the "third story" - how a neutral mediator might describe the situation. When we begin within our own story, we trigger defensiveness from the start. The authors discuss a number of listening and inquiry skills - nothing new in substance, but the presentation makes lots of sense and is always grounded in real-world examples. There are concrete tips for speaking clearly and remaining in control of our emotions in an imbalanced situation.
Throughout the book, there are plenty of examples, nearly all of them common situations. The authors describe a conversation that gets off to a rotten start, and then show how you can reframe and redirect the conversation down a more productive path. It's very subtle and particularly enlightening.
Overall, this is a highly readable, very good book, one that I believe will be more valuable after several readings.