Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen

The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most comes out of the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen define a difficult conversation as anything you find hard to talk about. The authors explore “what it is that makes conversations difficult, why we avoid them, and why we often handle them badly.”  We all face difficult conversations, at home and at work, and each of us has to struggle with how to address them.  Do we avoid or confront them? The authors provide a framework for understanding and conducting difficult conversations.  One of the authors’ stated goals of Difficult Conversations is to “help you turn difficult conversations into learning conversations by helping you handle each of the ‘Three Conversations’ more productively and improving your ability to handle all three at once.”

The authors explain that each difficult conversation is really three different conversations – The “What Happened” Conversation, The “Feelings” Conversation and The “Identity” Conversation.  The “what happened” conversation gets to the facts without placing blame or guessing the others’ intentions. Rarely does understanding the facts alone resolve the situation.  Feelings are often at the core of a difficult situation.  The “feelings” conversation helps to unravel the complexities of our emotions, while diffusing the negative effects.  The “identity” conversation looks at how the event interacts with our identity.  It helps us to see how our perceptions of ourselves may affect the position that we take.This book will help you to get a deeper understanding of the intricacies and complexities of difficult conversations.  It is also a guidebook for you to refer to.  It’s packed with a lot of information, and the checklist and roadmap at the end of the book are great reference tools.


Avil Beckford, President of Ambeck Enterprise, reviewed this book. Her firm works with senior-level executives in medium to large companies to provide them with diverse business research and analysis services through the relevant distillation of facts and data. 

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