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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  4,372 ratings  ·  351 reviews
What is a difficult conversation? Asking for a pay rise, saying 'no' to your boss or spouse, confronting a friend or neighbor, asking a difficult favor, apologizing. This book helps you to turn your difficult conversations into positive, problem-solving experiences.
Paperback, 250 pages
Published May 25th 2000 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published April 1st 1999)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Otis Chandler
I read this on a recommendation from a friend who gave it to me on a list of business books to read. But it was so much more. It gives you a great framework for thinking through why people have communication issues - whether in personal or professional relationships.

The best piece of advice that stuck with me is to always explain where you are coming from in a discussion. "I did it this way because...". Sometimes we think its obvious and it isn't, and it always helps the conversation when people
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Slappy
Difficult Conversations is a how-to self-help book on negotiating conflict in emotionally-loaded discussions between two people. Authored by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project (which sounds awfully prestigious), the book is lucid and accessible.

A "difficult conversation," according to Stone et al, is "anything you find it hard to talk about":

Sexuality, race, gender, politics, and religion come quickly to mind as difficult topics to discuss, and for many of us they are. But discomfort and
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Jessica
I constantly recommend this book to friends, family and colleagues. It was introduced to me in a negotiations class and I learned the most from this book over any other book I was made to read in my graduate studies.

Although everyone would benefit from this book - I especially recommend this book to women for a particular reason. Female characteristics and emotions such as empathy and sensitivity can be great assets in life (don't let men tell you otherwise). However, especially in the male-dom
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Philipp
A good guide to 'difficult conversations' with boss/spouse/people, i.e., clashing stories, themes that endanger your self-image, and emotions, it contains some valuable advice on how to incorporate everyone's and your own feelings in a mature way during a conversation.

But: For the love of all that is holy, do not follow the advice contained in this book with children. I had teachers who went to university in the 'progressive' 70s, so what they talked about all day is your feelings and their feel
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Peter
Probably one of the most immediately useful books I've read. There are infinite ways that a conversation can go, and this book gives some very helpful ideas on how to approach the difficult or uncomfortable ones.

I actually bought several copies and give them to friends regularly whenever I get the sense that their difficult situations could benefit from a different approach. I've probably given away at least 10 copies of this book.

One of these friends dismissed the book and basically said ever
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Debra
Jul 12, 2007 Debra rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone!
Although some of the tips may sound a little corny, I think this is a great book for pretty much everyone to read. I definitely noticed a lot of the negative traps I fall into and I want to try some of the new tips suggested in the book.
Courtney
Advice and techniques for handling sticky or unpleasant exchanges (with a co-worker, subordinate, friend, significant other-in a manner that accomplishes your objective and diminishes the possibility that anyone will be needlessly hurt.
Kate
This book encapsulates so many principles of good communication (many of which, ok, I already knew) that I want to recommend it to EVERYONE. (You probably know them, too, but to have them organized and codified in one book is so helpful!)

The first thing it has you do is look at your difficult conversation as three different subtext conversations -- one about what actually happened, one about your feelings about what happened, and one about how this conversation affects your identity.

It encoura
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Jaclyn
My husband and I both have ADHD, and that makes for some major communication challenges. This book will help anyone get a better handle on tricky interactions. It should be required reading for anyone who hasn’t done mediation or communication training (I have, but still learned a lot).

Difficult Conversations separates readers from our own narrative and reveals the reasons underlying others’ hot-headed — and often baffling — reactions.

Buyer beware, though: this isn’t the only book you’ll ever ne
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Andreea
This books has a lot of examples and while reading through them it’s impossible not to recognise a situation in which you have been. It’s amazing how much we speak and how bad we are at conversations.

A conversation is affected by the image people have about themselves. People react when a conversation affects their identity. So the way one handles conversations is determined by how much one knows himself.

One of the best advices is to express your feelings. Once you manage to do that during a co
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Suzy
I am very glad that I read this book, and I feel sure that it will have a positive impact on all difficult conversations I have from here on out. I tend to be a conflict avoider who puts off (or stuffs) difficult conversations, but now I feel that I don't necessarily have to view difficult conversations as conflict. In many difficult conversations I have had in the past, I have felt variously that the other people are trying to win by being loud, emotional, interruptive or verbally manipulative. ...more
Adam Wiggins
Solid advice, illustrated with copious examples, on how to tackle emotionally-charged conversations in the workplace, romantic life, and family life.

As always, examples are worth a thousand words of exposition. The examples in this book are extremely well-done -- in fact, I suspect if they were extracted to stand on their own without any of the accompanying explanation, the book's thesis still would have come through quite clearly.

My takeaways:

Break down your thoughts (and the conversation) into
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Kevin
When you have an issue with someone, it's not about you being right or they being right. Both sides contributed to the problem and mapping the contribution helps get past the pride of "it's not my fault". Also, you might have the idea that you kind of know what they're thinking. But you truly don't know - you just think you do. But you have access to their thinking ... just ask! An in a trusting environment, they'll tell you and you won't have to guess and you can reach a solution to your diffic ...more
Jordan
"I'm right and I just can't get my girlfriend to see it?" "I know what my boss is saying but he has it wrong and just won't listen to me?... This book helped shed light on a subject I thought I had under control. I consider myself to be a logical man yet I get into arguments and misunderstandings with so many people throughout my day.

I bought this book as a x-mans gift my brother in law. I made the mistake of reading the first few pages before I wrapped it. I ended up giving that brother in la
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Greg
Jul 05, 2008 Greg rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone having difficulty communicating, professionally or personally.
As the authors of this book say, "Both the challenge and the spice of relationships is in people's differences. Occasional frustration is the price of admission." (p. 215) This book goes a long way toward making the frustration manageable. It is an especially good complement to "Crucial Conversations" (Patterson, et. al.). I would recommend reading CC first, as it provides a slightly easier and more actionable foundation in the practice of dialogue. Many of the concepts and approaches and tools ...more
Alissa Thorne
May 29, 2010 Alissa Thorne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who interacts with human beings
Recommended to Alissa by: cunning minx, of the polyweekly podcast
This is a fantastic communication book. I admit, it has a hint of the self-help vibe (things like including unnecessary lingo) which may be a bit off-putting for some. Nevertheless, the content is highly valuable for improving your communication skills.

Some of the concepts gave names to habits that I have already picked up over the years--such as "starting from the third story", the idea of approaching a conversation by trying to include both perspectives, rather than just making declarations ab
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Seth Jenson
Fantastic book. I'm gonna have to read it again and again. Could use the content for an amazing marriage improvement course. I'd sign up.

Lots of practical advice in this book. I loved the role plays. So easy to relate to. One of the best things I learned (or was reminded about) is that you should never blame someone else for a problem but instead find out how each party contributed to the problem and learn to talk it through openly and fairly.

I wish I'd read this book months ago! There are a n
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Alexander Vorwald
Good book in a time where my role in a couple structures is changing.

The three stories it talks about in every difficult conversation is what happened, the feelings conversation, and the identity issues conversation.

There are also several tips scattered throughout the book that I'm going to randomly throw out below:

switching to a learning stance, see what you can contribute, how you both contributed into getting this situation, and how you can get out of the situation.

Realize that we notice
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Islam
A book that makes a simple practice needlessly complicated, and then tries to put order to that complication.

The authors clearly declare in the beginning of the book, that some conversations are just hard and no matter what you do, they'll always be. This book will not provide you with a magic trick that makes them easy.

If you don't think you have a problem with conducting conversations reading this book will not do you any good, it's not one of those books that you read to get "even better".

Pr
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Catherine Gillespie
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is an exceptional resource from the Harvard Negotiation Project that covers common reasons why difficult conversations go awry, and how you can reframe your perspective and tactics to really understand the person you’re talking to in order to have a productive conversation.

The book is, happily, not a manual for how to manipulate or browbeat the other person into agreeing with you until you get your way. Rather, it presents a method for u
...more
Eliza
I'd never thought of these different elements to communication. I should probably read it again, and again... It gave me peace about a difficult situation I was having and helped me get free. How awesome is that!
Jeff Yoak
This is a great book for improving techniques of handling difficult conversation. Many of the ideas weren't new to me, but many were, and having them integrated into a single approach was extremely helpful.
Jennifer
It's...yeah. I feel like it theorizes more than tells us explicitly what to do. I would not call this a particularly successful self-help book.
Yipeng
Overall, it is well written and genuinely helpful. I'm glad to have found another book I can recommend to everyone.
Westley Dangles
I've read this book three times over. It reads like a walkthrough for how to deal with people, complete with scenarios and such. You know those old 50's sex-ed films where they show a scenario and then the scene pauses and a dapper man walks in and says "Jimmy is blah blah blah." Yeah, it reads like that. And they're literally holding your hand through the entire thing. But it still feels insightful (or maybe I was just the worst at social skills). Gave it 5 stars because it was a life-changing ...more
Divya
Recommended by one of the executives at work, this used to be the exact kind of self-help book that I would run from earlier. But after studying psych in grad school, this topic has become more and more fascinating to me especially as it becomes more relevant to my everyday work life. This book presents a difficult topic in a detailed way, taking you through the process of a conversation step by step. But at no point does this become easy reading, it is most definitely condensed research present ...more
Karen Morgan
I originally borrowed this book from the library but ended up buying a copy to add to my own collection and another to give as a gift to someone else. This is a book for anyone who deals with people- in other words, it's for just about everyone. Difficult conversations are a normal part of life but the authors look at the possible dynamics behind a situation and help you free yourself to address the conversation with less anxiety. It is equally useful in personal and professional situations- I h ...more
Jeannette
For me, the last part of the book was really the most valuable. The Ten Questions People Ask About Difficult Conversations provided answers that were more relevant to real life and addressed the concerns I've seen many people raise in the comments in this book. As I was reading this book, in the earlier phases, I too often caught myself rolling my eyes and thinking that I couldn't ever envision myself having a conversation like that. The Ten Questions addresses that by explaining that ultimately ...more
Charlotte
I purchased this book after attending a Mediation training session based on this book. This book comes out of the Harvard Negotiation Project, the same group that produced "Getting to Yes" and "Getting Past No" and some other classic negotiation books. I liked what I learned at the workshop, and liked what was in the book even more. While my goal in reading it was to improve my skills as a mediator, so often I thought of ways I could use it personally. It has great applications in parenting, mar ...more
Elise
I first became interested in reading "Difficult Conversations" when a couple of colleagues and I were commiserating together about how challenging it has been to recruit people to participate in a research study we are conducting - challenging because most people we contact do not want to participate, but are either indirect or extremely aggressive in saying so. One colleague mentioned having used "Difficult Conversations" in a graduate class, and how helpful it has been to both her personal and ...more
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  • Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People
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“The single most important thing [you can do] is to shift [your] internal stance from "I understand" to "Help me understand." Everything else follows from that. . . .

Remind yourself that if you think you already understand how someone feels or what they are trying to say, it is a delusion. Remember a time when you were sure you were right and then discovered one little fact that changed everything. There is always more to learn.”
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“The urge to blame is based . . . on the fear of being blamed.” 5 likes
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