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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,672 Ratings  ·  408 Reviews
What is a difficult conversation? Asking for a pay rise, saying 'no' to your boss or spouse, confronting a friend or neighbour, asking a difficult favour, apologizing. We all have conversations that we dread and find unpleasant. But can we develop the skills to make such situations less stressful and more productive?

Based on fifteen years of research and consultations with
Paperback, 250 pages
Published May 25th 2000 by Penguin (first published April 1st 1999)
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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
Dec 04, 2012 Slappy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2014 Philipp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: self-help
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
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
Oct 01, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
In my opinion, this is a must-read for everyone. I've learned so much already and have been flying through it, it's that easy to read.

A big-picture look at all kinds of difficult conversations, it shares a template for preparing for, reframing, thinking clearly about, and having difficult conversations. What's a difficult conversation? Any that you really don't want to have. One that makes you anxious or upset.

It won't give you a template for negotiating a raise, for example, but it gives you
Jul 12, 2007 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Kirtida Gautam
Nov 06, 2015 Kirtida Gautam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
It's a brilliant book that tells how humans sometimes fail to create impact in conversation because they fail to see the point of view of other people.
Jul 24, 2014 Andreea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2012 Suzy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 18, 2009 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ammar Zahid
Feb 18, 2016 Ammar Zahid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
# Difficult Conversations

I'm not a big fan of self help books. There's two reasons for this:

One, I think self help books aren't actually trying to really help most people. Oh maybe there's a nice anecdote here or inspirational quote there, but I thought that most of it was just wasted ink and paper. I *thought* this. Past tense.

Two, and this here is a confession, but I thought myself *above* the genre. Not above getting help, no. In fact I think a person who refuses help is the idiot who shoo
Feb 11, 2007 Courtney rated it really liked it
Shelves: guide, nonfiction
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.
May 16, 2011 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read at the insistence of my wife. I think she was trying to tell me something. Not sure what it was. Back to nerd fiction!
Feb 13, 2015 Jaclyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 01, 2009 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wouldreadagain
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
"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
Jul 05, 2008 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  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 it was amazing  ·  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
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
Seth Jenson
May 06, 2010 Seth Jenson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 09, 2016 Brenda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Getting together with family and friends can be a joy, but it can also be stressful. Dynamics in families and among friends can often lead to hurt feelings or even conflict that happens so unexpectedly you aren’t prepared for it. Something gets said that hurts your feelings, but it is awkward to say anything in the moment so you say nothing and then afterwards you endlessly rehash what happened and then think of all the things you should have said, but didn’t. Or someone tells you that something ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Mhinchley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I found this to be a highly useful and practical book.

No matter who you are, we have all experienced difficult conversations - breaking off a relationship, quitting a job, telling a friend some hurtful information, giving or receiving negative feedback. This book gives you practical ways to help make difficult conversations, a lot less difficult.

The authors ague that there are actually 3 conversations going on when having a difficult conversation:
1. The 'what happened?' conversation
2. The 'feel
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
Apr 28, 2014 Islam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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".

Sep 18, 2015 Anthony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The value of the book for me was in that it taught me that in order to have a constructive conversation, there are a few elements:

Understand that emotions, feelings are as important as logic. Often it is not about what is true or not, but it is more about how you let another person feel

Listen very carefully and listen until the end, than ask the person to tell you more. This will give you a better understanding of another person't point of view and let him feel relieved and important at the same
Catherine Gillespie
Jan 31, 2015 Catherine Gillespie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: communication
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
Jerome Baladad
Mar 10, 2016 Jerome Baladad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've finished reading this one days ago, which itself was an accomplishment (LOL). I discovered this book among the items in my inventory of books for sale. I read an earlier edition many years ago while I was still working full time in a stressful job that paid me very well. And re-reading this one brought back very good memories of the work I used to do. I recommend that readers read this book slowly and munch into the nuggets of wisdom they'll encounter here --- the fact that it was written b ...more
Mar 17, 2008 Eliza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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.”
“The urge to blame is based . . . on the fear of being blamed.” 6 likes
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