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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  3,713 ratings  ·  317 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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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.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.
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
Nick Klagge
This book was assigned reading for my class on negotiation and conflict management. As I began reading it, I realized that a day-long training that I attended at work (also called "Difficult Conversations") had essentially been based on the precepts of this book. So I read through the book fairly quickly, and didn't get a ton of marginal benefit out of it, but that's not the book's fault.

I will say that I suspect that I would have been more skeptical of the book had I read it without going to t
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Laura
I am training to be a mediator and this book was distributed to us as a bible for engaging in difficult conversations. For me, the book is most helpful in illuminating why conversations can be so difficult or intense. It helps break them down into parts or in slow motion so you can understand better what is creating the roadblock, or the resistance. For instance, most difficult conversations have unspoken emotions underlying them. This book aims at helping you identify yours and others since wit ...more
Reiden
Most of us shy away from the hard and potentially awkward conversations. Some people even put great effort into avoiding them at all costs. For this reason, Difficult Conversations is a helpful tool, especially for people who wish to improve their communication skills.

The book begins by explaining that each difficult conversation can be started by dividing the matter into three parts. First is the third-party story (stating the facts from a neutral perspective), then addressing the issue from t
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
This is one of three texts, plus handouts, used at a Negotiation course at Harvard Law taken by students all over the university--and by people from all over the world. At the end of the course, the students spontaneously rose to give the teachers a standing ovation. It's a very popular and valuable course--and this book deals with some of the techniques at the heart of it.

And no, this is not just for lawyers or diplomats. It applies to any of those kinds of conversations that you may be dreadi
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Julie
This book came home with the Mister after an employee training seminar. The Senate doesn't do much employee enrichment, but they did do a seminar based on this book, so it must be highly regarded. I was interested in it because I once considered negotiation and conflict processing as a possible area of academic interest.

The book does a great job of providing guidance about what to do with feelings and emotions in conflict. It's great for someone trying to figure out why they feel strongly about
...more
Bob Selden
In Difficult Conversations, the authors Stone, Patton and Heen set out to de-mystify the problems we get into in our daily conversations.

I found this book both enlightening and difficult. Enlightening because of the simple concepts and principles one should adopt when handling difficult conversations. For example, classifying all conversations into:
• The “What Happened ?” Conversation
• The Feelings Conversation
• The Identity Conversation

All of these made sense and will be very useful for me fr
...more
Charlotte
difficult conversations
your boss . your spouse
your friends
yours kids . your clients


Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen work at the Harvard Negotiation Project
1999

Just what the doctor ordered. Fran, after sitting through various sessions with me harping on about my difficulties with my 16-year-old son, rather offhandedly gave me this to read.

Actually, it’s nothing to write home about, just one of those self-help books you- or rather I - have a tendency to dismiss. But even though it’s al
...more
Caroline
Out of all the books I had to read for my Negotiations and Mediation class, I enjoyed this one the most. It is an easy, quick, and clear read that applies to both professional and personal settings. The authors make some great points about urging us to think through our own issues before trying to blame others. They also provide examples for how to address people in different situations (i.e. significant other, neighbor, boss, contract worker, etc.).

However, I didn't give it 5 stars because it w
...more
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  • The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord
  • Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used
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  • You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation
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  • Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time
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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.” 3 likes
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