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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  6,534 Ratings  ·  464 Reviews
The 10th-anniversary edition of the New York Times business bestseller-now updated with "Answers to Ten Questions People Ask"

We attempt or avoid difficult conversations every day-whether dealing with an underperforming employee, disagreeing with a spouse, or negotiating with a client. From the Harvard Negotiation Project, the organization that brought you Getting to Yes
Paperback, 315 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Penguin Books (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
Aug 24, 2014 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
May 18, 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
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
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
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
Dec 12, 2014 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.
Jan 01, 2012 Suzy rated it really liked it
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
Ben Christensen
Difficult Conversations is one of those books where I went into it with mediocre expectations, and ended up really liking it.

It wasn't a book fully of one-liner truisms that everyone wants to highlight, but instead more of its merit was in how it built and connected different larger concepts, and used stylized examples to illustrate or cement them in place.

The book focused on a few of the underlying factors that cause the various difficult conversations we face in life (in work, relationships, e
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
Jun 25, 2012 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
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
Dec 29, 2006 Courtney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 30, 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!
Jan 10, 2017 Luci rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by a mentor, and I found it to present a very insightful and helpful frame for thinking about difficult conversations. It put into words some of the things I've been doing for longer than I can remember. It also gave me some new techniques to try in future situations. Most importantly, this book gave me a new way to think about these types of interactions, and I feel better prepared to step back and put things in perspective when conflict arises.

I would recommend
Mar 03, 2017 Sandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book. I highly recommend it to anybody who.. talks to other people, basically. The strategies described are very complex and I think it takes quite some time and dedication to get them working.
Ammar Zahid
Jan 31, 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
"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 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
Alissa Thorne
Dec 12, 2008 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
Jun 20, 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
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
Dina Kaidir Elsouly
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.”
― Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
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.
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!
Jun 15, 2012 Yipeng rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-dev
Overall, it is well written and genuinely helpful. I'm glad to have found another book I can recommend to everyone.
Apr 02, 2013 Jennifer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nancy Babbitt
Aug 31, 2013 Nancy Babbitt rated it it was amazing
Effective communication is important in daily life and in formal negotiations, yet conflict and therefore difficult conversations, is a normal part of human experience. For this reason, the need to learn successful communication skills so that we can better deal with the difficult conversations, which we all sometimes need to face, is quite clear. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most (Stone, Patton & Heen, 2010) is the result of years of work at the Harvard Negotiation P ...more
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  • Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations
  • People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts
  • Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate
  • Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior
  • The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense
  • The Skilled Facilitator
  • The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord
  • The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle
  • Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication
  • The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
  • Fierce Conversations (Revised and Updated): Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time
  • Influence Without Authority
  • That's Not What I Meant!
  • Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes
  • The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict
  • Working with Emotional Intelligence
  • Make Peace With Anyone: Breakthrough Strategies to Quickly End Any Conflict, Feud, or Estrangement
  • You Can Negotiate Anything: The World's Best Negotiator Tells You How To Get What You Want

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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.” 5 likes
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