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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

3.8 35
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Roger Fisher (Foreword by)

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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


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, Difficult Conversations provides a step-by-step approach to having those tough conversations with less stress and more success. you'll learn how to:

· Decipher the underlying structure of every difficult conversation 
· Start a conversation without defensiveness 
· Listen for the meaning of what is not said 
· Stay balanced in the face of attacks and accusations
· Move from emotion to productive problem solving

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Does this book deliver on its promise of an effective way through sticky situations, whether ‘with your babysitter or your biggest client’? It does.”
—The New York Times

“These talented communicators blend a daunting array of disciplines into highly readable and practical advice.”

“I’m on my third reading. Half the pages are dog-eared. This is a mind-bogglingly powerful book. For life.”
—Tom Peters

“A user-friendly guide to mastering the talks we dread . . . a keeper.”
—Fast Company 

“Emotional intelligence applied to life’s toughest moments.”
—Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Working with Emotional Intelligence

“The only people who shouldn’t read Difficult Conversations are those who never work with people, anywhere.”
—Peter M. Senge, bestselling author of The Fifth Discipline

“How do you confront your ex-spouse who’s late picking up the kids? How do you tell a client their project took longer than expected and the bill is twice as high? How do you say ‘I’m sorry’? Start by picking up Difficult Conversations.”

“Difficult Conversations will be appreciated by readers who wish to improve oral communication in all aspects of their daily lives.”
—Library Journal

“Stone, Patton, and Heen illustrate their points with anecdotes, scripted conversations and familiar examples in a clear, easy-to-browse format.”
—Publishers Weekly

“The central insights of Difficult Conversations so resonate with common sense that it is easy to overlook just how remarkable of a book it is . . . a must-read.”
—Harvard Negotiation Law Review

“Examples more clear-headed and advice more precise than we’ve seen before.”
—Dallas Morning News

“Stone, Patton, and Heen have written an extremely clear and unpretentious exposition of how to develop effective communication skills and a guide to achieving openness and constructive outcomes in dialogue . . . this book is, and probably for some time to come will be definitive.”
—Southern Communication Journal 


Nobody tells you how to discuss the hard things. You may learn from your parents how to "play fair." You're taught that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, and a few other gems. But how are you supposed to know what to say to a boss who undermines you in a big meeting? What do you do when you keep having the same, but increasingly annoying, argument with your spouse? How about (my personal favorite) dealing with the noisy neighbors? Sometimes these conversations happen in a fit of anger, in which case not much usually improves. Sometimes we plan strategically with friends. Their advice, and our own ideas about how to broach difficult matters, come from experience, which is nothing to be scoffed at. But often we fret in nervous anticipation, stumble through a conversation, come away frustrated or fail to get the desired results. We are left to wonder: If we'd approached the issue differently, could we be better satisfied with the outcome?

Difficult Conversations is a new work by the Harvard Negotiation Project, the group that produced the bestselling Getting to Yes . This is a step-by-step guide to weathering conversational storms. It breaks down a conversation into three parts, illuminating the moments where misunderstandings arise. First, there is the "What Happened?" conversation. That's when you and your interlocutor each decide you are right, make assumptions about why the other person did what she or he did, and ascribe blame. Next, there's the "Feelings" conversation, in which many people do not think it's important to communicate—or successfully communicate—how the issue at hand affected them emotionally. Finally, there's the "Identity" part, which is the most subtle and complex. The Identity Conversation, the authors write, is "all about who we are and how we see ourselves. How does what happened affect my self-esteem, my self-image, my sense of who I am in the world?"

Sometimes we're confident that we've given the other person a fair chance, but here we learn how arguments emerge in spite of good intentions. Your husband embarrassed you in front of your friends; he apologized, but he didn't seem to understand why what he did was wrong, and the apology didn't make you feel any better. The tools in this book show us how to express what we wanted to express in the conversation, but in such a way as to understand about the other person, to learn why the issue emerged, and to manage the issue in a productive way. The authors refer to this as a "Learning Conversation."

The techniques in this book won't surprise you. Fine, you think, but yesterday when I blasted my kid for breaking his curfew, I was right. He was wrong. I showed him that such behavior was unacceptable. But will he break his curfew again? Probably. Is he pouting in his room or complaining to his friends? Likely. In spite of how familiar and sensible the advice in this book is, such logic tends to slip away at just the wrong moment. This is not a book you should cozy up with on a Sunday afternoon. This is a book you should use as a prep/pep talk, so that the night before you're planning to fire your assistant, break up with your boyfriend, or tell your sister you're contesting your father's will, you can remind yourself what to expect and how to manage your confrontation.

Hilary Liftin

Hilary Liftin is the coauthor of Dear Exile.

Library Journal
Stone and his coauthors, teachers at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Negotiation Project, present an informative, practical guide to the art of handling difficult conversations--e.g., firing an employee, ending a relationship, or discussing marital conflicts. The information is based on 15 years of research and thousands of personal interviews. The authors define a difficult conversation as "anything you find it hard to talk about." Each chapter recommends step-by-step techniques that can lead to a more constructive approach for dealing with distressing interactions, so that a difficult conversation can become a learning conversation. Examples of right and wrong conversations from everyday life are used throughout the book, which is extremely well organized and easy to follow. This will be appreciated by readers who wish to improve oral communication in all aspects of their daily lives. Recommended for self-help collections in public and academic libraries.--Elizabeth Goeters, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Dunwoody

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Hidden Figures is a new film that tells the incredible untold story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson -brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big. The main characters are played by Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughn), and Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson). Pharrell Williams produced the film’s soundtrack, in addition to partnering with longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer as well as Benjamin Wallfisch to compose the film’s score.

Hidden Figures: The Album, is the soundtrack to this film, featuring Pharrell Williams, Janelle Monae, Lalah Hathaway, Mary J. Blige, and Kim Burrell. Both the movie and the music from the film have picked up considerable notice, especially when Pharrell Williams joined the film’s cast at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. There he performed the gospel inspired songs “Runnin,” “I See A Victory” with Kim Burrell, and “Surrender” with Lalah Hathaway.

The film Hidden Figures opens nationwide on Christmas Day, 2016 and expands to additional theaters on January 6, 2017. Pharrell Williams also contributed in the role of one of the Hidden Figures film producers along with Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, and Theodore Melfi. Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi.

What People are Saying About This

Tom Peters
My skepticism towards books like this runs wide and deep. But this is the brilliant exception. I've already re-read most of it. I'm using it. What more could a reader ask?
— (Tom Peters, bestselling author of In Search of Excellence and The Pursuit of Wow!)
Daniel Goleman
Emotional intelligence applied to life's tough moments.
— (Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Working with Emotional Intelligence)
Peter M. Senge
The only people who shouldn't read Difficult Conversations are those who never work with people, anywhere.
— (Peter M. Senge, bestselling author of The Fifth Discipline)

Meet the Author

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen teach at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Negotiation Project. They have been consultants to businesspeople, governments, organizations, communities, and individuals around the world, and have written on negotiation and communication in publications ranging from the New York Times to Parents magazine. Bruce Patton is also a co-author of Getting to Yes. Each of them lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Stone and Heen are the authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You're Not in the Mood) (Viking/Penguin, 2014)

Roger Fisher is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law Emeritus, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and the founder of two consulting organizations devoted to strategic advice and negotiation training.

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Difficult Conversations 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
ParentsDigest_Pam More than 1 year ago
This book provides excellent advice for everyone, but especially those of us for whom confrontation is excruciating. I will take away many pointers from this book (that I thankfully found while browsing book summaries on ParentsDigest.com) and feel better prepared for my next 'difficult conversation'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
indeed an effective overview of how we communicate with the people we care about. This work will remain a timeless classic as it is guided by universal principles of human dialog. Very well written, and easy to relate to the stories and examples, as we encounter situations with difficult conversations more often than we realize.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found 'Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High' by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler, Ron McMillan far more useful and practical. I have actually applied it's principals in my daily life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book on CD because the title intrigued me, and I had been noticing lately that I have any number of 'difficult' conversations in my life, one's that i just don't want to have. I consider myself a decent communicator, willing to confront any number of difficult subjects. I also have a couple of people in my life where I now, always have good conversations, no matter what the subject. I have been frustrated that my competence in some conversations did not seem to bleed through to other contexts. Most of the material I have read about communications seems to either be incredibly esoteric or so over simplifying that it is not useful. I found this book both incredibly useful and in a useable structure that addresses the very real complexities of something that I believe challenges most of us. I found myself able to retrieve and use the information easily. I am here buying a copy for each of my 5 siblings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book amazingly useful. Some of this I understood intuitively, but never could have verbalized what was going on or understood how to deal with it. This book provides a great framework for understanding verbal interactions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Either the timing was right or this was just a plain great book. I don't usually write reviews nor do I purchase a book from my "management" reading list. But I did this one. It gives you a breakdown of the perspectives people have (including your own) as well as dissecting it into understandable parts and usable techniques. This works for the office or home. You won't be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great for us who have difficulties starting difficult discussions. Practical and useful. I could only apply a little at a time because there was so much information. I found the book not only useful but setup in a very logical structure. A great tool for people of all ages.
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This is one of those books that you will want to underline and highlight and refer back to when you need them most. Some books gloss over certain topics, this book will guide you through them. This should be apart of your permanent library. For anyone who feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. I was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
babycakeskid More than 1 year ago
The first time I read this book, I only got to page 42 before I realized I couldn't go any further... This book is SO JAM-PACKED with useful information, that I had to put it down come back to it a year later (after digesting the first bits of info). It is SUCH a great book. It points to the real conversations that people are having in their heads as they talk to you, and it teaches you to recognize those things and put them out on the table. Highly recommend, just like most books I'm reviewing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago