Book Review: Difficult Conversations

Do you have a conversation you keep putting off?

What would need to happen for you to have that conversation?

For the past 30 years, the Harvard Negotiation Project has helped people navigate conversational minefields, ever since the publication of Getting to Yes in 1981.  Their method involves reframing conversations, looking for win-win situations and brainstorming for creative solutions.

Difficult Conversations applies this method to ... surprise ... difficult conversations.

Beneath every "difficult conversation" lies three complex conversations:
  1. A "What Happened" Conversation: Which story is true?
  2. A Feelings Conversation: What should we do with our emotions?
  3. An Identity Conversation: What does this say about us?
Having a high-quality "difficult conversation" involves reframing these three conversations.  "What happened" becomes an exercise in setting false attributions aside and listening.  Feelings go from being irrelevant to useful.  We find ourselves prepared for the things people might say that might shake us.
Some of my big take-aways:
  • Clarifying intention doesn't remove emotion.  When you clarify your intentions first-thing in a conversation, the other person may become frustrated, feeling unheard and uncared about.  Acknowledging and listening to their feelings first creates the relational space to allow them to better understand your intentions.
  • Although you can't avoid identity conversations, you can prepare for them.  And that preparation can make a world of difference.  It can help you open yourself to insight from others, avoid defensiveness, and maintain self-control.
  • Not having difficult conversations uses up more energy than actually having the conversation.  I definitely justify conflict avoidance through an appeal to efficiency.  "It'll just be easier to do it myself, to wait him out, to take all the blame, etc..."  But it isn't easier.  It's exhausting.
The book helped me.  Perhaps it will help you.

Do you have a "difficult conversation" on the horizon?  How are you preparing?

ps. The book involves a lot of repetition, so I wouldn't recommend reading it straight through.  It would make a great section-a-day read.

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