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Difficult conversations.

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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Douglas Stone
Bruce Patton
Sheila Heen
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 4 minuuttia.

At least once in our lives, we’ve felt the need to avoid certain conversations whether they were with friends, family, team members, or co-workers just because of how difficult they may appear to us. Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton cover this issue in the book “Difficult Conversations” by offering real-life examples and tips for how you can get through navigating them successfully and without stress, and provide a framework so these conversations stay on topic and no feelings are hurt in the process.

Three different conversations happening at the same time.

In each hard conversation, there are three hidden conversations occurring, the good part about this is that if people can understand the structure of their difficult conversations, they can make them more productive.

The ‘What Happened conversation’: In these conversations, it’s easy to accuse the other person of ill intent or to blame them for things they don’t have anything to do with. It consists of assuming what the other person’s intentions are and telling who said what, who did what, who’s right, who meant what, and who’s to blame.

The ‘feelings conversation’: emotions are a must in this conversation since all that one can think about is whether their feelings are valid. Should they be feeling fear, anger, sadness, or disappointment? And have they hurt the other participant’s feelings in the conversation?

The ‘identity conversation’ is the conversation we have with ourselves. Lots of identity questioning is involved, we doubt and second guess ourselves and start wondering if we are coming across as competent, kind, and lovable and question our self-image and our self-esteem.

A learning conversation

The learning conversation is a conversation free of tough feelings, blame, and fights. It will help you solve the issues surrounding the ‘what happened conversation’. Start by questioning what made the person see something way too differently from you. Focus on their actions instead of assuming that their intentions are impure and bad, look at the rest that contributed to the problem, even you. Keep in mind that everyone has essential information which they may not be aware of, the goal of these difficult conversations should be to explore these differences productively.

A feelings conversation

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, as humans we are embarrassed about how we feel, and other times we worry about offending the other side of the conversation. Firstly you should consider why you react in some specific way to a specific conversation think about past experiences that affected the way you handle your feelings, next focus on the other person with curiosity about how they feel. Then share your feelings in a thoughtful way because your difficult conversations will remain unproductive if you are unwilling to share both the good and bad emotions associated with those conversations do not just state that ‘you are angry’, and most importantly do not accuse the other person through claims of “you always” or “you never instead help them understand your reaction and viewpoint

An identity conversation

We must keep in mind that our identity is made up of many different components and often we perceive ourselves as either being loyal or a cheater, loving or hateful so when a difficult conversation occurs we quickly start questioning our identity. Identifying through absolutes, makes us visualize difficult conversations as an attack on our self-image. One tip to follow is to remind yourself that you can never guess how people will react no matter how much you know them, you cant control people and their behavior and the sooner you realize this, the better it is for you to focus and remain on board.

The third neutral story

Never start with your side of the story! It risks threatening the self-image of the other person. Instead, start by explaining the situation from an observer’s point of view instead of your own therefore you start the conversation with an understanding of solving a problem and this helps emphasize that you want to come to an agreement together. Lets say for example youre telling your bestfriend or partner or any close person to you that what they said about you to their friends did upset you. However this can easily be misinterpreted by them into thinking youre accusing them of betrayal either accidentally or intentionally because they failed to think before speaking, and this could result them becoming defensive and aggressive to protect the image they have of themselves being that one thoughtful, loyal partner.

After having introduced the conversation as a Third Story, there comes the need to extend an invitation. This is when there is a proposal to have a conversation to either solve a problem or come to a mutual understanding.

An ideal opening would be letting the other side of the conversation know that your goal is to understand their perspective better, it’s very useful to share your own and talk about how you will move forward.

Now that a Third Story has already been initiated, it’s time to have the real discussion where you’ll need to spend time exploring each of the Three Conversations (the learning conversation, the identity conversation, and the feelings conversation) from each person’s perspective. This must be approached as Third Story, Their Story, Your Story. This means that after you’ve opened up with a Third Story, you’ll need to let the other party share his or her views and feelings and then you’ll be able to step back and share yours, their feelings alongside with point of view must be heard and understood not dodged. As they share, make sure you listen and demonstrate that you understand what they are saying by turning down your internal voice and focusing on the other person. In the end, you and whomever you’re having this talk with will be able to work through difficult conversations and find balance and solutions in the future.


The type of talks that we see heading towards storming into a difficult conversation are actually the ones worth the effort if there’s a chance, they could improve our lives. Turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to something that’s bugging us is not the ideal decision to take, in fact, it makes the issue we’re facing even bigger and worse. Instead, we must work to find ways on how to speak up in an effective manner, which will guide us through to find a solution.


Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. D. Stone. B. Patton. S. Heen. Penguin Books; Anniversary, Updated edition (November 2, 2010).

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