Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations

How do you respond to difficult conversations? Do you hide from them? Do you push your way through them like a bull in a china shop? Each of us, whether we work independently or in an office environment, faces difficult conversations every day. You want to feel confident and in control when you face a difficult conversation.

A difficult conversation is anything one finds hard to talk about. This book can help alleviate the stress and provide the tools to successful problem solving.

Practical Examples of Real Conversations

Woven through the text are practical examples of real conversations between actual people in conflict with one and another. The means and ways to direct a conversation back to purposeful negotiation methods are also provided. When and how to walk away from a difficult conversation is covered as well, along with suggestions on how to deal with the resultant emotions of leaving be an argument. It is always good to know how to pick and choose one’s battles.

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project have compiled the results of their research into this compact, practical and invaluable guide on how to handle awkward conversations.

Whether as a parent, partner, employee or consumer, one faces difficult conversation on a daily basis. Difficult Conversations draws upon the project’s multi-disciplinary research on the ways and means of negotiation. The authors have encapsulated their findings in to a stress and anxiety reducing Five Step Process to successfully working through a difficult conversation.

Step 1: Three Conversations: The initial step is to identify and sort out the three parts of the conversation:

  • What is the real story here? What happened or is happening?
  • What are the emotions involved for each party?
  • Identity – what does the story and subsequent emotions reveal about each participant’s stake in the matter?

Step 2: Purpose, Time, and Place

The second step clarifies the purpose and necessity of the conversation.

  • What is the purpose of the conversation and is the purpose worth pursuing?
  • Is this the right time and place to hold this conversation?

Step 3: Starting Point

This next step is literally taking a step back in order to view the issue from each participant’s perspective. Does each side actually have a common purpose? Extend an invitation to the other participant to help explore the possibility of a common purpose.

Step 4: Explore Both Sides

A continuation of the previous step, the basics of resolution are covered in Step 4 and involve:

  • Listening in order to understand.
  • Sharing each other’s viewpoints, past experiences and feelings.
  • Reframe the conversation away from blame to the more successful stance of positive contributions necessary for effective problem-solving.

Step 5: Problem Solving

Problem solving often requires a lot of listening, sharing and reframing.

  • Look for options that address each side.
  • Decide which standards should apply. Maybe it is time to do something a new or different way.
  • Keep talking, listening and reframing until the problem is solved or until all alternatives are exhausted and the problem is resolved.

We all face difficult conversations both at home and at work. The trick is learning how to best handle those conversations so they do not destroy our relationships. When you study the Say It Just Right model of communication and put those ideas into practice, you will get closer to that magic place where even difficult conversations are not so hard.