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Difficult Conversations

How to Discuss What Matters Most

By Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
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Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

Difficult Conversations (1999) takes a look at what makes a conversation difficult and why we often try to avoid them. It outlines how to correctly approach and maneuver through tough topics to build positive and meaningful relationships.

Key idea 1 of 7

You shouldn’t avoid difficult conversations out of fear of the consequences.

Communication is key to getting what you want, but some conversations are harder to have than others.

A difficult conversation is anything you find a challenge to discuss. Common topics include race, religion, sexuality and gender politics, but it can extend to any conversations that make you uncomfortable – such as asking your partner to quit smoking.

Unpleasant talks are often avoided because the outcomes are unpredictable and the stakes are high, leaving you vulnerable. Your mind jumps back and forth, trying to decide the best course of action: Should I approach this issue? Or should I just let it go? If you choose to confront it, the situation could improve. However, there’s also the risk that you may get a less than favorable result.

Say you decide to talk to your neighbor about his dog keeping you up at night with its incessant barking. On the one hand, he might be very understanding and offer to keep the dog inside after dark. But he may also think you’re overreacting and hold a grudge against you for complaining.

No matter the situation, always take up the conversation – even if it’s difficult.

Difficult conversations aren’t ideal, but neither are barking dogs keeping you up at night. More often than not, these talks are worth the effort if there’s a chance they could improve your life. So don’t turn a blind eye – or a deaf ear – to something that’s bugging you. Instead, learn how to speak up in an effective manner, which we’ll teach you in the following blinks.

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