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Difficult Conversations

How to Discuss What Matters Most

By Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
12-minute read
Audio available
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most 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.

  • Politicians and business leaders
  • Teachers
  • Parents

Douglas Stone lectures at Harvard Law School and is an expert in negotiation and communication. He co-founded the Triad Consulting Group, a communication and education consultancy firm.

Bruce Patton is the co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a research entity that deals with conflict resolution and negotiation practices. Patton also founded Vantage Partners, a law firm representing some of the world’s biggest corporations.

Sheila Heen is a teacher at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Triad Consulting Group. She also works as a mediator at the Singapore Supreme Court.

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Difficult Conversations

How to Discuss What Matters Most

By Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
Synopsis

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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