Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton
Penguin, 250 pp
Publication Date: April 1999
One of the major things I do as a coach is to help people prepare for a difficult conversation. This book, by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project,
provides the finest road map I know of for how to hold these conversations with wisdom and grace.
The authors begin by explaining the three conversations
that comprise a difficult conversation. First there is the conversation about what happened; then there is the conversation about the emotions around the issue.
Finally, the third conversation is about identity, or what is at stake for me personally in the conversation. This framework alone offers significant insight into what makes
a particular conversation difficult.
The book goes on to offer guidance as to when it is wise
to initiate a difficult conversation and when it is unwise. Assuming you decide the conversation needs to be held, the authors offer a way to open the conversation from
the perspective of the "third story" which is the gap between the stories of the two parties. This technique is bound to help most anyone raise a touchy issue without
creating a lot of defensiveness. And finally, when you have successfully navigated through a conversation from the stance of the “third story” you can begin to talk about problem solving.
Difficult Conversations is easy to follow? with helpful examples, and numerous useful distinctions, such as
blame versus contribution. At the back of the book there is a summary/roadmap of the entire book, which is a quick reference for how to plan for and hold your next difficult
conversation. Anyone who works with people will benefit from having this book on their bookshelf for it will contribute to their emotional intelligence in conversations