Brief Description of Essential Information
Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, of the Harvard Negotiation Project (HNP), wrote the book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Viking Press originally published the 234-page book in 1999. This self-help book, ISBN 0-670-88339-5, is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.95.
Communication skills are important in professional negotiations and in personal life. This book discusses why we find some dialogue difficult, why we avoid it, and why we often address it ineffectively. Most important, the authors suggest methods for more effective, productive, and rewarding, interaction.
The thesis, or the main idea of the book, is that by using specific communication techniques, we can turn difficult discussions into productive learning conversations.
Overview of Main Points
The book is divided into two main sections. In the first section, “Shift to a Learning Stance”, the authors suggest that each difficult conversation actually involves three concurrent conversations: the “what happened” conversation, the feelings conversation, and the identity conversation. The “what happened” conversation is complicated by the differing perspectives of the participants. Although parties often agree on basic facts, there are differences of opinion regarding the interpretation of their meaning or importance. These diverse viewpoints may be the result of differences in personality, exposure to different information, or different life experiences. Progress toward a learning conversation requires letting go of strong mindsets and shifting toward genuine curiosity about the other’s point of view. Adoption of the “And Stance” can be helpful, as it simultaneously acknowledges the views of both parties. Next, the authors warn against assuming knowledge of the other’s intent, as these assumptions are often incorrect. They point out that assumptions are based on our own feelings. For example, if we feel hurt, then the other person must have meant to hurt us. Furthermore, we should acknowledge the hurt feelings of the other, even if this was not our intent. The final component of the “what happened” conversation is the problem with the assignment of blame, which inhibits the ability to learn about the cause of the problem or to collaborate to fix it. The authors remind us that “…blame is about judging and contribution is about understanding (p. 59).” Attention should be focused on examining each person’s contribution to the problem with a goal of understanding cause and avoiding future problems. An effective “what happened” conversation illuminates the fact that the situation is more complex than either party’s original perception. Next, the authors discuss the importance of having a “feelings” conversation. Although emotions frequently drive difficult conversations, people often ignore them. However, unaddressed feelings generally re-emerge to...