Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most Summary

The SQUEEZE: Handling an unpleasant exchange in a proactive, productive manner will often contribute to accomplishing a greater objective. The objective might be to usher in peace in a tension-filled, stressful environment. On the other hand, the objective might be to only communicate and/or verbalize pain and hurtful feelings. Regardless of the objective, we must learn how to confront our emotions using dialogue and communication skills. These are the sentiments of Stone, Patton, and Heen in Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. The authors identify and outline three types of dialogues: the what happened conversation, the feelings conversation, and the identity conversation. Stone, Patton, and Heen combine insights derived from such disciplines as law, psychology, cognitive science, organizational behavior, and dialogue studies to offer recommendations for multiple contexts. One recommendation centers on disarming the impulse to blame and instead assessing the situation to determine the extent of personal contribution. Using scripted conversations, anecdotes, and common examples, the authors illustrate points that offer an intrinsic appeal. Difficult Conversations is a must-read for human resources managers.

Notable Endorsement: “This latest how-to from the Harvard Negotiation Project may not spend as long on best-seller lists as Getting to YES (1992), but it will appeal to readers who've endured hostile, annoying, and utterly unproductive talks with family members, bosses, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances.” –Booklist

Common Q’s Answered by this Book:

  • What are some methods for moving from emotion to productive problem solving?
  • What are examples of unpleasant exchanges?
  • What is the Harvard Negotiation Project?
  • What are the three separate components?
  • What are examples of difficult conversations within interpersonal, business, or political contexts?

About the Author: Douglas Stone is a managing partner at Triad Consulting Group. Stone is also a lecturer on law at the Harvard Law School. At the school, Stone teaches negotiation; through Triad, he offers consulting to a wide-range of clients. Clients include Honda, HP, Merck, Microsoft, the Nature Conservancy, and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Stone’s articles appear in multiple mediums, from radio to magazine and television. His research interests extend to conflict resolution. Stone completed studies at Brown University (1980) and Harvard Law School (1984).  Bruce M. Patton is a fellow of the project. Patton, with Fisher, pioneered the teaching of negotiation at Harvard Law School, serving as the Thaddeus R. Beal Lecturer on law for 15 years. Patton teaches two workshops on negotiation in the Harvard Negotiation Institute and occasionally law classes. Patton, with four colleagues, founded Vantage Partners, LLC, which is an international consulting firm. Patton received an A.B. from Harvard College (1978) and a juris doctor from Harvard Law School (1984). A lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, Sheila Heen is a partner at Triad Consulting Group. Heen also teaches executive education courses. Heen’s corporate clients include Citigroup, Ford, DuPont, Merck, and the Singapore Supreme Court. Heen’s career interests extend to the development of negotiation theory and practice, specializing in difficult negotiations and strained relationships. Heen has worked for the Harvard Negotiation Project for ten years. For more information about Stone, Patton, and Heen and the Triad Consulting Group, visit: http://www.diffcon.com/.


Book Vitals:

Publisher: Penguin Books (November 2010)

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