Book review: Difficult conversations

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Difficult conversations are those that make your pulse jump, the ones you aren’t sure whether or not to attempt. The authors of Difficult Conversations present tools and a clear roadmap for helping to navigate the bumpy roads associated with these challenging conversations.

The book is written in an easy to read, almost entertaining style and gives plenty real life examples. The authors point out why these conversations quickly go from bad to worse. The book highlights three common pitfalls we all make when having such conversations:

Pitfall#1: We start with the assumption that we are right and the others are wrong. The issue is that we are right from our perspective, but difficult conversations are not about getting the facts right; they are about conflicting interpretations, emotions and beliefs/values.

Pitfall #2: We never ask enough questions. Many difficult conversations are focusing on advocating for “our side” rather than being curious and inquiring the other person’s views.

Pitfall #3: We believe that in order to solve the problem we have to remain fully rational and avoid emotions or feelings. When you drill down to the heart of the issue, then feelings or emotions are at the core of the discussion.

Topics in the book include:

• How to decipher the underlying structure of every difficult conversation.
• Why what is not said is as important as what is said.
• How to identify and change our deeply ingrained but erroneous assumptions that get us into trouble.
• The role of emotions – ours and theirs.
• How conversations affect our self-image and how our self-image affects our conversations.

The checklist and road map at the end of the book provide a great place for review after reading the book.

I hope you can benefit from it.

Subject matter: Communication
Authors: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen
Publisher: Viking Press, latest edition 2004

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