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Review of Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

This is a review of Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

Have you ever struggled to negotiate something important to you like a pay raise? Have you ever felt anxious talking something over with your partner? Are there issues you ignore because you’re too afraid to talk about it? Are you sick of arguing, feeling ignored, and getting no where in a tough conversation? Difficult Conversations is a solution to these conversation problems.

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen have studied situations described by the above questions at the Harvard Negotiation Project. Their findings come from diverse fields of study like cognitive therapy, social psychology, and communication theory. After analyzing, developing theories, and testing conversations where people struggle to effectively communicate in tough situations, the end result is Difficult Conversations.

The complete framework of the book explains the three conversations we have with ourselves and the other person in tough conversations:

  1. The “What Happened?” Conversation has people learn each other’s stories of what occurred.
  2. The Feelings Conversation discovers and expresses (not vents) emotions during the conversation.
  3. The Identity Conversation finds how people attribute themselves to the discussed issues.
…a leading book for learning how to talk about tough issues.

Each of the three conversations are discussed in-depth as the authors advise you what to focus on, common mistakes made, and general pieces of advice you will find directly speak to you. One particular piece that spoke to me is the assumption we know the truth. In this assumption we think the other person is wrong and we are right. The problem is the other person thinks the same thing – a sure formula for destructive conflict. When you shift to a learning conversation as you explore the three conversations, you can overcome these limited views.

The last chapter provides a complete dialog between two people as one of the individuals uses the entire Difficult Conversation’s framework. This is followed by a convenient summary of all the book’s main points (an excellent on-hand quick reference).

Overall, the language used is simple and easy to understand. You are shown conversations of what went wrong and what went right to help you discuss difficult issues and deal with difficult people.

Difficult Conversations is a leading book to learn how to talk about tough issues. I recommend you get it because we all have people to confront and problems to solve, while keeping the relationship in tact. You can grab your copy of the book now from Amazon by clicking here. (Also read my review of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations, another good book on tough communication. The books are related, but do not overlap.)


One of Difficult Conversations authors Douglas Stone at Belmont University teaches how internal dialog can make conversations difficult

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Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"

Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to


Review of Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

[…] here today. (You may also want to read Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations for another source of tips to have the conversations you […]