Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is a book about (who’d have guessed) difficult conversations, what makes them difficult and how to improve on dealing with them.


What makes a Conversation Difficult and what to do about it

  • I’m right, you’re wrong – Don’t assume that only one position can be right/sensible/correct. Instead look at points of views as complementary rather than exclusive
  • Blame – Blame is a central part of difficult conversations and consists of three distinct parts (did the person make a mistake, was it the person’s fault, how should the person be punished). This collapsing of three completely different topics into “blame” leads to defensiveness in the blamed and to a polarization of the different viewpoints instead of a convergence.
  • Self-image – Most difficult conversations have your self-image at their core. Once you realize that the conversation is less about the facts and more about what the outcome of the conversation means for your self-image, you can deal better with these issues
  • Emotions – People often try to keep emotions out of difficult conversations, since we think they would only be hindering. In reality, we can not leave our emotions at the door, and only make our positions far less transparent by hiding our emotional background
  • Between the lines – Often far more important than what is said during a conversation is what is NOT said. All the assumptions, feelings, history and misgivings of the past that lie below a critical threshold are not articulated and lead to diverging views of a situation instead of converging ones
  • Listen to me – Imposing your view on the world on your environment is a very human impulse, but instead of preaching one should embrace the other’s view of the situation and reach a learning situation. By learning the “opposite” view of the situation you can then understand the other’s actions better and more easily gain unanimous solutions
  • Intent – We tend to attribute intent by how an action impacts us. Therefore we always attribute good intent to our own actions since we know how we meant it, but more often than not bad intent to the actions of others, when their actions had a negative impact on us. Becoming aware of this asymmetry can help us attribute less bad intent to the people around us

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