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Difficult conversations

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Outline of the Thesis:
General Subject Matter: Business communication
Theme: Communication during uncomfortable conversations.
Thesis: The author explores what makes some conversations difficult, why people avoid having difficult conversations, and why people often manage difficult conversations poorly. The author then provides information on how to handle these situations.

Assessment of Author’s Main Points:

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What Happened
The “what happened conversation” is where most difficult conversation develop from. Most begin with some type of dispute of what transpired. They may agree on the basic facts but have different interpretations of what it means.

The author suggests taking the “And Stance,” acknowledgment that both parties have a different takes on the situation. Next we should not make assumptions based of ones intentions. We often jump from the impact of the situation to the intent without asking for an explanation of their motives. Finally, in the “what happened” conversation we need to avoid assigning blame. It makes us lose focus on the problem and how to fix it.

Instead concentrate on how all parties contributed to the situation. This emphasizes understanding causes, joint responsibility, and avoiding future problems. Feelings

Feelings make a difficult conversation just that, difficult. We may question the validity of our own feelings or worry about angering or hurting the other person. This is why many people try to ignore the emotional content of these interactions. The author states instead of avoidance we need to acknowledge and share feelings. Otherwise it leads to translation of feelings into judgments, characterizations and attributions about the other person. Thus, putting up barriers in communication. Identity

Some conversations are difficult because they make one uncomfortable with their identity. This usually results in internal identity conversation about ones competency, goodness, or whether they are worthy of being loved. Adopting an “And Stance” toward one’s identity, rejecting all-or-nothing thinking, not trying to control the other’s reactions, preparing for their reaction, imagining yourself in the future, or just taking a break from the conversation are all ways to keep a balanced sense of self during a difficult interaction. The authors state that “the more easily you can admit to your own mistakes, your own mixed intentions, and your own contributions to the problem, the more balanced you will feel during the conversation, and the higher the chances it will go well.”(Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999, p. 119)

Letting go
On occasion it may be determined that the best course of action in a difficult situation is to let it go. You may determine another course of action to be more favorable Mentally working through the three conversations listed above will be your best guide. If this is the route chosen keep these things in mind: You are not responsible for fixing the situation; the most you can do is your best. Remind yourself that the other party also has limitations. Separate the issue from your identity. Acknowledge that that you can let go and still care about the issue.

Learning Conversations
When beginning a difficult conversation do not begin by describing the problem from your own perspective. This would imply that an opinion has been formed about the other person rendering a defensive reaction. The authors suggest that starting conversations on neutral ground, describing all parties’ points of view. From there an opening is created for the other party to join in a dialog that strives for mutual understanding and collaborative problem solving. Listening is the crux of managing difficult conversations appropriately. It gives us an understanding of the other person, and the feeling of having been heard makes the people more able to listen themselves. Ways to make the other person to feel heard asking open questions, asking for more concrete information, asking questions that explore the three conversations, and giving the other the option of not answering.

Then paraphrase what they have told you to clarify your own understanding Avoid questions that are actually statements and cross-examination. From there express your position, avoiding statements that make it appear only your view is the correct one. Even when taking this approach some will still want to play the blame game or argue about who is right. The book suggests three different ways to deal with these situations. First, reframing the conversation into concepts the other person can relate to. Second, when the other party persistently puts the conversation off track, by interrupting or denying emotions, explicitly name that behavior and raise it as an issue for discussion. Finally, when all else fails, listen. The authors state “the single most important rule about managing the interaction is this: you can’t move the conversation in a more positive direction until the other person feels heard and understood.” (Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999, p. 206) Problem solving is really two people negotiating until an agreement is met. Ask the other party what they would do in your position. Brainstorm for options for dealing with the problem, and consider what principles could guide a fair solution. If settlement on a reciprocally acceptable solution does not occur, each must decide whether to accept a lesser solution, or to accept the consequences of failing to agree and walking away. If a person choses to walk away, they should clarify why, describing their interests, feelings and choices.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

The strengths of this book are many. I found it to be an easy read. It breaks conversations down and gives great examples that keep things understandable and applicable across myriad circumstances. It’s useful in
working through partner relationships, parent-child relationships, and employer-employee relationships.

One weakness I found in the book is the author provides limited data on how well they have found this approach to work. I also feel that both parties involved in the conversation would have need to read the book to achieve optimal benefit.

Survey of Topics covered and Other Information:

I found the most important theme throughout the book was to be an active listener. This requires being present and focused on the speaker. From listening you may not change your opinion of the situation but you will gain a greater perspective into what the others person is saying. This will improve relationships and likely more positive outcomes in the future. Research shows that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear. (Carlson, 2013) When we are involved in a difficult conversation people are often busy in creating a response to win the argument. When people are in conflict, they often contradict each other, denying the opponents description of a situation. This tends to make people defensive, and they will either lash out, or withdraw and say nothing more. Active listening skills have several benefits and can help improve outcomes in uncomfortable situations. It forces people to listen attentively to others. Next, it avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they do really understand what another person has said. Finally, it tends to open people up, to get them to say more. This is because it gives the feeling to the other party you are attuned to their concerns and want to listen, they are likely to explain in detail what they feel and why. If both parties to a conflict do this, the chances of being able to develop a solution to the mutual problem becomes much greater.(University of Colorado, 2005)


In all aspects of our lives we try to avoid difficult conversations. Comprehension of what creates this behavior will give us understanding on how to change it. Being able to overcome the fear of these challenging discussions helps one develop into a leader in their professional life. One needs to understand that all conversations consist of three separate dialogues: what happened, feelings and our identity. From there you can choose to let the issue go or turn the difficult conversation into a positive learning experience.

Cite this Difficult conversations

Difficult conversations. (2016, Jul 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/difficult-conversations/

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