The Reading List

Updated: Sep 15

Difficult Conversations by Douglas stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

When you’re told you have a summer reading list for school, the first response that comes to mind is, “Ugh- homework.” Don’t get me wrong, I love to read and I mean, this whole going back to school thing was my idea. Safe to say, when I opened up the sleek white box, the dread dispersed when I saw the material. All the books were about strategy and design- all applicable to my day to day and nothing that was overwhelming. The first book I decided to pick up was called, “Difficult Conversations” by Douglas stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. I had a heated argument with a friend that morning, so of course, I reached for this book first thinking that this book would give me insight to the error of their ways. It actually made me take a closer look at myself.


Courage to Speak Up

No one wants to talk about their feelings. It’s easier to forget about the issue or ignore the problem- or is it? Chapter 5 is titled “Have your feelings or they will have you,” which is absolutely true. One way or another, they will slowly ooze out or burst. Think of that one friend with the snide comments or that parent that tends to lose it over absolutely nothing. Not every feeling might be worth addressing, but holding back can do more damage than good. We’re also afraid to have these conversations because they threaten our identity. We want to see ourselves as being a certain kind of person- kind, competent, loved, etc. No one is all or nothing- we have to become familiar with our identity issues- those sensitivities that can make us react a certain way to a specific conversation or event.


Organizing Your Thoughts

Finding the courage to address the situation is only half the battle. The next step is how do you compose your thoughts and speak without assuming their intentions and pushing blame.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own head. It’s necessary to take a step back, and observe from the other person’s perspective as well as third person perspective.

  • Actions- What did they actually say or do?

  • Impact- What was the impact on me?

  • Assumption- Based on the impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended.

Hold this view as a hypothesis. Walk the other person through their actions, the impact, and your assumptions. Make sure to tell them you are checking not asserting that it’s true.


Understanding Contribution

What is contribution? It’s about understanding. In most situations, it’s never completely the other person’s fault. When we blame, it makes us lose focus on what’s causing the problem and then there is never a solution to correct it. It’s more important to figure out a solution vs pointing fingers. It’s also difficult to think that we are most likely a part of the problem.


The Conversation

1. Begin from third story perspective.

2. Extend an invitation to discuss and understand their perspective, share your own, and how to move forward together.

3. Inquire to learn by asking questions to gain deeper understanding about their conclusion.

4. Paraphrase to check your understanding and to show that you’ve heard what they are saying.

5. Acknowledge their feelings by expressing that you empathize with said person. You don’t have to agree, but you should make clear their feelings matter.

6. Express yourself. Remember that your opinion matters just as much as anyone else’s.

Talk to the heart of the matter by saying how you feel, what is important to you, what this is about. Don’t make them guess or tip-toe around the topic.

  • While expressing yourself, don’t present your conclusion as the truth. Use “I believe…”

  • Share where your conclusions come from.Don’t exaggerate with “always” or “never”. Using these words can create a new argument about frequency.

  • The final step would be problem solving. It might be difficult and could take time, but the ultimate goal is finding a fair way to resolve the differences.

Obviously, the book goes into much greater detail and explanation. I wanted to sum up some of the key take-aways and add a little bit of my own story.

I’ve always had a hard time talking about feelings. I have a father that never expressed feeling and a mother that expressed them all. It seemed easier to be on the end of the spectrum where feelings didn’t exist. My impression was that emotions and feelings were something only “girly-girls” had and I didn’t want that label. The majority of my life, I lived like nothing phased me. Nothing could make me mad, cry, sad- except sports- that was my one outlet. But like I stated earlier, if you hold back your feelings, eventually they will find a way out. I’ve realized mine likes to seep out in sarcastic comments or random bouts of crying (not pretty). It wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I realized that you can’t let emotions go unchecked. They weigh you down and have the capability to ruin your day, relationships, and mindset. You have to let them out- but in a way that aims to solve the problem and not enhance it.


Remember when I said this book had changed my initial reaction with the argument I had with me friend? It made me take a look at my own contributions to the problem. Maybe I’m not the easiest to approach when it comes to confrontation, or that it’s hard for me to say how I feel so I may be passive-aggressive. Could it be that I didn’t voice the importance of the situation like I should have, or made it clear that this was something I expected from them?


I did play apart in the issue, more so than I’d like to admit. I also learned how initiate a learning conversation that will help us communicate better in the future and hopefully avoid this same issue.

It’s not easy to speak up and say how you feel articulately. I hope this book helps you discuss what matters most.

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