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Full Title: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Author(s): Douglas Stone; Bruce Patton; Sheila Heen

All three of them are part of the Program on Negotiation @ Harvard Law School. I would type out the "About The Authors" page within the book here, but it is long and the link above is more thorough.
Publishing / Edition: Penguin Books, 2000
Purchase; Read: Borrow the eBook from Internet Archive. It seems like there are several different copies, so if this one is already borrowed, you can probably find another one if you search for the title!

Content Review

The authors certainly waste no time in getting to the heart of the matter. Within the first page of the Introduction, they define a "difficult conversation" as anytime:

• "we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is implicated",
• "the issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain", and/or
• "when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it"

They go on to further describe how they have come to find that every difficult conversation is actually "three conversations" rolled into one. In other words, any difficult conversation has three components that are distinct from one another, but which are occurring at the same time. Uncovering these aspects can help one to handle the situation better and to communicate more effectively.

These three components are:

• each individual's perception as to the circumstances of the situation ("The 'What Happened?' Conversation")
• each individual's emotional response to that perception ("The Feelings Conversation")
• how those thoughts and feelings affect each individual on a personal level ("The Identity Conversation")

When all of these are considered, the difficult conversation starts to change from "a battle of messages", where each person is attempting to get their point across, into "a learning conversation", where each person is attempting to learn more about each other's experience of reality. By the end of Chapter 1 (on pgs. 18-19), they summarize all of this information in a very helpful table:

A Battle of Messages A Learning Coversation
The "What Happened" Conversation"

Challenge: The situation is more complex than either person can see.
Assumption: I know all I need to know to understand what happened.

Goal: Persuade them I'm right.
Assumption: Each of us is bringing different information and perceptions to the table; there are likely to be important things that each of us doesn't know.

Goal: Explore each other's stories - how we understand the situation and why.
Assumption: I know what they intended.

Goal: Let them know what they did was wrong.
Assumption: I know what I intended, and the impact their actions had on me. I don't and can't know what's in their head.

Goal: Share the impact on me, and find out what they were thinking. Also find out what impact I'm having on them.
Assumption: It's all their fault. (Or it's all my fault.)

Goal: Get them to admit blame and take responsibility for making amends.
Assumption: We have probably both contributed to this mess.

Goal: Understand the contribution system - how our actions interact to produce this result.
The Feelings Conversation

Challenge: The situation is emotionally charged.
Assumption: Feelings are irrelevant and wouldn't be helpful to share. (Or, my feelings are their fault and they need to hear about them.)

Goal: Avoid talking about feelings. (Or, let 'em have it!)
Assumption: Feelings are the heart of the situation. Feelings are usually complex. I may have to dig a bit to understand my feelings.

Goal: Address feelings (mine and theirs) without judgments or attributions. Acknowledge feelings before problem-solving.
The Identity Conversation

Challenge: The situation threatens our identity.
Assumption: I'm competent or incompetent, good or bad, lovable or unlovable. There is no in-between.

Goal: Protect my all-or-nothing self-image.
Assumption: There may be a lot at stake psychologically for both of us. Each of us is complex, neither of us is perfect.

Goal: Understand the identity issues on the line for each of us. Build a more complex self-image to maintain my balance better.

The rest of the book systematically goes through how to handle each of these three conversations through clear explanations of helpful concepts and relatable example situations. To be honest, it is one of the most well-organized books that I have ever come across. Content is reinforced through summaries without becoming overly repetitive and an outline at the end of the book makes it seem as if the authors really care about making sure that you fully understand it all. As a subject that is so prevelant throughout life, it is well worth reading, and might even trigger thoughts of "I wish I had read this sooner."

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the update that covers "10 Frequently Asked Questions" as I have only read the old version.

Related Resources

Several books here have a similar theme, such as:

Elgin, Suzette Haden. The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. Dorset Press, 1980.

Ellison, Sharon Strand. Taking the War Out of Our Words. Voices of Integrity, 2016.

Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. 3rd ed., PuddleDancer Press, 2015.