Difficult Conversations

Source: Difficult Conversations, by Stone,Patton, and Heen; p18-19

cf.: Observable Data, and Difficult Conversations Checklist.

Conversation A Battle of Messages A Learning Conversation
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.
: Explore each other’s stories: how we understand the situation and why.
Assumption: I know what they intended
: 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.
: 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.
: Understand the contribution system; how our actions interact to produce this result.
The Feeling 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.
: 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.
: Understand the identity issues on the line for each of us. Build a more complex self-image to maintain my balance better.



Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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