A Difficult Conversation Checklist

Source: Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Patton, and Heen; p232-233

Step 1: Prepare by Walking Through the Three Conversations
  1. Sort out What happened
    • Where does your story come from (information, past experiences, rules)?  Theirs?
    • What impact has this situation had on you?
    • What might their intentions have been
  2. Understand Emotions
    • Explore your emotional footprint, and the bundle of emotions you experience
  3. Ground Your Identity
    • What’s at stake for you about you?  What do you need to accept to be better grounded?
Step 2: Check your purposes and Decide Whether to Raise the Issue
Purposes: What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation?  Shift your stance to support learning, sharing, and problem-solving.Deciding:
Is this the best way to address the issue and achieve your purposes?
Is the issue really embedded in your Identity Conversation?
Can you affect the problem by changing your contributions?
If you don’t raise it, what can you do to help yourself let go?
Step 3: Start from the Third Story
  1. Describe the problem as the difference between your stories.
    Include both viewpoints as a legitimate part of the discussion.
  2. Share your purposes.
  3. Invite them to join you as a partner in sorting out the situation together.
Step 4: Explore Their Story and Yours
  • Listen to understand their perspective on what happened.
    Ask questions.
    Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations.
    Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it.
    Try to unravel how the two of you got to this place.
  • Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, feelings.
  • Reframe, reframe, reframe to keep on track.  [cf. page 204]
    From truth to perceptions
    From accusations to Intentions and impact
    From blame to contribution
    From Judgments, Characterizations to feelings
    From “What’s wrong with you” to “What’s going on for them”
Step 5: Problem-Solving
  • Invent options that meet each side’s most important concerns and interests.
  • Look to standards for what should happen.
    Keep in mind the standard of mutual caretaking; relationships that always go one way rarely last.
  • Talk about how to keep communication open as you go forward


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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