Summary of Difficult Conversations

How to Discuss What Matters Most

First Edition: 1999 more...

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Difficult Conversations book summary
You know that difficult conversation you don’t want to have? Here’s how to have it.


9 Overall

9 Applicability

8 Innovation

7 Style


You will face difficult conversations throughout your life, but now you can learn how to cope with them. This book provides a framework and various strategies for achieving better outcomes from hard exchanges. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen use principles, illustrative stories and charts to teach you how to understand the components of challenging conversations, and how to prepare for them and transform them into something constructive. The language of the book is clear, insightful, concise and always helpful. You can use these principles in business, but the stories also concern relationships in your everyday life. getAbstract says everyone from teenagers to mature adults can use the communication skills discussed in this wise book.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why understanding the underlying structure of difficult conversations will help you handle them better;
  • What the “Three Conversations” are in every difficult conversation;
  • Why understanding someone’s contribution is more effective than assigning blame; and
  • How listening more authentically will enable the other party to hear you.


The “Three Conversations”
Do you ever avoid certain people because you don’t want to have a conversation that you need to have? As you imagine how the conversation might play out, do you feel queasy and apprehensive? This is a normal reaction, but avoiding difficult conversations is not...
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About the Authors

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen are professors at Harvard Law School and are part of the Harvard Negotiation Project. They have each written, spoken and consulted on negotiation and communication.

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    Cynthia Downey 2 years ago
    This is the all-time best book I've ever read (and re-read) on communication. I learned new, constructive ways to view conflict that I've never heard anywhere else, i.e., people do what makes sense to them... Even if it seems crazy to you, it makes sense to them, which means that they have information you don't have. Initiate a learning conversation to find out their information. 

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