Book Review: Difficult Conversations
Difficult Conversations is a self-help formatted book on negotiating conflict in emotionally loaded discussions between multiple parties. This book is authored by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project and has proven to be lucid and accessible to its readers. One might approach this book not imagining that they engage in enough "difficult" conversations for this information to be useful to them, however difficult conversations span over various topics that touch every person, including: sexuality, race tensions, gender equality, political opinions, business transactions, and religious views. Even more so, difficult conversations are not limited to these opinion-driven topics, but anytime one engages with another human being about something they feel strongly about. This is truly a book for everybody and one that I highly recommend to any person who wants to take control of their conversations, not in a dominating manner, but one that exudes confidence and passion.
The authors break down difficult conversations into three dimensions: the "What Happened Conversations," the "emotional subtext," and the "identity subtext." One of the important elements that the authors weave throughout this book is that difficult conversations are rarely about what is true so much as they are about what is important. When both parties of the conversation are able to distinguish between factual claims and value claims, many conflicts are able to be averted. Quickly breaking these down one step further, the "What Happened Conversations," argues to keep in facts fit into a story and disagreements usually stem from different stories rather than conflicting facts. Imagine this as a crime seen with multiple witnesses. Though the same events happened in front of every individual, one might point out the clothes the man one wearing but never take notice of the type of weapon he was wielding while another could recount what was demanded of her, but nothing else from the incident. All these facts are true, and while all our different, all are also true within their own stories. The next two dimensions break down the emotional and identity issues that hide in our development of thoughts, opinions, and disagreements. Truly the most important element of this information provided in the book is the ability to approach the any conflict with contribution over blame.
Conflict management is not about shifting the blame away from you and awarding it to another in a strategic manner. This does nothing but diminish trust and burn bridges in our relationships. Rather, one should look on how they contributed to the tension, confusion, or frustration. My secretary did not get done what I asked of her, but maybe I was not clear is my communication or she had a sick child at home. My boss will not promote me to the most natural next step, but maybe the company is struggling financially or they are looking to create another position to slide me over into. Like what was mentioned, there are multiple stories playing at once, and it is important for us to engage in contribution and solution seeking over blame shifting and trouble causing attitudes. This book does an excellent job of navigating its readers through various types of difficult conversations, showing how these principles can apply to many different types of interactions.
In the end I walk away from this book with high recommendations. I have little to say against this book, and even those are not worth mentioning for they are merely personal. This book has helped me guide through my interactions with others, but more importantly prepare for conversations beforehand in how I might contribute to the solution, not divert the problem. Difficult Conversations was one of those books I went into not knowing how the information would be beneficial to my circumstances, but walked away believing that this book should be read by every person. It asks tough questions, but if you take the time to dig deep and find the answers, you'll be much more prepared for difficult conversations. And your relationships will benefit. Including your relationship with yourself.