Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton

Difficult Conversations_Getting together with family and friends can be a joy, but it can also be stressful. Dynamics in families and among friends can often lead to hurt feelings or even conflict that happens so unexpectedly you  aren’t prepared for it.  Something gets said that hurts your feelings, but it is awkward to say anything in the moment so you say nothing and then afterwards you endlessly rehash what happened and  then think of all the things you should have said, but didn’t. Or someone tells you that something you said or did hurt their feelings and it seems like such a trivial matter you just brush it aside with an inadequate apology or get so defensive the conversation falls apart. You might even have the best intentions to stay calm and everyone knows you are supposed to LISTEN, but it is hard to do those things as the conversation gets more heated or more personal. At some point you know you have to have that difficult conversation with someone you are in relationship with, but it really is daunting and mostly you just want to ignore it.

Stone and Patton have done us a great service, then by writing this book!  Here is a road map that shows you how to have that difficult conversation, how to listen effectively, how to hear another’s person version of events without needing to justify your own version and gives you the tools that will help you negotiate the pitfalls of getting hooked.

I have read this book through two times now and have found it very enlightening and helpful. I am not as good as I want to be in having difficult conversations, but I think I am getting better at it. There are many great insights in this book but the one that stood out for me is the concept of “and.”  I, like most people, tend to see conflict as an “either/or” equation where a person is either right or wrong. Stone and Patton emphasize that in any situation people see things very differently and that each reality is just as valid as the other. Words or actions that seem meaningless to us may shake another person’s sense of self and be extremely hurtful. I think most of us feel that if we didn’t intend to be hurtful then the other person shouldn’t be hurt.  If confronted with the fact that what we said or did was hurtful we try to dismiss it or give one of those non-apology apologies, like  “I am sorry your were hurt but I didn’t mean it that way,” because we really didn’t mean it to be hurtful. That of course leaves both sides unsatisfied and unheard. The concept of “and” is really helpful in this situation. If I can say to myself, I really didn’t intend to be hurtful and someone was hurt by what I said, I am allowing both realities to be valid and by doing that I eliminate the need for blame, which allows me to become more curious and empathetic about how the other person was hurt by what was said.

This is one of those books that you will keep coming back to over and over. It has been helpful for me to be in class of people (led by my husband!) as we work together through the book, but it is also one of those books that you can work with on your own.  It is well written with many interesting case studies and practical examples of conflict. Stone and Patton offer some deep and profound insights about how conflict occurs and how we can take steps to reframe it so instead of becoming stymied by it we can learn from it!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format!

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