“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, and Roger Fisher” is a captivating book that provides a lot of examples and potential solutions to them in situations where a moment of difficulty has set in. It intends to help people in situations around their personal and business life. To start with, I find the authors’ description of what a difficult conversation is, really useful: when we feel vulnerable in our life, or when something important is going on, the outcome of which we do not yet know, or when we cannot stand aside during an important discussion involving people who are dear to us, then the conversation is difficult. An important unsolved issue can also provide a person with a dilemma: to do something about it or better not to touch it. A difficult conversation, indeed, is like a grenade that can cause damage. And because it does exist, we are eager to learn about some approaches on how to message a particular person and yet be satisfied with the outcome. This is called a learning conversation (xviii).
I like the way the book is organized, in particular: it gives me a feeling that authors indeed care about conveying their message to the mainstream readers like me. The text starts with a general overview on the topic and, then, gradually, moves on to more complex aspects of a learning conversation. Already starting with headings, followed by subheadings, general ideas of the text are brought out. Organization of the text is clear and well-structured. Now and then, sayings and metaphors are used to enhance specific details. When reading it slowly and patiently, I came to think that it is normal and even necessary to have demanding conversations in life, from time to time. Without them, I would have never made certain experiences I had, so far. I agree with the authors of the book that serious conversations can hurt. Having said it, this shows how fragile we really are.
One of the authors’ opinions is that disagreement is a hallmark of a difficult-to-be conversation. However, disagreeing with someone over something is not bad altogether. Most people, usually, disagree quite often, but what really matters is the way we actually feel about it. Sometimes, we may feel misunderstood or hurt, in the end. I quite like the way disagreement is linked with arguing in the text. Naturally, we tend to believe, in most cases, that they are the ones who make a problem because they, not us, are selfish, controlling, or irrational. An explanation, however, is simple enough: each of us sees the world differently. We tend to build our stories around the information we have, including, specific observations, interpretations, and conclusions (27-30).
It is a hundred percent true that a person can know himself better than anyone else can. Quite often, something that we experienced in the past, determines our actions in the present. Or, sometimes, the past can also give meaning to the present moment. I recall from my own experience my early childhood feelings. They are about my father, whom I did not see very often up to the age of six. He was much away to different dislocation areas, because of a long-term serving in the army. My father came home to live with us permanently when I started school. So, I really missed the experiences I could have shared with him during my early years of growing up. So, naturally, I grew up attached to my mom more than to my dad, and it was her who taught me to ride a bicycle, to swim in summer and to ski in winter. Even now, I still feel a vacuum of emotional closeness with my father, and, somehow, it seems that both of us are feeling awkward at times when we come to have a conversation.
Another issue mentioned in the book is that our past can set certain rules by which we are living in the present. Sometimes, a person may not even be aware that he follows these rules. They most often make our predictions about the world, people, their actions and things. Therefore, the past significantly influences a present story (35).
I suppose that a written advice on how to deal with different people in demanding life situations is encouraging, on the one hand. On the other hand, no one can really give you a recipe on how to behave or what to say in difficult situations you may face in real life. I completely agree with the idea expressed in the book that if you are prepared for how a person might react to what you are saying or doing, the less surprised you will become (124).
Fortunately, I do not have any negative impressions about the entire book. Vice versa, I highly appreciate the effort the authors took to get their messages across to readers. From my own experience I can tell that the outcome of a conversation is best felt after a longer time elapsed. For example, if you try to look back at yourself and another person after a year or two. Then, you may develop quite a new perspective on what actually happened and learn from it, too.