Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

This book was so much better than I expected it to be. I don’t remember who recommended it or how I found it, but after the introduction was a pretty boring listing of titles and accomplishments of the authors I was afraid it would be very sterile and academic.

Instead it was incredibly emphatic, and so chockfull of relatable, actionable and helpful advice that I’m already planning on reading it again. It’s just too much to fully absorb and internalize in one go. “Luckily” having difficult conversations will always be a part of our lives, so there will be plenty of opportunity to train, reflect, and revisit the ideas in the book.

I personally really, really dread those kinds of conversations. I always describe myself as someone who likes to avoid conflict, often to the bewilderment of friends and colleagues – because I often am in conflicts. But there is a big difference between having factual disagreements, even very critical and fundamental ones, and having an emotional investment in a conflict. I have no problems with the first one, and I absolutely hate the second one.

However, there is always an emotional component to any conflict, just sometimes it’s so easily resolved that you don’t quite notice it. One of the main points in the book is that you’ll never be able to resolve a conflict without addressing the emotional component. That requires a) knowing yourself well enough to realize your emotional reaction and investment, b) being able to articulate that in a way the other side can hear and understand it, and last but not least c) listening to or even investigating what the other side says about their emotional story regarding the conflict.

Lately I’ve had and will probably still have quite a few very difficult conversations at work, with situations that have long left the realm of factual disagreement and are now extremely emotional. I often had a hard time concentrating on the book itself, because my mind always went into those conflicts and tried applying the lessons from the book to them. So while I’m still terrified about those conversations to come, I’m now also looking forward to them at least a little bit and actually feel prepared much better than before reading this book.

I’ve already noticed how it helped me in a few personal conversations lately as well. As I said in the beginning, I’d never have imagined getting so much out of it, and I definitely recommend it to absolutely anyone.