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Difficult Conversations (HBR 20-Minute Manager Series)

Difficult Conversations (HBR 20-Minute Manager Series)

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Difficult Conversations (HBR 20-Minute Manager Series)

4/5 (21 ratings)
78 pages
1 hour
Jan 26, 2016


You have to talk with a colleague about a fraught situation, but you're worried that they'll yell, or blame you, or shut down. You fear your emotions could block you from a resolution. But you can communicate in a way that's constructive--not combative. Difficult Conversations walks you through:

  • Uncovering the root cause of friction
  • Maintaining a positive mind-set
  • Untangling the problem together
  • Agreeing on a way forward

Don't have much time? Get up to speed fast on the most essential business skills with HBR's 20-Minute Manager series. Whether you need a crash course or a brief refresher, each book in the series is a concise, practical primer that will help you brush up on a key management topic. Advice you can quickly read and apply, for ambitious professionals and aspiring executives--from the most trusted source in business. Also available as an ebook.

Jan 26, 2016

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Inside the book

Top quotes

  • A difficult conversation is one in which the other person has a viewpoint that differs from yours, one or both of you feel inse- cure in some way, and the stakes seem high.

  • Once you begin to examine your assumptions, emotions, and habitual thoughts, you’ll quickly notice how your original view of the prob-lem is transformed. You’ll become an agent of change instead of a victim of cir-cumstance.

  • Are there relevant factors you don’t know about?  • Are past experiences coloring your interpretation of events?  • Are you making unwarranted negative assumptions about the other person’s motives?

  • Without shared information, you may both draw conclusions about the other’s actions. Taking the time to think through your counterpart’s perspectives will help prepare you for a difficult conversation.

  • Resist judging yourself, and accept that you, like everyone, have blind spots.

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Difficult Conversations (HBR 20-Minute Manager Series) - Harvard Business Review

Difficult Conversations

Get up to speed fast on essential business skills. Whether you’re looking for a crash course or a brief refresher, you’ll find just what you need in HBR’s 20-Minute Manager series—foundational reading for ambitious professionals and aspiring executives. Each book is a concise, practical primer, so you’ll have time to brush up on a variety of key management topics.

Advice you can quickly read and apply, from the most trusted source in business.

Titles include:

Creating Business Plans

Delegating Work

Difficult Conversations

Finance Basics

Getting Work Done

Giving Effective Feedback

Innovative Teams

Managing Projects

Managing Time

Managing Up

Performance Reviews


Running Meetings

Difficult Conversations

Craft a clear message

Manage emotions

Focus on a solution


Boston, Massachusetts

HBR Press Quantity Sales Discounts

Harvard Business Review Press titles are available at significant quantity discounts when purchased in bulk for client gifts, sales promotions, and premiums. Special editions, including books with corporate logos, customized covers, and letters from the company or CEO printed in the front matter, as well as excerpts of existing books, can also be created in large quantities for special needs.

For details and discount information for both print and ebook formats, contact booksales@harvardbusiness.org, tel. 800–988-0886, or www.hbr.org/bulksales.

Copyright 2016 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

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No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be directed to permissions@hbsp.harvard .edu, or mailed to Permissions, Harvard Business School Publishing, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02163.

The web addresses referenced in this book were live and correct at the time of the book’s publication but may be subject to change.

Cataloging-in-Publication data is forthcoming

ISBN: 978-1-63369-078-3

eISBN: 978-1-63369-079-0


You’ve been putting off a difficult conversation. Maybe you feel wronged by someone or misunderstood. You may be caught in a clash of personalities or have competing goals with a colleague. Perhaps you have to deliver bad news, and you dread the person’s reaction. Whatever your situation, you need to address an issue to keep moving forward. This book will help you develop the skills you need to turn a difficult conversation into a productive dialogue, including:

• Understanding what makes some conversations difficult

• Discovering what’s at the heart of the challenge you’re facing

• Identifying and managing the emotions involved

• Seeing the bigger picture to expand possible solutions

• Framing the issue in a way your counterpart can relate to

• Listening actively and responding with empathy

• Staying flexible and managing the unexpected

• Finding areas of agreement

• Building on your new skills so you’ll be ready for the next tough conversation


What Makes a Conversation Difficult?

Conflicting interests

Different personal styles

Lack of trust

Different views of the facts

Strong emotions

Think It Through

Should you act?

When you decide to have a difficult conversation

Prepare for the Difficult Conversation

Assess the facts—and your assumptions

Address the emotions

Acknowledge that you’re part of the problem

Identify a range of positive outcomes

Develop a strategy, not a script

Conduct the Conversation

Acknowledge the other person

Frame the problem

Ask questions and listen

Look for common ground

Adapt and rebalance

Establish commitments

Follow Through

How did you do?

Jot down your impressions

Follow up in writing

Keep your commitments

Become a Better Communicator

Reflect before you speak

Connect with others

Before you talk, listen

Make your words count

Establish a feedback loop

Address problems head-on

Learn More



Difficult Conversations

What Makes a Conversation Difficult?

What Makes a Conversation Difficult?

You know the feeling: that knot in the pit of your stomach; the fog that descends on your mind. You’re avoiding a difficult conversation. Maybe you fear the public confrontation if you ask

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What people think about Difficult Conversations (HBR 20-Minute Manager Series)

21 ratings / 3 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    Great practical insights to manage conflict at each and every sphere of life.
  • (4/5)
    short and good book. It is worth to read it
  • (5/5)
    The book is very informative in tackling how are we going to navigate difficult conversations. It presents the steps which are comprehensive yet not rigid in structure. It helps the reader how to prepare and deal with parties you may not necessarily agree with.