mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Next up on my path of boosting my managerial skills: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Sheila Heen, Bruce Patton, and Douglas Stone.

Who recommended the book? This book won the most recent round of popular voting by members of the Twitch Book Club. This guild is similar to the Twitch Leadership Book Club but the books covered in the Book Club cover wider latitudes of topics and aren’t strictly focused on management, leadership, or people skills.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover here does not get a great rating. There are a lot of colors clashing all over the cover: purple, red, plated gold, orange, and white. The white text on the shiny plated gold is definitely the worst offender here. The paper inside the book is pretty thin so it was common for highlighter ink to bleed over to the other side. Even worse, there was some printing issues which caused pages to be printed slanted and closer to the top of the page than I believe was originally intended. The font was okay. For Difficult Conversations, it’s a great thing I only judge a book by its cover for entertainment value.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Difficult Conversations is densely packed with (likely) everything you need to know about working your way through tricky situations. At a high-level this starts with walking through the three components of a conversation:

  1. What happened? What is your story, how did you get to it, what assumptions are you making? Shift from jumping to the blame game to figuring out what each person contributed to the situation.
  2. Understand your emotions. We’d like to believe we can keep emotions out but we can’t. So acknowledge them, understand them, and go from there.
  3. Ground your identity. Figure out how the conversation impacts how you view yourself so you can remain grounded.

From there they transition to strategies on having a successful difficult conversation:

  • Check your purposes and decide if it’s worth raising the issue. What do you hope to get out of this conversation and is a conversation the best way to address the issue at hand?
  • Start from the Third Story. Don’t start with your story or their story, but a more neutral stance where it’ll be more natural to identify the difference in your respective stories.
  • Explore their story and yours. Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen! After listening some more share your own viewpoint and when the conversation is veering towards unproductivity try reframing to get back on track.
  • Do some problem-solving. Good solutions will involve mutual care-taking where both sides contribute to the solution.

This big take-away overview is just that; the book itself does deep dives into each facet of a difficult conversation and how we can transform difficult conversations into learning conversations. The example situations and dialogues are a bit contrived but provide some general guidelines for how one would take these strategies and put them into spoken word.

All in all, a super valuable read that I am always mentally referencing these days even for casual and easy conversations! 😆

Favorite quote from the book? “We are all thousand-watt souls with forty-watt bulbs.” - Father Dominic Holtz

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? You’re going to have difficult conversations at work, at home, and even with yourself. This book is loaded with a lot of tips to get through those conversations. This book is worth reading. Read it today, then read it again next year, and again in the future because you’ll likely find something new with each read.

Notes in Evernote? This book was packed with a lot of information for identifying, approaching, and navigating difficult conversations. The length of my notes reflects just how much this book is gem-filled mine. Feel free to review my notes on 🐘.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.