New Book Summary: Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen

Published 6 months ago • 1 min read

I'd like to share with you my latest book summary for Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen. It's probably my favourite book this year as it's already made a palpable and positive difference to some of my most important relationships in the few months since I read it. Chances are you have to deal with difficult conversations in your life as well, so I hope this book helps you as much as it helped me.

As usual, I set out the key takeaways below and you can find the full summary by clicking the link above.


  • Difficult conversations arise in all areas of our lives: with family, friends, and colleagues. Though the context may vary, difficult conversations tend to follow common patterns and people tend to make the same mistakes.
  • There are three types of conversations that may be happening within each difficult conversation:
    • the ‘What Happened’ Conversation;
    • the Feelings Conversation; and
    • our own Identity Conversation.
  • Common mistakes include:
    • Assuming you have all the facts or know the other party’s story.
    • Mixing up impact and intentions.
    • Focusing on who is right and who is to blame, which makes people defensive (and is usually irrelevant anyway, as being right doesn’t solve the problem).
    • Go in with the purpose of changing the other person or their behaviour, since these things are not within your control.
    • Ignoring feelings.
    • Adopting an all-or-nothing identity.
    • Doing a “hit-and-run” — i.e. raising a difficult issue in the moment when it upsets you, but there’s not enough for a proper conversation.
  • What to do instead:
    • Shift to a learning stance. Try to understand the other person’s story in order to develop a third story that embraces both sides’ stories.
    • Disentangle impact from intentions, and reflect on your own intentions.
    • Look at joint contribution instead of blame. (Blame carries judgment and implies wrongdoing, whereas contribution looks at causation without any judgment.)
    • Your purpose should be to learn the other person’s story and to express your own feelings and views. Once you’ve done that, you can work together to solve the gap between your two stories.
    • Share and acknowledge each other’s feelings.
    • Complexify your identity so that you can better withstand any identity issues that may arise.
    • Schedule a difficult conversation for when you’ll have enough time to talk properly.
  • This book will not solve all your relationship problems and difficult conversations will always be challenging. However, with practice you can get better at handling difficult conversations.
  • You don’t have to do anything. The book is intended to give you tools to helps navigate difficult conversations, but you don’t have to keep beating your head against the wall and you’re allowed to give up.

As usual, you can find the full summary for this and more on

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I summarise non-fiction books with more detail and critical analysis than you'll find elsewhere. Join my newsletter to get new summaries delivered straight to your inbox!

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