If you’re human—and I’m guessing that you are—then you have probably had a difficult conversation or two (or several hundred) in your lifetime. Having been 28 for some time now, I’ve certainly had my share. So when I read this excellent guide, subtitled How to Discuss What Matters Most, I had two reactions: 1) This is great! and 2) I wish I’d read this as a teenager.
The authors, members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, present an array of strategies for conducting difficult conversations. They note that in fact “each difficult conversation is really three conversations,” which are about what happened (or should happen), about feelings, and about identity. They then explain how to recognize these problematic subsets and handle them more constructively, providing numerous examples to illustrate how their suggested techniques could work.
One of my favorite parts is when the authors point out that if you feel as though the person you’re talking with is not listening to you—for example, if he keeps repeating himself—this is a sign not that he is stubborn but that he doesn’t feel heard. If you want him to stop saying the same thing over and over, you have to listen harder. One way to do this is by paraphrasing what he’s saying. It turns out that once you start listening to him, he’ll start listening to you.
When I say I wish I’d read this as a teenager, I really mean it. This book could give adolescents (not just adults) much-needed practical communication skills and help them navigate more effectively through the thorny situations in which we all inevitably find ourselves.
So, parents, teachers, and everybody else: check it out!