“Everybody is a genius. but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – – Albert Einstein

All the notes were taken directly from the source mentioned.

– – –

Three Conversations

1. The “What Happened?” Conversation

Disagreement about what has happened or what should happen. Who said what and who did what? Who’s right, who meant what, and who’s to blame?

Truth, intentions, and blame: We often fail to question one crucial assumption upon which our whole stance in the conversation is built: I am right, you are wrong. This simple assumption causes endless grief.

Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.

They are not about what is true, they are about what is important.

2. The Feelings Conversation.

Are my feelings valid? Appropriate? Should I acknowledge or deny them, put them on the table or check them at the door? What do I do about the other person’s feelings? What if they are angry or hurt?

3. The Identity Conversation.

This is the conversation we each have with ourselves about what this situation means to us. Instead of exploring what information the other person might have that we don’t, we assume we know all we need to know to understand and explain things.

We need to understand not only what is said, but also what is not said.

We often fail to question one crucial assumption upon which our whole stance in the conversation is built: I am right, you are wrong. This simple assumption causes endless grief.

Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.

They are not about what is true. They are about what is important.


In contrast, the quest to determine who is right and who is wrong is a dead end.

From proving we are right to understanding the perceptions, interpretations, and values of both sides. It allows us to move away from delivering messages and toward asking questions, exploring how each person is making sense of the world. And to offer our views as perceptions, interpretations, and values — not as “the truth.”

What I think about your intentions will affect how I think about you and, ultimately, how our conversation goes

We assume we know the intentions of others when we don’t.

When we are unsure about someone’s intentions, we too often decide they are bad.

Sometimes people act with mixed intentions. Sometimes they act with no intention, or at least none related to us. And sometimes they act on good intentions that nonetheless hurt us.

Leaping to unfounded assumptions can be a disaster.

Of punishment and insists on an either/or answer. Nobody wants to be blamed, especially unfairly, so our energy goes into defending ourselves.

From the front seat looking back, it is easy to see how each child has contributed to the fight. It’s much more difficult to see how we’ve contributed to the problems in which we ourselves are involved.

When competent, sensible people do something stupid, the smartest move is to try to figure out, first, what kept them from seeing it coming and, second, how to prevent the problem from happening again.

Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward. Focusing in- stead on understanding the contribution system allows us to learn about the real causes of the problem, and to work on correcting them. The distinction between blame and contribution may seem subtle.

Bringing up feelings can also be scary or uncomfortable, and can make us feel vulnerable.

Feelings are an integral part of the conflict. Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking.


About feelings is like staging an opera without the music.

The Identity Conversation looks inward: it’s all about who we are and how we see ourselves. How does what happened affect my self-esteem, my self-image, my sense of who I am in the world? What impact will it have on my future? What self-doubts do I harbor? In short: before, during, and after the difficult conversation, the Identity Conversation is about what I am saying to myself about me.

Something beyond the apparent substance of the conversation is at stake for you.

Initial purpose, deliver a message.

Once you understand the challenges inherent in the Three Conversations and the mistakes we make in each, you are likely to find that your purpose for having a particular conversation begins to shift.

Instead of wanting to persuade and get your way, you want to understand what has happened from the other person’s point of view, explain your point of view, share and understand feelings, and work together to figure out a way to manage the problem going forward. In

So doing, you make it more likely that the other person will be open to being persuaded, and that you will learn something that significantly changes the way you understand the problem.

Stop Arguing About Who’s Right: Explore Each Other’s Stories

One of the hallmarks of the “What Happened?” Conversation is that people disagree.

We Think They Are the Problem

In a charitable mood, you may think, “Well, everyone has their opinion,” or, “There are two sides to every story.” But most of us don’t really buy that. Deep down, we believe that the problem, put simply, is them.

We can’t just pretend there is no disagreement, that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s all the

Same to us. It does matter, it’s not all the same to us. They Think We Are the Problem

What’s often hard to see is that what the other person is saying also makes sense. We each have different stories about what is going on in the world.

Arguing inhibits our ability to learn how the other person sees the world. Telling someone to change makes it less rather than more likely that they will.

To get anywhere in a disagreement, we need to understand the other person’s story well enough to see how their conclusions make sense within it.

Put simply, we all have different stories about the world because we each take in different information and then interpret this information in our own unique ways.

We Have Different Information

The information available to us is overwhelming. We simply can’t take in all of the sights, sounds, facts, and feelings involved in even a single encounter. Inevitably, we end up noticing some things and ignoring others. And what we each choose to notice and ignore will be different. Second, we each have access to different information.

But rather than assuming we already know everything we need to, we should assume that there is important information we don’t have access to. It’s a good bet to be true.

We Have Different Interpretations“ We never have sex,”Alvie Singer complains in the movie Annie Hall. “We’re constantly having sex,” says his girlfriend. “How often do you have sex?” asks their therapist. “Three times a week!” they reply in unison.

It helps to clarify the implicit rules that each is unconsciously applying. Thelma’s rule is “It is unprofessional and inconsiderate to be late.” Ollie’s rule is “It is unprofessional to obsess about small things so much that you can’t focus on what’s important.”

It helps to make your rules explicit and to encourage the other person to do the same.

Our Conclusions Reflect Self-Interest

Our conclusions are partisan, that they often reflect our self-interest. We look for information to support our view and give that information the most favorable interpretation.

Move from Certainty to Curiosity

“How can they think that?!” ask yourself, “I wonder what information they have that I don’t?” Instead of asking, “How can they be so irrational?” ask, “How might they see the world such that their view makes sense?”

get curious about what you don’t know about yourself.

“And Stance”

We usually assume that we must either accept or reject the other person’s story, and that if we accept theirs, we must abandon our own.

Don’t choose between the stories; embrace both.

Don’t worry about accepting or rejecting the other person’s story. First work to understand it. The mere act of understanding someone else’s story doesn’t require you to give up your own. The And Stance allows you to recognize that how you each see things matters, that how you each feel matters. Regardless of what you end up doing, regardless of whether your story influences theirs or theirs yours, both stories matter.

It may be that as you share them, your stories change in response to new information or different perspectives. But they still may not end up the same, and that’s all right. Sometimes people have honest disagreements, but even so, the most useful question is not “Who’s right?” but “Now that we really understand each other, what’s a good way to manage this problem?”

“I Really Am Right”

For example, what about the conversation you have with your daughter about her smoking? You know you are right that smoking is bad for her, that the sooner she stops the better. Fair enough. About each of those things, you are right. But here’s the rub: that’s not what the conversation is really about. It’s about how you each feel about your


Daughter’s smoking, what she should do about it, and what role you should play. It’s about the terrible fear and sadness you feel as you imagine her becoming sick, and your rage at feeling powerless to make her stop. It’s about her need to feel independent, to break out of the “good girl” mold that feels so suffocating. It’s about her own ambivalence doing something that makes her feel good and at the same time truly frightens her.

What is keeping him in denial? What would it mean to him to admit he has a prob- lem? What gets in the way? Until you understand his story, and share yours with him, you can’t help him find a way to rewrite the next chapter for the better.

“And” helps you to be curious and clear.

Don’t Assume They Meant It: Disentangle Intent from Impact

Two Key Mistakes

Her mistake is to assume she knows what Leo’s intentions are, when in fact she doesn’t.

The First Mistake: Our Assumptions About Intentions Are Often Wrong

We don’t actually know what their intentions are. We can’t. Other people’s intentions exist only in their hearts and minds.

We make an attribution about another person’s intentions based on the impact of their actions on us.

We Assume the Worst.

“Gee, I’ll bet he ran into someone in need.” More likely we think, “Jerk. He doesn’t care about making me miss the beginning of the movie.”

We Assume Bad Intentions Mean Bad Character

We Treat Ourselves More Charitably

Notice that your conclusion is based solely on the impact of their behavior on you — which is not a sufficient basis to be sure of someone else’s intentions or character.

Attributions Can Become Self-Fulfilling. Our assumptions about the other person’s intentions often come true, even when they aren’t true to begin with.

When we think others have bad intentions toward us, it affects our behavior. And, in turn, how we behave affects how they treat us.

The Second Mistake: Good Intentions Don’t Sanitize Bad Impact

“Why were you trying to hurt me?” they are really communicating two separate messages: first, “I know what you intended,” and, second, “I got hurt.”

“I’m more interested in defending myself than I am in investigating the complexities of what might be going on for me in our relationship.”

thinking hard about their own intentions

What’s also important is that whether or not the intention was to exclude, people felt excluded.

1. Actions: “What did the other person actually say or do?” 2. Impact: “What was the impact of this on me?” 3. Assumption: “Based on this impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended?” Hold Your View as a Hypothesis. Once you have clearly answered these three questions, the next step is to make absolutely

Share the Impact on You; Inquire About Their Intentions.

say what the other person did, tell them what its impact was on you, and explain your assumption about their intentions, taking care to label it as a hypothesis that you are checking rather than asserting to be true.

Don’t Pretend You Don’t Have a Hypothesis.

Recognize your assumptions for what they are—mere guesses subject to modification or disproof.

When you share your assumptions about their intentions, simply be clear that you are sharing assumptions—guesses—and that you are sharing them for the purpose of testing whether they make sense to the other person.


Avoiding the Second Mistake: Listen for Feelings, and Reflect on Your Intentions Listen Past the Accusation for the Feelings.

Start by listening and acknowledging the feelings, and then return to the question of intentions, it will make your conversation significantly easier and more constructive.

Understanding how we distort others’ intentions, making difficult conversations even more difficult, is crucial to untangling what happened between us.

Abandon Blame: Map the Contribution System

We’re Caught in Blame’s Web

Who is to blame. Who is the bad person in this relationship? Who made the mistake? Who should apologize? Who gets to be righteously indignant?

Focusing on blame is a bad idea because it inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and to do anything meaningful to correct it.

When we ask the question “Who is to blame?” we are really asking three questions in one. First, did this person cause the problem? Did your assistant’s actions (or inaction) cause you to have the wrong storyboards? Second, if so, how should her actions be judged against some standard of conduct? Was she incompetent, unreasonable, unethical? And third, if the judgment is negative, how should she be punished? Will she be yelled at? Warned? Perhaps even fired? When we say “This was your fault,” it is shorthand for giving condemning answers to all three questions. We mean not only that you caused this, but that you did something bad and should be punished.

When we blame someone, we are offering them the role of “the accused,” so they do what accused people do: they defend themselves any way they can.

The first question is “How did we each contribute to bringing about the current situation?” Or put another way: “What did we each do or not do to get ourselves into this mess?” The second question is “Having identified the contribution system, how can we change it? What can we do about it as we go forward?”

Too often we deal in blame when our real goals are understanding and change.

A contribution system is present, and that system includes inputs from both people.

Misconception #1: I Should Focus Only on My Contribution

Recognizing that everyone involved in a situation has contributed to the problem doesn’t mean that everyone has contributed equally. You can be 5 percent responsible or 95 percent responsible—there is still a joint contribution.

“What feelings am I failing to express?” and “Has the other person acknowledged my feelings?” As you explore this terrain, you may find yourself naturally shifting from a blame frame to a contribution frame.

A Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela

He was saying that we could always blame all of our troubles on the white man. His message was that we must also look within our- selves and become responsible for our actions—sentiments with which I wholeheartedly agreed.

Avoiding Until Now

You have allowed the problem to continue unchecked by not having addressed it earlier.

Being Unapproachable

You contribute by being uninterested, unpredictable, short-tempered, judgmental, punitive, hypersensitive, argumentative, or unfriendly.

The problem is that things don’t change, because each is waiting for the other to change.

successful relationships, whether in our personal life or with our colleagues at work, are built on the knowledge that in intersections there is no one to blame. People are just different. If we hope to stay together over the long haul, we will sometimes have to compromise our preferences and meet in the middle.

A fourth hard-to-spot contribution involves assumptions, often un- conscious, about your role in a situation. When your assumptions differ from those of others you can


Have an intersection

Two Tools for Spotting Contribution Role Reversal

The Observer’s Insight

Shifting your stance away from assessing blame and toward exploring contribution doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and persistence. You will repeatedly find yourself and others slipping back into

A blame frame, and will need to be vigilant in constantly correcting your course.

Who Else Is Involved?

Take Responsibility for Your Contribution Early

If you feel the focus is somehow on you alone, you can say so: “It’s not okay to look only at my contribution. That’s not reality as I see it. I feel like I’m trying to look at both of us. Is there anything I’m doing to make it hard for you to look at yourself?”

Make Your Observations and Reasoning Explicit. To make sure that you’re working from the same information and understand each other’s interpretations, share, as specifically as you can recall it what the other person did or said that triggered your reaction.

Making a specific request for how the other person can change their contribution in the service of helping you change yours can be a powerful way of helping them understand what they are doing to create and perpetuate the problem.

5 Have Your Feelings (Or They Will Have You)

Feelings are too powerful to remain peacefully bottled. They will be heard one way or another, whether in leaks or bursts. And if handled indirectly or without honesty, they contaminate communication.

For better or worse, this conversation will not go well unless these feelings are surfaced.

Unspoken feelings can color the conversation in a number of ways. They alter your affect and tone of voice. They express themselves through your body language or facial expression. They may take the form of long pauses or an odd and unexplained detachment. You may become sarcastic, aggressive, impatient, unpredictable, or defensive.

Unexpressed feelings can create so much tension that you disengage

We don’t cry or lose our temper because we express our feelings too often, but because we express them too rarely.

Unexpressed feelings can block the ability to listen. Why? Because good listening requires an open and honest curiosity about the other person, and a willingness and ability to keep the spotlight on them.

It’s hard to hear someone else when we are feeling unheard, even if the reason we feel unheard is that we have chosen not to share.

You deprive your colleagues, friends, and family members of the opportunity to learn and to change in response to your feelings.

As we grow up, each of us develops a characteristic “emotional footprint” whose shape is determined by which feelings we believe are okay to have and express and which are not. Think back to when you were growing up. How did your family handle emotions? Which feelings were easily discussed, and which did people pretend weren’t there? What was your role in the emotional life of the family? What emotions do you now find it easy to acknowledge and express, and

Finding Your Feelings: Learn Where Feelings Hide

Before we can get to where we’re going, we need to know where we are.

Recognizing feelings is challenging. Feelings are more complex and nuanced than we usually imagine.


Emotional Footprint

with whom? Which do you find more difficult?

Each of us has a unique footprint. You may believe that it’s okay to feel longing or sadness, but not okay to feel anger. Anger may be easy for me to express, while feelings of shame or failure are off-limits. And it is not only so-called negative feelings that are implicated. Some of us find it easy to express disappointment, but difficult to express affection, pride, or gratitude.

Accept That Feelings Are Normal and Natural. Recognize That Good People Can Have Bad Feelings

Learn That Your Feelings Are as Important as Theirs.

Culty expressing her feelings of love toward her husband. “I know I love him,” she said. “He’s been generous and a good husband, putting up with all my stuff. But I have such a hard time let- ting him know that I love him.” Something was acting as a block, and she wasn’t exactly sure what it was. At first, Jamila blamed herself: “Maybe this is just another way that I’m inadequate. A good wife can tell her husband she cares about him.” In our effort to coach her, we asked Jamila if she ever expressed other feelings about her husband. We were specifically interested in whether she expressed anger or disappointment. “You’re missing the point,” she asserted. “I’m trying to learn to express love. If anyone has the right to be angry, it’s my husband, for having to put up with me all the time.” A Landscape of Sometimes Hard-to-Find Feelings Love Affectionate, caring, close, proud, passionate Anger Frustrated, exasperated, enraged, indignant Hurt Let down, betrayed, disappointed, needy Shame Embarrassed, guilty, regretful, humiliated, self-loathing Fear Anxious, terrified, worried, obsessed, suspicious Self-Doubt Inadequate, unworthy, inept, unmotivated Joy Happy, enthusiastic, full, elated, content Sadness Bereft, wistful, joyless, depressed Jealousy Envious, selfish, covetous, anguished, yearning Gratitude Appreciative, thankful, relieved, admiring Loneliness Desolate, abandoned, empty, longing

Attributions, judgments, and accusations aren’t feelings. Making attributions about the intentions of others is that it can lead to defensiveness and misunderstandings.

… Judgments about Roz. Neither of them is a statement of how Emily feels. Prodded by this observation, Emily is able to focus more clearly on her own feelings: “I guess I feel hurt. I feel confused about the friendship. I feel angry at Roz. At some level I feel sort of embarrassed that I put all this work into a friendship that obviously wasn’t that important to her. How stupid can I be?” The difference between judgments about others and statements of our own feelings is sometimes difficult to see. Judgments feel like feelings when we are saying them. They are motivated by anger or frustration or hurt, and the person on the receiving end understands very clearly that we are


Feeling something. Unfortunately, that person probably isn’t sure what we are feeling, and more important, is fo- We Translate Our Feelings Into Judgments “If you were a good friend you would have been there for me.” Attributions “Why were you trying to hurt me?” Characterizations “You’re just so inconsiderate.” Problem-Solving more often.”

There is a vast difference between “You are thoughtless and self-absorbed” and “I feel hurt, confused, and embarrassed.”

What is unsatisfying, though, is not the failure to express blame, but the failure to express feelings.

two rules for expressing feelings.

Rule number two: try to get everything you are feeling into the conversation.

Rule number one: before saying what you are feeling, negotiate with your feelings.

In fact, our feelings are based on our perceptions, and our perceptions (as we have seen in the preceding three chapters) are negotiable.

What does it mean to negotiate with our feelings? Fundamen- tally, it involves a recognition that our feelings are formed in response to our thoughts.

Providing rich ground for negotiating with our emotions. First, we need to ex- amine our own story. What is the story we are telling ourselves that is giving rise to how we feel? What is our story missing? What might the other person’s story be? Almost always, an increased awareness of the other person’s story changes how we feel.

Next, we need to explore our assumptions about the other per- son’s intentions. To what extent are our feelings based on an untested assumption about their intentions? Might the other person have acted unintentionally, or from multiple and conflicting intentions? How does our view of their intentions affect how we feel? And what about our own intentions? What was motivating us? How might our actions have impacted them? Does that change how we feel?

Finally, we should consider the contribution system. Are we able to see our own contribution to the problem? Are we able to describe the other person’s contribution without blaming? Are we aware of the ways that each of our contributions forms a reinforcing pattern that magnifies the problem? In what way does this shift how we feel?

We don’t need definitive answers to these questions.

But it is enough to raise the questions, to grapple with them, to walk around the


Sculpture of our feelings and observe it from different angles. If we are thoughtful, if we are honest, if we approach the questions openly and with a spirit of fairness, our feelings will begin to shift.

Once you have found your feelings and negotiated with them, you face the task of deciding how to handle those feelings. There will be times when you decide that sharing your feelings is unnecessary or unhelpful.

You can express emotion well without be- ing emotional, and you can be extremely emotional without express- ing much of anything at all.

1. Frame Feelings Back into the Problem

Thinking that you shouldn’t feel as you do will rarely change the fact that you do. Your purpose here is simply to get them out.

2. Express the Full Spectrum of Your Feelings

3. Don’t Evaluate—Just Share

Premature evaluation of whether feelings are legitimate will undermine their expression and, ultimately, the relationship.

Evaluation-free zone.

Share pure feelings (without judgments, attributions, or blame); save problem-solving until later; and don’t monopolize.

“You are so damn undependable!”

In contrast, the statement “I feel frustrated. You didn’t send the

“You didn’t call me like you said. It’s your fault that I felt hurt.” This statement contains a feeling—“I felt hurt” first —“When you didn’t call, I felt hurt”

Don’t Monopolize: Both Sides Can Have Strong Feelings at the Same Time.

If you have strong feelings, it’s quite likely that the other person does too. And just as your own ambivalent feelings don’t cancel each other out, their feelings don’t cancel yours, or vice versa.


“Why do you insist on undermining me in front of the kids?!”

“When you disagree with me about child-rearing in front of the kids, I feel betrayed, and also worried about the message it sends to them,”

problem-solving. Each side must have their feelings acknowledged before you can even start down that road.

“Wow,” you might say, “I never knew you felt that way,” or, “I kind of assumed you were feeling that, and I’m glad you felt comfortable enough with me to share it,” or, “It sounds like this is really important to you.”

“I’m not saying you intended to hurt me. I don’t know whether you did or not. What’s important to me is that you understand how I felt when you criticized my work in front of the department.”

Ground Your Identity: Ask Yourself What’s at Stake

Our anxiety results not just from having to face the other person, but from having to face our- selves. The conversation has the potential to disrupt our sense of who we are in the world, or to highlight what we hope we are but fear we are not. The conversation poses a threat to our identity—the story we tell ourselves about ourselves—and having our identity threatened can be profoundly disturbing.

Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?

At its most profound, this can be a loss that requires mourning just as surely as the death of a loved one.

The biggest factor that contributes to a vulnerable identity is “all-or-nothing” thinking: I’m either competent or incompetent, good or evil, worthy of love or not.

Either we try to deny the information that is inconsistent with our self-image, or we do the opposite: we take in the information in a way that exaggerates its importance to a crippling degree.

Working to keep negative information out during a difficult conversation is like trying to swim without getting wet. If we’re going to engage in difficult conversations, or in life


For that matter, we’re going to come up against information about ourselves that we find un- pleasant.

And the bigger the gap between what we hope is true and what we fear is true, the easier it is for us to lose our balance.


We Let Their Feedback Define Who We Are.

When we exaggerate, we act as if the other person’s feedback is the only information we have about ourselves.

Ground Your Identity

First, you need to become familiar with those identity issues that are important to you, so you can spot them during a conversation. Second, you need to learn to integrate new information into your identity in ways that are healthy.

What about your identity feels at risk?

“What are you really afraid of?

No one is always anything.

Three Things to Accept About Yourself

1. You Will Make Mistakes

All-or-nothing standard, even a small mistake can seem catastrophic and almost impossible to admit

2. Your Intentions Are Complex

We know that our past behavior was not always motivated by good intentions.

3. You Have Contributed to the Problem

Letting go of trying to control their reaction, preparing for their response, imagining the future to gain perspective, and if you lose your balance, taking a break.

Don’t measure the success of the conversation by whether or not they get upset.

Taking responsibility for your part in this outcome (but not more), of showing that you care about how they feel, and of trying to be helpful going forward.

Work through the identity issues in advance: “Is it okay for me to make someone cry? How will I respond? What if they at- tack my character or motivations? Then how would I respond?”

Imagine That It’s Three Months Or Ten Years From Now

If you’re in the midst of a particularly painful time, think about what it will feel like to look back on this period in your life from thirty years hence. What do you think you’ll have learned from the experience? How will you feel about how you handled it? What advice can the you of thirty years from now give to the you that is facing the pain?

Take a Break. Take a walk. Get some air. Check for distortions. Spend some quiet time weighing their attack on your judgment or arrogance against other information you have about yourself. Check for denial. In what ways is what they are saying true? Check for exaggerations. What is the worst that could happen here? And what might you do right now to turn the conversation around?

Postponing the conversation until you’ve regained your balance

Find the Courage to Ask for Help

We sometimes ascribe valor to those who suffer in silence. But when suffering is prolonged or interferes with accomplishing what we want with our lives, then such suffering may be more reckless than brave.

And by trusting them enough to ask, you offer them an extraordinary opportunity to do something important for someone they care about. Then one day, you may have the opportunity to return the favor.

What’s Your Purpose? When to Raise It and When to Let Go

How Do I Know I’ve Made the Right Choice? There is no “right choice.

Hold as your goal to think clearly as you take on the task of making a considered choice.

Think clearly about what you do know (your own feelings, your own experiences and story, your identity issues), and what you don’t know (their intentions, their perspective, or feelings).

Is There a Better Way to Address the Issue Than Talking About It? Sometimes actions are better than words.

Engaging someone in a conversation where mutual learning is the goal often results in change.

They are more likely to change if they think we understand them and if they feel heard and respected. They are more likely to change if they feel free not to.

Don’t Focus on Short-Term Relief at Long-Term Cost. Don’t Hit-and-Run.

A good rule to follow is: If you’re going to talk, talk. Really talk. And if you’re really going to talk, you can’t do it on the fly. You have to plan a time to talk. You have to be explicit about wanting ten minutes or an hour to discuss something that is important to you. You can’t have a real conversation in thirty seconds, and anything less than a real conversation isn’t going to help. If hit-and-run is all you can muster, it’s better not to raise the issue at all.

Letting Go

You can’t force the other person to want to invest in the relationship or work things out.

It’s Not My Responsibility to Make Things Better; It’s My Responsibility to Do My Best.

They Have Limitations Too.

One thing you can make of it is that they are as imperfect as you are.

This Conflict Is Not Who I Am. An important barrier to letting go occurs when we integrate the conflict into our sense of who we are.

Letting Go Doesn’t Mean I No Longer Care

If You Raise It: Three Purposes That Work

The gold standard here is working for mutual understanding. Not mutual agreement, necessarily, but a better understanding of each of your stories, so that you can make informed decisions (alone or together) about what to do next.

1. Learning Their Story

What information do they see that we missed or don’t have access to? What past experiences influence them? What is their reasoning for why they did what they did? What were their intentions? How did our actions impact them? What do they think we are contributing to the problem? What are they feeling? What does this situation mean to them? How does it affect their identity? What’s at stake?

2. Expressing Your Views and Feelings

What is important for you to say about your views, intentions, contributions, feelings, and identity issues.

3. Problem-Solving Together

What would improve the situation going forward? Can you brainstorm creative ways to satisfy both of your needs? Where your needs conflict, can you use equitable standards to ensure a fair and workable way to resolve the conflict?

Shifting your internal orientation from certainty to curiosity, from debate to exploration, from simplicity to complexity, from “either/or” to “and.”

Getting Started: Begin from the Third Story

What went wrong?

We Begin Inside Our Own Story

If they agreed with our story, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.


Our story invariably (though often unintentionally) communicates a judgment about them

they are the problem

Third Story

Understand each side’s concerns and see why each group is frustrated with the other.

mediators have no power to impose a solution; they are there to help the two sides communicate more effectively,

Describing the problem between the parties in a way that rings true for both sides simultaneously.

Not Right or Wrong, Not Better or Worse – Just Different

Importantly, you don’t have to know what the other person’s story entails to include it in initiating the conversation this way. All you have to do is acknowledge that it’s there: that there are probably lots of things you don’t understand about their perspective, and that one of the reasons you want to talk is that you want to learn more about their view. You can begin from the Third Story by saying, “My sense is that you and I see this situation differently. I’d like to share how I’m seeing it, and learn more about how you’re seeing it.”

  joint exploration

Extend an Invitation

I’ve described the problem in a way we can each accept. Now I want to propose mutual understanding and problem-solving as purposes, check to see if this makes sense to you, and invite you to join me in a conversation.

If the other person is going to accept your invitation, they need to know what it is they are agreeing to do. Letting them know up front that your goal for the discussion is to understand their perspective better, share your own, and talk about how to go forward together makes the conversation significantly less mysterious and threatening.

Invite, Don’t Impose

An invitation, of course, can be turned down.


Think of the goal rather as “offering and discussing a possible

Description and purpose:

On the other hand, you say, “Can you help me understand . . . ?” you offer the role of advisor. “Let’s work on how we might . . . .” invites a partnership. “I wonder whether it’s possible to . . . .” throws out a challenge, one which offers the other person the potential role of hero.

“The story I’m telling in my head about what is going on is that you are being inconsiderate. At some level I know that’s unfair to you, and I need you to help me put things in better perspective. I

Need you to help me understand where you are coming from on this.”

Delivering Bad News

best to put the bad news upfront

“I Wonder If It Would Make Sense . . . ?” The simple advice about making requests is this: Don’t make it a demand. Instead, invite an exploration of whether a raise is fair, whether it makes sense.

How can you open a more constructive conversation when conversations haven’t gone well in the past and the simple fact of raising the old issue casts you as the nag?

Talk About How to Talk About It.

Learning: Listen from the Inside Out

Listening well is one of the most powerful skills you can bring to a difficult conversation. It helps you understand the other person. And, importantly, it helps them understand you.

Listening to Them Helps Them Listen to You

shifted away from trying to persuade her mother to exercise and toward simply listening and acknowledging,


The reason the other person is not listening to you is not because they are stubborn, but because they don’t feel heard. In other words, they aren’t listening to you for the same reason you aren’t listening to them:

Think you are slow or stubborn. So they repeat themselves, find new ways to say things, talk more loudly, and so forth.

Demonstrating that you understand what they are saying and how they are feeling.

Listen for feelings, like frustration or pride or fear, and acknowledge those feelings.

Forget the Words, Focus on Authenticity.

Ask questions, paraphrase back what the other person has said, acknowledge their view, sit attentively and look them in the eyes.

People “read” not only your words and posture, but what’s going on inside of you.

Listening is only powerful and effective if it is authentic. Authenticity means that you are listening because you are curious and be- cause you care, not just because you are supposed to

Finding and paying attention to your own internal voice—what you’re thinking but not saying — is the crucial first step in overcoming the biggest barrier to inauthentic listening

Remind yourself that if you think you already understand how someone else feels or what they are trying to say, it is a delusion. Remember a time when you were sure you were right and then discovered one little fact that changed everything. There is always more to learn. Remind yourself of the depth, complexities, contradictions, and nuances that make up the stories of each of our lives.

If, instead, you hold as one of your primary purposes understanding the other person, it motivates your internal voice to ask questions, such as “What else do I need to know for that to make more sense?” or “I wonder how I can understand the world in such a way that that would make sense?”

When you find yourself in this situation, let the other person know that you want to listen and that you care about what they have to say, but that you can’t listen right now. Often it’s enough to give a headline of what you’re thinking: “I’m surprised to hear you say that. I think I disagree, but say more about how you see it,” or “I have to admit that…


As much as I want to hear what you have to say, I’m feeling a little defensive right now.”

Rather than give the other person half your attention, it’s better to say, “This is important to me, I want to find a time to talk about it, and right now I’m not able to.”

Three Skills: Inquiry, Paraphrasing, and Acknowledgment inquire to learn.

Don’t Make Statements Disguised as Questions

“Are we there yet?” What you really meant was “I’m feeling restless” or “I wish we were there” or “This is a long trip for me.” Any of these would likely elicit a more productive response from Mom and Dad.

Never dress up an assertion as a question.

Why? Because instead of hearing the underlying feeling or request, the other person focuses on the sarcasm and the attack.

They emerge from a purpose of trying to persuade the other person that you are right and they are wrong, rather than trying to learn.

Rather than asserting them as true, share them as open questions or perceptions, and ask for the other person’s reaction. Rather than assuming that this is an argument they have ignored, assume that they have thought about it and have reason to tell a different story.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

This way you don’t bias the answer or distract the other person’s thinking by the need to process your ideas.

“Tell me more” and “Help me understand better . . . .” Ask for More Concrete Information

“What leads you to say that?” “What would that look like?” “How would that work?” “How would we test that hypothesis?”

Ask Questions About the Three Conversations

Each of the Three Conversations provides fertile ground for curiosity:

• Can you say a little more about how you see things?

• What information might you have that I don’t?

• How do you see it differently?

• What impact have my actions had on you?

• Can you say a little more about why you think this is my fault?

• Were you reacting to something I did?

• How are you feeling about all of this?

• Say more about why this is important to you.

It’s better to make your question an invitation rather than a demand, and to make that clear. The difference is that an invitation can be declined without penalty. This offers a greater sense of safety and, especially if the other person declines to respond and your reaction makes that okay, it builds trust between you.

Even if they don’t answer now, they may later, after they think about it. Knowing that it’s their choice underscores your caring intent and frees them to think about the question.

Make It Safe for Them Not to Answer

Paraphrase for Clarity Check Your Understanding Show That You’ve Heard

feelings crave acknowledgment. Answer the Invisible Questions

Why is acknowledgment so important? Because attached to each expression of feelings is a set of invisible questions: “Are my feelings okay?” “Do you understand them?” “Do you care about them?” “Do you care about me?”

How to Acknowledge

Well, it won’t happen again. I should explain that I did not lie. It sounds like you’re overreacting a bit here. It sounds like you’re really upset about this. This seems really important to you. If I were in your shoes I’d probably feel confused too.

Order Matters: Acknowledge Before Problem-Solving

People need some acknowledgment of feelings before they can move on to the “What Happened?” Conversation.

You may think you’ve “solved” the problem, but his invisible questions haven’t been addressed.

Acknowledging Is Not Agreeing

While you may not agree with the substance of what

The other person is saying, you can still acknowledge the importance of their feelings. Empathy Is a Journey, Not a Destination.

Empathy involves a shift from my observing how you seem on the outside, to my imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside,

We are each more interested in knowing that the other person is trying to emphathize with us — that they are willing to struggle to understand how we feel and see how we see — than we are in believing that they have actually accomplished that goal.

In the first part of this chapter we take up the issue of entitlement. To communicate with clarity and power, you must first negotiate yourself into a place where you truly believe that what you want to express is worthy of expression

Costs of silence

Feel Entitled, Feel Encouraged, But Don’t Feel Obligated

You are entitled to express yourself. If you do not believe this to your core then you’ve got some work to do. But being entitled doesn’t mean you’re obligated.

Start with What Matters Most

There’s no better place to begin your story than with what is at the very heart of the matter for you: “For me, what this is really about is . . . . What I’m feeling is . . . . What is important to me is . . . .”

“Have I said what is at the heart of the matter for me?

Avoid Easing In.

“Me-Me” And

I do think you are bright and talented, and I think you’re not working hard enough. I feel badly for how rough things have been for you, and I’m feeling disappointed in you.

I’m upset with myself for not noticing that you were so lonely. And I also was having problems during that time. I feel relieved and happy that I finally went through with the divorce — it was the right decision. And I do miss him sometimes.

Some aspects of difficult conversations will continue to be rough even when you communicate with great skill: sharing feelings of vulnerability, delivering bad news, learning something painful about how others see you.

Error of thought: we often experience our beliefs, opinions, and judgments as facts clearly distinguishes between what your view or feeling is and what the facts are.

Share Where Your Conclusions Come From

Share your conclusions and opinions as your conclusions and opinions and not as the truth. The second step is to share what’s beneath your conclusions — the information you have and how you have interpreted it.

What specific information is in your heads? What past experiences influence how you’re thinking about this?

Don’t Exaggerate with“Always” and“Never”: Give Them Room to Change

A better approach is to proceed as if (however hard it may be to believe) the other person is simply unaware of the impact of their actions on you, and, being a good person, would certainly wish to change their behavior once they became aware of it.

The key is to communicate your feelings in a way that invites and encourages the recipient to consider new ways of behaving

Recognize that different people take in information at different speeds and in different ways.

Ask Them to Paraphrase Back

Ask How They See It Differently — and Why

You are an expert on what you think, how you feel, and why you’ve come to this place. If you think it or feel it, you are entitled to say it, and no one can legitimately contradict you. You only get in trouble if you try to assert what you are not the final authority on — who is right, who intended what, what happened.

Problem-Solving: Take the Lead

Reframe, Reframe, Reframe…

Reframing means taking the essence of what the other person says and “translating it” into concepts that are more helpful — specifically, concepts from the Three Conversations framework.

No matter how good you get at reframing, the single most important rule about managing the interaction is this: You can’t move the conversation in a more positive direction until the other person feels heard and understood. And they won’t feel heard and understood until you’ve listened. When the other person becomes highly emotional, listen and acknowledge.

Before defending yourself, try to understand their view.

Name the Dynamic: Make the Trouble Explicit

From “either/or” to “and.”

It’s Always the Right Time to Listen

Helpful in clearing the air

Now What? Begin to Problem-Solve

Propose Crafting a Test

Say What Is Still Missing

Say What Would Persuade You

Ask What (If Anything) Would Persuade Them Ask Their Advice.

This calls for determined joint brainstorming.

The Principle of Mutual Caretaking

A good resolution will usually require each party to accommodate somewhat to the other’s differences, or perhaps to reciprocate—going one way on some issues and the other way on others. This is the principle of mutual caretaking.

Should you accept less than what you want, or should you accept the consequences of not agreeing?

explain why you are walking away


Step One: Prepare by Walking Through the Three Conversations

Step Two: Check Your Purposes and Decide Whether to Raise It

Step Three: Start from the Third Story

The best thing you can do for the conversation is to listen from a stance of real curiosity, to ask questions, and to pay special attention to the feelings behind the words.

You need a transition sentence, something that ac- knowledges that you’re beginning to understand his view on this, and that you want to share yours. And when you do share yours, if you want to share feelings, do so.

Step Four: Problem-Solving


Thanks for reading. Did you like the content you just read? You can help me spread these ideas by sharing this blog post through your social media channels or sending it as a direct message to your friends.