Found in 21 comments on Hacker News
yboris · 2022-03-22 · Original thread
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most - by three researchers at Harvard that have spent over a decade helping resolve challenging interpersonal conflicts. I read in it in my early 20s and have been using the framework they recommend for numerous conversations (even the not difficult ones). It makes for better communication and understanding between parties. Can recommend!

Lots of good recommendations in the thread.

I found this one to be pretty valuable: (sorry, amazon link)

Because, obviously you're going to get into situation as a manager where you have to have difficult conversations.

yboris · 2021-12-18 · Original thread
I keep remembering Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most fondly. I suspect that is where I had come across the most-dense (in good advice) collection of approaches for talking about difficult things with people. I read it in my early 20s and feel like I've been using the recommendations ever since (I'm 36 now). It's written by people involved with the Harvard Negotiation Project after many years of practice with facilitating difficult conversations.

lionhearted · 2021-06-05 · Original thread
"Difficult Conversations" was a great read —

The basic idea is that in any difficult conversation, there's actually three sub-conversations happening —

(1) What happened?

(2) How do we feel about it?

(3) What are we going to do about it?

A lot of times people get into cross-talk or can't get on the same page because they mix up what sub-conversation they're happening. This can happen when one person gets right into proposing solutions (#3) while another person is still trying to work out why things went the way they did (#1). Likewise, sometimes a conversation around "we really screwed this up" is meant to be a neutral "what happened" conversation (#1) but is taken as a negative or put-down (#2).

Useful book. Very readable and informative.

"Difficult conversations" [1] would be the best direction, to my knowledge. It is written by creators of Harvard Negotiation Project that deals with conflict resolution.

Audiobook version [2] is narrated by authors, and it's great.



Great post. Your reading list is excellent and I'd add Getting to Yes. I think there are some key elements you left out: (1) the concept of emotional safety and the value of brainstorming (Crucial Conversations), (2) seeing the problem as separate from the people (Getting Past No / Getting to Yes), (3) Negotiating interests, not positions (Getting to Yes).

Here are the links to the reading list (and I added Getting to Yes):

nickpinkston · 2019-12-06 · Original thread
I feel you. I think you'd like Good Authority. Very concrete and actionable on all kinds of management practice:

If you're looking for office communications, I've heard good things about "Difficult Conversations":

aok1425 · 2019-03-26 · Original thread
My friend had recommended to me a book called Difficult Conversations:
maroonblazer · 2019-03-15 · Original thread
At least in the U.S. culturally I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to having what some have termed 'difficult conversations'[0]. In essence, confronting people with their behavior but in a way that's respectful and focused on the impact it has on the recipient (me) as opposed to the aggressor. Sure, it may not change their behavior, but processing the experience and the associated emotions - at least in my experience - is more effective than not dealing with them at all.

[0]There's a good book on this subject called "Difficult Conversations":

BeetleB · 2018-05-02 · Original thread
I see posts like these once in a while on HN.

I suggest folks read some good books on conversations and negotiations.


Nonviolent Communications:

Crucial Conversations:

Difficult Conversations:

Negotiation books:

Bargaining For Advantage:

Getting To Yes:

Getting Past No (billed as a negotiations book, but really more of a conversations book):

I strongly recommend reading Influence before you read these - much of what is in the books above will make more sense once you've read Influence.

When you read these, keep in mind: Change is hard. Don't expect to read these and become good communicators quickly. It may take a few years of stumbling and practice.

I see a mixture of comments agreeing and disagreeing with the original submission. For those who disagree: Most of what the author is saying is in agreement with what the books say:

If your goal is to change someone, you will either fail, or will succeed at the cost of the relationship (and relationships at work do matter).

Another important related point: If you cannot summarize why the other person is acting this way without using phrases like "stubborn", "irrational" or similar negatives, then it means you have no idea about the other person's concerns and motives, and are being lazy. It is easier to label, and much harder to probe effectively. Additionally, people often act stubborn because they realize you are not really interested in their perspective. Internally their thought process (which is very rational) is "This person does not really want to hear me out, so I'm not going to invoke too many neurons engaging with him and will just dig in my heels." - which is why a lot of books focus a lot on listening skills (which includes skills to signal that you are listening - you may in reality be listening just fine but the other person does not know it - so you signal it by summarizing their stance).

A lot of the comments here are invoking false dichotomies. Since HN has a comment limit, I'll address some here:

>I don't believe you can have a successful software team with individuals who can't take a code review well.

This is tangential. You can give feedback in a code review poorly, or efficiently. Both ways allow for you to point out problems with the other's code. One way will not be taken well. The other way has a higher chance of being taken well. A big step forward is to realize you can have your cake and eat it too.

>I started to try and reason with people with carefully crafted questions to guide them towards my goal.

Leading questions is a bad idea (all the communications books say it). Learn how to state your concerns. It is OK to ask questions if genuinely curious. But if you want to point something out, learn how to state it in a non-defensive manner.

(3 separate comments below):

>If Kara's emotions and defensiveness can't handle a clearly articulated, rational, objective argument against design decisions, then for the sake of the product and the company, she probably needs to find another job. Avoiding discussions doesn't work for me.

>Learned to let go and he has his parts of the code base and I have mine.

>And this is how you end up with a terrible, in-cohesive product.

Again, false dichotomies. The solution is not to be quiet and let it go. The solution is to learn how to talk about the issues effectively. One of the books calls this "The Fool's Choice" - thinking that either you have to be quiet and not air your concerns (to save relationships), or that you have to air them and damage the relationship.

>It's either you convince them, or perhaps they convince you. Logic wins.

Logic alone rarely wins. One key point in one of the books: Don't pretend that emotions should not be part of the decision making process. The reality is that emotions are already part of the decision making process. If you get angry that someone cannot take your feedback well, emotions are present.

>It's safe to assume Kara wrote this article.

It is safe to assume that the author of this comment is unwilling to question his views on the topic.

That's what assumptions get you.

>I have seen more technical damage done by nice and competent people deferring to bullies in the workplace than by legitimate disagreements expressed passionately.

Another false dichotomy. What the submission describes is normal among non-bullies.

>The flaw here is that you assume that "Kara" will learn from her mistakes. Not always the case.

It is a similar flaw to assume that merely telling her what mistakes she made will make her learn from them. Definitely often not the case.

fab1an · 2018-02-23 · Original thread
No framework, but I'd very much recommend reading up on "Difficult Conversations"[1], which has been very helpful for me ever since becoming CEO.

Giving feedback, more often than not, will constitute a difficult conversation, and the concept helps a lot with navigating those in a way where both parties can learn and grow from both emotional and 'semantic' conflicts.

[1] Brief summary here:

kirk211 · 2017-12-04 · Original thread
Here are my 5 favorite books of this year:

- The investment checklist

- Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable

- Grinding it out: The Making of McDonald's

- Difficult conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

- Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups

What are yours?

BeetleB · 2017-02-25 · Original thread
I just gave a presentation at work about how we're ridiculously overeducated on technical skills, and ridiculously undereducated on social dynamics.

I mean, I solved more complex technical problems in my undergrad than I've ever had to in my career.

My suggestion: While you may want to master a technical skill or two, become good at what they don't teach you:

Negotiation skills:

The Coursera course from the University of Michigan is decent, if you don't want to read. But the other course (from Yale?) - I would not recommend that as a starter.

Communication Skills:


(His work is often cited in other books - especially related to negotiations).


Finally, a word of advice. Most of us here on HN have no trouble reading stuff and grasping its content. Internalizing it, though, will take work. So don't run away reading all these books. Pick one topic (e.g. negotiation), and read up on it. Take notes (I forget 80% of what I've read after a few months). And try to practice it.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Just focus on one till you feel you are good at it (perhaps for a year). Then pick another topic.

tobych · 2016-10-11 · Original thread
I can recommend this book: "Difficult Conversations"

dustincoates · 2015-05-12 · Original thread
fsniper made a good recommendation with "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

I'd also put in a recommendation for a book I stumbled upon when searching through Hacker News called "Difficult Conversations."

I got the same feeling from reading the book as the original recommender ( ): reading the book made me feel instantly better at being able to communicate when having difficult or tense conversations. I can't recommend it enough.

peteforde · 2014-05-18 · Original thread
Your friend is lucky to have a friend that is willing to tell them the truth; most people are cowards when it comes to saying the most important things until it's too late. We're pretty much trained from birth to tell people what we think that they want to hear because it feels good to tell someone that they're brilliant. Giving someone the truth even if it's bad feels awful. If we only ever tell someone that their idea is great, what do we do when their next idea is actually great? "This one is really really great!" "Last time I was lying but this time it's actually great!"

I strongly recommend the book Difficult Conversations to everyone, period. It's one of the best books on negotiation that have been written in the past 20 years. It's very hands-on and practical, and after reading it I immediately felt like I had levelled-up in all of my communications. It made giving feedback much simpler.

Instead of telling someone that their idea sucks, you should instead tactfully tell your friend that after consideration you don't think his idea will survive a customer development process. Then suggest he reads The Four Steps to the Epiphany or The Lean Startup (or paraphrase the important concepts) and urge him to validate his concept before becoming too emotionally invested, lest he invest in a solution in search of a problem. Dane Maxwell makes a great point about retiring from having ideas in favour of what he calls "idea extraction":

Your friend should remember that a startup is a temporary business structure that exists only to prove or disprove a hypothesis about a market opportunity in the fewest number of steps (time, money, resources). You don't say why his idea will never work (my wild guess is that it's probably a two-sided marketplace, which is near-impossible to launch because it's actually two businesses at once that both need to succeed at the exact same time == marketing $$$) but rookie founders are often trying to do WAY too much. Maybe there's a gem of an idea there that's good, and it just needs to be simplified to its essence.

You might ask your friend "why you?" both because he might not have any business starting this company where anyone person might. Investors like to see an unfair advantage; wealth, political connections, celebrity status are all examples... but the best is having someone on your team that has deep experience in the domain. Starting a real-estate site and nobody on your team has worked in real-estate? Good luck.

Also in the "why" category is a literal "why are you doing this?" question which many people glaze over. Sometimes people just have a flight of fancy and do things that seem like a good idea without it actually being something that they truly care about. Aside from being a recipe for disaster, Simon Sinek explains that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it:

Finally, you might want to explain to your friend how an investor evaluates a startup. In order:

1. Market opportunity 2. Team 3. Traction 4. Product

Most founders HATE this because they don't want to confront that product is the least important criteria for a term sheet. Obviously you need a great product; that's table stakes. Investors have to first be convinced that there is a real market opportunity, and it has to be big enough to matter if the company succeeds. Bad pitches start with a focus on the product and promise that the market opportunity is there. Good pitches are all about how you've put together a great team to attack a large, demonstrable market opportunity. Great pitches are about great teams with a great opportunity that have demonstrated growth through traction.

In the end, products frequently change and investors know this. Very occasionally you can convince an investor that your product vision is so important that it needs to exist even though you have a questionable market opportunity, an unknown team and no sales to date. However, at this point you're actually competing with every other startup pitching that investor because no matter how brilliant that they think you and your idea are, they have a fiduciary responsibility to the LPs to make the best investments that they can. If a VC backs a product they like over a boring product with great traction, team and opportunity, then they are not a very good VC.

In the end, most startups fail and your friend is awesome for being willing to try anyway. Despite his fancy MBA if this is his first rodeo, he owes it to his future self to be honest about what he's doing. He should spend a year at another startup learning by osmosis before he tries to start up.

This is all strong opinions which are strongly held. I think having strong opinions is one of the most valuable things someone can do. In fact, my job is to tell important people awkward truths and anyone who suggests you should not "pile on" negativity is not someone you should go to for startup advice.

fdb · 2013-11-03 · Original thread
I recommend "Difficult Conversations", which is an excellent book on this topic. It gives many good examples of difficult conversations, analyzes them and provides great advice.

jasonshen · 2013-03-28 · Original thread
Believe it or not, there are low-bullshit companies out there. And they are starving for smart, nice, and capable people. Given your visa is tied to your current startup, I would find a way to apply/interview while at your current position for as long as you can.

Meanwhile, I would have a larger conversation with the CEO. What is it exactly that makes working with him/her so hard? Can you discuss with them in a non confrontational manner?

Check out the book Difficult Conversations for help on this:

Agile Coaching helped quite a lot (even if you don't use Agile)[1].

A CTO of a very successful startup on the valley recommended me Difficult Conversations[2].

As long as you remember that empowering other people to do great work is very valuable in itself (as it is a multiplier), you can motivate yourself into getting to understand this side of software development.

It is not only important for tech leads, but for CTOs, and open source project leads.

Good luck on your new job!



lionhearted · 2009-02-28 · Original thread
My favorite book on conflict management, and dealing with bad situations as they're happening rapidly and getting to their root causes:

My favorite book on small business and why things usually go wrong:

lionhearted · 2009-01-04 · Original thread
A mix of some excellent advice and some very poor advice. First, let me highly recommend the best book on conflict I've ever read (no affiliate link either):

Author nails some good points about talking about yourself, and looking for solutions. One thing I really disagree with - not walking away. It doesn't really make sense to talk to someone while they're angry or heated up. So you've got a couple options - calm them down, and then talk about it, or let them calm down on their own. Depending on where you're at in life, your mood, etc, the second option can be really good. You don't have to be so formal about it. Something like - "Hey, you seem pissed. Would it be better if I took off for a while?"

Lots of times you get "No!" Then you say, "Okay baby, no sweat. Let's get something to eat and we'll figure it out." Then make some tea, or fix a couple sandwiches (may seem strange to do this calmly while she's coming down from the adrenalin/anger, but very doable in practice). Then she'll come around and be back to being your very cool girl, with more of a post-adrenalin sad/regret mode instead of the fired up angry mode. I think it's a lot easier to communicate with someone you care about when they're calmed down, maybe even a little sad, than when fired up with righteous indignation. So then you say, "Okay, babe, what's up?" And she usually tells you without attacking you.

Then you've got a couple options. If you feel like you're in the wrong to some extent you can say, "You know - you're totally right. I'm going to work on that." But if she's got an issue with something that's you, that's not bad, that's part of who you are that you wouldn't want to change, then you can say, "You know, God that's awful you feel that way. That sounds yucky... but y'know, I think that might be just how I am. I'm like a machine, I go crazy when I don't work 16 hours a day during my inspired times, and it's who I am. I'm not sure you'd even like me if I repressed that drive of mine... I hear what you're saying babe, and I'll think about it more, but I think that's part of me."

People do respect this - the worst thing you can do is promise to do something that you can't do. And yeah, if you're driven, maybe you can't not work when inspired without going crazy. I can't. I go nuts if I have something I should be creating with my hands and I'm not doing it. So the girl in my life has to put up with the "mad scientist in the basement inventing and doing nothing else but eating and sleeping" treatment from time to time. And when you say that upfront, it gives her a chance to make a real decision without being led on that you'll change in an area you can't. If you're a really good guy, she won't mind the eccentricities and can accept them instead of being strung out that you'll try to change your fundamental nature and core values.

A final thought - you might think about trying to be kind but a bit distant after confliuct. Like very nice, calm, but absolutely not turned on or more affectionate than normal. Great makeup sex is absolutely a disaster - it practically guarantees more fights. If you're a much better guy from her point of view after she raises hell, she's going to do it. So let her calm down, almost be sterile and nice for a little bit after you fight or she attacks you. If you want to change, do it gradually after like a week has passed. If you're better to your girl after she's been bad to you, you're going to get more of that badness in the future. Even if it's a wake up call that you need to treat her better, maybe wait a bit of time so she doesn't make the association of "feel bad -> start conflict -> better life". I guess that might seem obvious in text, but it seems like most guys get it wrong just because they never thought about it.

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