Every difficult discussion is actually comprised of three conversations:

  1. The “What Happened?” Conversation. In most difficult conversations, the parties disagree about what happened or what should happen. Differing perceptions of the same situation is often the heart of the disagreement.
  2. The Feelings Conversation. Negotiators may not directly reference or even express their feelings during a negotiation, but feelings tend to leak in anyway. Even if you try to remain calm during a conversation, your colleague may sense your frustration and feel anger, shame, or other emotions.
  3. The Identity Conversation. Finally, every difficult conversation involves an internal debate about what the situation means to us. We consider how the conversation might affect our self-image, self-esteem, our future, and our well-being.

Though we can’t wish away these three challenges posed by difficult conversations, we can improve how we respond to them by taking on a learning mindset. Instead of assuming we have all the facts at hand, we need to explore the other person’s point of view, his emotions and our own, and the identity issue that the conversation has raised for both parties


Harvard Negotiating Project – August 2, 2015