One Idea Group Session from Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most


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This resource will help you facilitate a short group session to learn from the One Idea Summary on The Three Parts of a Difficult Conversation.


  • Be able to list and describe the three parts of a difficult conversation.
  • Identify the three parts of a difficult conversation (using a sample conversation).


Send a copy of the One Idea Summary on The Three Parts of a Difficult Conversation to the participants one week before the session. They are to read it before the session and bring it with them.


Introduce the session

Introduce the session by sharing the learning objectives with them.

Review the three ways

Split them into small groups and give each group flipchart paper and pens.

Tell each group to review what they read about the three parts of a difficult conversation and write down a summary of their understanding.

Give them 10-minutes.

After 10-minutes stop them. Allow each group to feedback their summary. Make sure they’ve reviewed all three parts. If necessary (if they don’t remember all of them), use the One Idea Summary to remind them of the three parts.

Next move on to share an example with them of identifying the three parts in a conversation.

Identifying the three parts

Tell them that:

  • Now I am going to read out a difficult conversation to you.
  • I want you to see if you can identify the three parts in this conversation, which are the ‘what happened’ conversation, the kinds of emotions being evoked and see if you can guess what the identity aspect might be.

Read out the conversation below slowly and clearly so they can follow you.

  • Carly: Jude, please can I speak to you about something?
  • Jude: Yes, dear. What is it?
  • Carly: At the party last night, you really embarrassed me and….
  • Jude: Oh, Carly not that again. I was only joking when I talked about your weight loss plan. Can’t you take a joke?
  • Carly: But Jude I felt embarrassed. You were insensitive.
  • Jude: There you go again! I can’t say anything to you without me being insensitive. I guess I’m just an insensitive jerk to you.
  • Carly: Jude I am only trying to tell you how I felt. I didn’t say you were an insensitive jerk or anything.
  • Jude: Well you might as well have said it. Why do you have to take everything so personal?
  • Carly: (bursts into tears and walks away).

Now ask these questions and listen to their answers to each one:

  • What is the ‘what happened’ part of this conversation?
  • What is the ‘feeling’ part of this conversation?
  • Were you able to identify any ‘identity’ experiences that each person in the conversation might be going through?

Take the time to listen to their answers without interrupting. When they finish speaking, tell them that:

  • To pull together what you have said and identify aspects of the three parts in the conversation between Carly and Jude, the ‘what happened’ part is about Carly saying Jude was insensitive and Jude implying that Carly takes everything personal.
  • For the ‘feelings’ part, Carly is clearly upset, feels put down and believes Jude doesn’t listen to her. Jude on the other hand feels misunderstood and believes he just can’t win with Carly.
  • The ‘identity’ aspect of a difficult conversation is much more difficult to detect because we can’t see or hear it since it is what happens in people and it’s more about what people feel the conversation is saying about them. But we can guess that both of them might see themselves as inadequate in the relationship. Carly might see herself as not good enough for Jude, while Jude thinks that nothing he does is right enough for Carly.

Think about your own conversations

Next let them know that you want them to think about their difficult conversations.

Tell them to:

  • Think about a difficult conversation they’ve already had, about to have or one they are dreading to have, and they’ve been putting off.
  • They should write down a sentence to describe the conversation.
  • They should think about the conversation and imagine them having the conversation right now – what is the ‘what happened’ part of the conversation for themselves and the other party?
  • What kinds of ‘feelings’ are likely to be evoked during the conversation?
  • How does the conversation make them think about themselves? For example, does it make them feel competent or incompetent? Good or bad? Sensitive or insensitive? Kind or harsh?
  • Give them 5-minutes to think about the questions and write down their answers.

After 5-minutes stop them and get everyone’s attention. Ask for voluntary feedback using these questions:

  • Who wants to tell us about their difficult conversation and ‘what happened’ and ‘feelings’ part of the conversation (the ‘identity’ part is their own personal information)?

Listen to those who volunteer to share without commenting or any further questioning.

After they finish speaking, thank them for sharing and move on to review and conclude the session.


To review the session, tell them that:

  • During this session we explored the three parts of a difficult conversation which are the ‘what happened’ conversation, the ‘feelings’ conversation and the ‘identity’ conversation.
  • You had the opportunity to review the three parts from the one idea summary you read earlier.
  • We discussed an example where we identified the three parts of the conversation.
  • Lastly you also thought about your own difficult conversation and the three parts in it.

Going forward I encourage you to think about these three parts whenever you are going into a difficult conversation and during the conversation be aware of them too. This is the first step to being able to handle difficult conversations appropriately

Thank you for coming and your participation.

End the session

Book Review – Difficult Conversations – How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen

Managing Difficult ConversationsIn my own opinion this is a timeless book. Why? Because it discusses a topic that we all face in various aspects of our lives. Whether at work, in our relationships, with our children or even when shopping we will all have to face difficult conversations. Having difficult conversations is a fact of life. The book, Difficult Conversations – How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen is a classic and an international best seller too. There are lots of books about difficult conversations but this one is different for a number of reasons. To start with it is based on extensive research at the Harvard Negotiation Project of which Bruce and Douglas are members and the techniques discussed in the book are not surface level gimmicks that you can apply quickly without a good understanding of how they work. Rather they are behaviours which require us to think deeply and work hard to change the way we respond in conversations we see as difficult. Continue reading

Which “A” do you go to – Accommodate, Attack or Avoid

In The Power of a Positive NO, William Ury writes about what makes it difficult for most of us to say no to people. It’s the tension between exercising our power and managing the relationship. So while saying No allows us to exercise our power, it may damage the relationship. We typically respond to this tension one of three ways or use a combination of them. Ury calls them The Three-A Trap.

The first A is for Accommodate where we prioritise a relationship at the expense of our own needs and interests. We say Yes when we really want to say No because we don’t want to hurt or offend the person. This is an unhealthy position which in the short term may bring us peace but in the longer term can result in a lot of subdued pain for the person who should be saying No.

The next A is for Attack. In this case we actually say No, but say it poorly. This may happen because we are angry at the other person’s behaviour and we lash out with a No that hurts the person. This can also come from a person who has been accommodating for so long and they become so angry that they lash out with a very angry No.

The last A is to Avoid. We say nothing. We keep silent. We pretend as if nothing is wrong. We do this because we are afraid of offending the other person, so we will rather avoid the issue.

Here are two interesting quotes that capture the effects of “Accommodate” and “Avoid”.

A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a Yes uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble – Mahatma Gandhi

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter – Martin Luther King

If you think about these three As, which one do you go to when you mean to say NO?

Respect them even if – A radical idea!

You’ve probably heard the statement, respect is earned”. Well, it was a statement I agreed with and attempted to live by for a very long time, many people swear by that statement too. But what does it really mean? Simply, if you respect me, I will respect you, if you disrespect me, I will disrespect you. At least that’s how people I have discussed it with interpret it. But then I met William Ury, not in person, but through his books.

William introduced me to a new perspective of the whole respect thing, which is, you give respect because you are a respectable person and not necessarily because the other person respects you. I first read about it in Williams book titled, The Power of a Positive NO. You can read my review of the book here. But in another of his book’s titled, Getting To Yes With Yourself, (you can also read a review of that book here) he expands on the concept. In fact he denotes a whole chapter to it. I like how he titled the chapter, Respect Them Even If. 

While I can’t go into them in detail, here are bullet points of the ideas we can use to ” respect them even if”.

  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Expand your circle of respect
  • Respect them even if they reject you
  • From exclusion to inclusion

Respecting people who disrespect you is hard and seems almost impossible at times, but William shows us through his ideas that it is possible. It will take us changing the way we think and a lot of practice and learning.

I definitely want to learn this way of thinking about respect and live it too. What about you?