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

Book Review – The Six Conversations of a Brilliant Manager by Alan J. Sears

six conversationsThe Six Conversations of a Brilliant Manager by Alan J. Sears is a book I gained a lot from. Written in a fictional format just like a novel, it explains some complicated aspects of management in simple to understand language using an interesting story. This is a very easy to read and understand book. The story is focused on six conversations that managers at some point in their career will need to have with the people they manage.

The main character in the book is Sam Mitchell who is suddenly promoted to be the UK Operations Manager of DecisionsMaker, a tech company, after his boss leaves the job. Sam doesn’t have experience as a manager, and he’s been put in charge of an unhappy team at a time when the company is going through some major challenges. The fact that he has been told by Arnold Kramer, one of the company’s founders to come up with results a month after he started in the role does not help. Add to that having to manage a difficult team and the scene for an interesting story on effective leadership and management is born. Continue reading

Book Review – The Power of a Positive NO by William Ury

untitledThe Power of a Positive No, by William Ury is a book that deals with an aspect of life that most of us face almost on a daily basis, how to say no to people confidently. It is amazing that a book covering 257 pages can be written about how to say a single word, but those 257 pages are needed. So if you struggle with saying no to certain requests then this book is for you. The book is divided into three parts titled:

  1. Prepare
  2. Deliver
  3. Follow through

Each of these sections has three chapters, adding up to nine chapters in total. The first part of the book, Prepare, will help you to prepare to say no by first saying yes to yourself. It advices us to uncover our yes by identifying why we need to say no in the first place. It also shows us how to prepare confidently to say no with conviction. Continue reading