Difficult Conversations Initiative

(a Harvard Negotiation Project initiative)
Directors: Sheila Heen and Doug Stone

The Difficult Conversations Initiative dates back to the early 1990’s. It began with the observation that many conflicts are rooted less in disagreements over the substance than in challenges embedded in our relationships: how we understand and treat each other, how we each make sense of our feelings, and how we each see ourselves in the world and in relationship to the other.

Our book Difficult Conversations (Viking/Penguin 1999; 2nd Ed. 2010) captures what we learned about what makes these conversations so hard, and what helps us move from a difficult conversation to a more productive learning conversation. Whether the conversation is with a family member, a work colleague, or someone across the table or the aisle, good communication skills matter, and they require more than saying the right words. They depend on authenticity and an underlying mindset of appropriate humility. Since the book’s publication, these ideas have spread throughout the world and been embraced by many disciplines. The Difficult Conversations Initiative helps to spread these skills through workshops and consulting engagements, and by continuing to develop cases, exercises, tools, and books including Thanks for the Feedback (Penguin, 2014).