Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them




By Holly Weeks

Published September 2008 by Harvard Business Press

Stressful and difficult conversations are unavoidable in life. In business, they can run the gamut from firing a subordinate to, curiously enough, receiving praise. But whatever the context, stressful conversations carry a heavy emotional load. Indeed, stressful conversations cause such anxiety that most people simply avoid them. Yet it can be extremely costly to dodge issues, appease difficult people and smooth over antagonisms; avoidance usually only worsens a problem or a relationship.

In the new book Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them, communications consultant Holly Weeks explores the dysfunctional dynamics that for so long have plagued employee relationships and offers fresh insights on why we do what we do and why change is so hard. The key to success, she argues, is maintaining—and sometimes imposing—balance in the conversation, even when the power relationships are unequal and the emotions potentially volatile.

With proven successful strategies and techniques paired with real life examples, Weeks addresses fundamental questions raised by difficult conversations including:
  • How do you talk about a difficult issue with someone who refuses to reason?
  • If they start bullying you, how do you know whether to retaliate or take the punch?
  • What if they catch you off-guard? How do you keep from getting backed into a corner?
  • What if you’re so anxious that you blank out, or so angry that you lose control?
  • What if you’re in the wrong? How can you avoid losing face?
The worst conversations put friendships, reputations and sometimes even jobs on the line. Failure to Communicate presents a set of skills to guide through the landscape of difficult conversations so that we minimize damage without giving up or giving in and without compromising integrity.

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