Difficult Conversations

  • Presenters: Hans Keppens & Vladimir Blagojevic
  • Type: Interactive presentation
  • Duration: 60
  • Audience: anyone interested in becoming a better communicator, or good communicators that can help us/the audience to improve

All of us experience difficult conversations: a disagreement with our partner, a negotiation with a difficult client, a fight over coding conventions with a colleague... They cause us a lot of anxiety and frustration.

We found some of the books that came out of Harvard Negotiation Project (http://www.pon.harvard.edu/hnp/) very useful. However, even though they help the level of understanding of what goes 'behind the scenes' to rise, when faced with an actual difficult conversation, we tend to fall back to the old patterns of behaviour.

That's why we decided to try to use 'role play'; practise advised techniques in a safe environment but with a real conversational partner to achieve better results.

That's what this interactive presentation is all about. The first half of the session will be a presentation of some highlights from theory enhanced by examples showed using role play. The rest of the session is intended to be more interactive: a discussion triggered by an example and the given presentation. We also plan to pull some jokers out of our pockets if the time permits.


The objectives we want to achieve with this session are:

  • Let the people know about the Harvard Negotiation Project
  • Practise difficult conversations in a safe environment - reading about it is not enough
  • Arouse people's curiosity about the "meta" level of conversations
Our objective is not to teach the technique from the book.

Benefits of participating

We hope that participants will walk out with some of the following benefits:

  • Learn about the existence of the method for conducting the difficult conversations
  • Becoming more curious about improving conversational skills
  • Start thinking about the meta level of conversations
  • During the discussion learn from each other and appreciate the existence of many views on conversations
What will the organisers learn

We hope that benefits for us will be:

  • Practising the techniques
  • Learn from the discussions
  • Put our understanding of the topic to a test
Session Outline

  • 30': theory based on the Harvard Negotiation Project result, with short (1') examples presented through a role play between the two presenters
  • 15'-30' example and discussion:
    • 1': show an example of a failed conversation using a role play between presenters
    • 13'-28' discussion
    • 1' show the example of the same conversation, done successfully
  • Since we want to make sure that there is enough time for discussion, we want to leave all the remaining time for it. However, we also want to prepare some "jokers" and pull them out if the time permits:
    • Another example and discussion
    • More theory presented in a form of "tips"

Founded in 1979, the Harvard Negotiation Project's mission is to improve the theory, teaching, and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution, so that people can deal more constructively with conflicts ranging from the interpersonal to the international.

Numerous publications and books were written, and seminars are being organised in the context of the project.

It's the first time for the presenters to give this session. They are in no way affiliated with the Harvard Negotiation Project.