37 Breathtaking Douglas Stone Quotes

Douglas Stone is the author of several books related to communication and student life. Focused on bringing the necessary skills to have difficult conversations in life, Stone is a lecturer on Law at Harvard and is a principal at Triad. Here is a look at some of the most memorable Douglas Stone quotes ever recorded.

“Before you tell me how to do it better, before you lay out your big plans for changing, fixing, and improving me, before you teach me how to pick myself up and dust myself off so that I can be shiny and successful—know this: I’ve heard it before. I’ve been graded, rated, and ranked. Coached, screened, and scored. I’ve been picked first, picked last, and not picked at all. And that was just kindergarten.”

“Blame Is About Judging, and Looks Backward.”

“But they are two different topics, and should be two different conversations. Trying to talk about both topics simultaneously is like mixing your apple pie and your lasagna into one pan and throwing it in the oven. No matter how long you bake it, it’s going to come out a mess.”

“By identifying what you are doing to perpetuate a situation, you learn where you have leverage to affect the system.”

“Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow.”

“Depending on how we handle them, feelings can lead to great trouble. But the feelings themselves just are. In that sense, feelings are like arms or legs. If you hit or kick someone, then your arms or legs are causing trouble. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with arms or legs. The same with feelings.”


“Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.”

“Difficult conversations do not just involve feelings, they are at their very core about feelings.”

“Explicit disagreement is better than implicit misunderstanding.”

“Get curious about what you don’t know about yourself.”

“I’ve been graded, rated, and ranked. Coached, screened, and scored. I’ve been picked first, picked last, and not picked at all. And that was just kindergarten.”

“If I’m the boss / parent, why can’t I just tell my subordinates / children what to do?”

“If you are having a difficult conversation, and someone asks why you disagree, how come you never say,

“Because what I’m saying makes absolutely no sense”?”

“Imagine that while scuba diving, you suddenly see a shark glide into view. Your heart starts to pound and your anxiety skyrockets. You’re terrified, which is a perfectly rational and understandable feeling. Now imagine that your marine biology training enables you to identify it as a Reef Shark, which you know doesn’t prey on anything as large as you. Your anxiety disappears. Instead you feel excited and curious to observe the shark’s behavior.”

“In truth, we are all fast and slow, strong and weak, motivated and lazy in a thousand tiny ways throughout our days that the generalizations simply don’t capture.”

“It doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they’re hearing, and whether they choose to change. Pushing harder rarely opens the door to genuine learning. The focus should not be on teaching feedback givers to give. The focus—at work and at home—should be on feedback receivers, helping us all to become more skillful learners. The real leverage is creating pull. Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow. It’s also about how to stand up for who we are and how we see the world, and ask for what we need. It’s about how to learn from feedback—yes, even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood.”

“Learning that you can’t control the other person’s reaction, and that it can be destructive to try, can be incredibly liberating. It not only gives the other person the space to react however they need to, but also takes a huge amount of pressure off you. You will learn things about yourself based on their reaction, but if you are prepared to learn, you’ll feel free from the desperate need for their reaction to go one certain way.”

“Listening well is one of the most powerful skills you can bring to a difficult conversation.”

“Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.”

“Often we go through an entire conversation – or indeed an entire relationship – without ever realizing that each of us is paying attention to different things, that our views are based on different information.”

“One important role pattern is called “accidental adversaries.”3 If two people bump into each other enough and cause each other enough frustration, each will begin considering the other an “adversary.” Each attributes the problem to the personality and questionable intentions of the other. But often the true culprit is the structure of the roles they are in, which are (accidentally) creating chronic conflict. If we are each at one end of a rope and our job is to pull, then merely doing our jobs creates a tug-of-war.”

“Our Assumptions About Intentions Are Often Wrong.”

“Paradoxically, there is also considerable persuasion power in inquiry and listening.”

“People align their actions with implicit incentives, not official rhetoric.”

“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”

“Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs—our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance.”

“Seeing my own contribution to my circumstances makes me stronger, not weaker. If I contribute to my own problems, there are things I have the power to change.”

“Simply by changing your own behavior, you gain at least some influence over the problem.”

“Telling someone to change makes it less rather than more likely that they will.”

“Thanks for the Feedback is about the profound challenge of being on the receiving end of feedback—good or bad, right or wrong, flippant, caring, or callous. This book is not a paean to improvement or a pep talk on how to make friends with your mistakes. There is encouragement here, but our primary purpose is to take an honest look at why receiving feedback is hard, and to provide a framework and some tools that can help you metabolize challenging, even crazy-making information and use it to fuel insight and growth.”

“The big three blind spots are tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. The listener is very aware of these, the talker is not.”

“The blame frame creates a difficult burden. You have to feel confident that others are at fault, and that you aren’t, to feel justified in raising an issue.”

“The urge to blame is based . . . on the fear of being blamed.”

“We can make a reasonable argument that engaging (well) in difficult conversations is a sign of health in a relationship.”

“We don’t care where the ball lands, as long as it doesn’t land on us”

“We don’t know what we don’t know.”

“We have a deep desire to feel heard, and to know that others care enough to listen.”

Douglas Stone, a communication expert and co-author of ‘Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,’ sits down for a conversation with Misha Glouberman.

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