Here are the techniques Google used to train engineers in handling difficult conversations, vetted by top experts in Psychology, EQ, and Neuroscience

Want the techniques Google used to train engineers on difficult conversations?

Top experts in Psychology, EQ, and Neuroscience developed the course.

Here’s the step-by-step method that got results (that you can use, too):

Google wanted to train its engineers to become more emotionally intelligent.

Communicating well is not a “soft skill.”

Doing it well requires self-awareness and technical expertise.

They developed a course called “Search Inside Yourself.”

It was based on the latest research in EQ, Neuroscience, and Psychology.

I had sold a company and never learned these lessons growing up.

I became one of their first certified teachers to master the lessons.

It became the most popular course inside Google.

The module on communication was based on research from the Harvard Negotiation Project.

1000s of conversations involving conflict were analyzed to develop the most successful techniques.

Because engineers were the audience, a clear framework was critical.

There are 3 levels within each conversation:

1. Content
2. Feelings
3. Identity

Let’s go through each.

1. Content

The content level is about: “what happened?”

This is where there is typically disagreement. The crticial perspective to take here is curiosity.

Arguing without understanding is not persuasive.

2. Feelings

The feelings level is about: “How did I feel?”

Failure to acknowledge feelings derails many difficult conversations.

Listening to understand each other’s feelings related to the conversation’s content creates the possiblity of progress.

A common trap is misunderstanding INTENT and IMPACT.

Successful difficult conversations:

1. Are generous with intrepreting the intent of the other party.

2. Recognize others feel the “impact” of our actions, regardless of our intent. Good intentions don’t sanitize bad impact.

3. Identity

The Identity level is the most important in any high-stakes conversation.

Our identities are as unique as a snowflake, but research shows that if 3 core identity aspects are threatened, conversations will get derailed.

Three most common core identity questions:

-Am I competent?
-Am I a good person?
-Am I worthy of love?

Language that focuses on “behaviors” and not on potential core “identity” questions of the party are more effective.

Identity-based: “You’re a confusing person.”

Behavior-based: “This behavior is making me feel confused.”

The second phrasing will lead to better outcomes.

To prepare for a conversation, the engineers were advised:

-On their own, write down the three levels of the conversation from their perspective (content, feelings, identity).

-Check their intention – should this issue even be raised?

If they decided to proceed…


Begin the conversation and attempt to describe it from a neutral third-party perspective.

Speak as warmly as possible. 90+% of conversations finish with the same tone as they begin (Gottman).


-What happened from their perspective?
-How did they feel?
-What might have been at stake for them? (Identity)


With both perspecvies shared, now is the time to problem solve.

If a compromise is useful, I recommend the 2 circle framework from Dr. John Gottman.

Define the values based items that are non-negotable for each party in the center circle.

Find common ground on items in the outer circle.


As the work of Psychologist Anatol Rapoport validated across cultures, DELAYING problem solving until AFTER the understanding is critical.

Humans need to have their perspective understood before being open to persuasion.

While hard conversations are still hard, a framework with preparation helps increase the likelihood that the conversation is productive.

Engineering and analytically minded people felt supported with a researched based framework to communicate more effectively.

Google’s Search Inside Yourself course consistently received 5.0 out of 5.0 scores from engineers after completion.

New cohorts of the course would fill up in minutes. The program eventually spun out of Google as a non-profit.

You don’t need to be an engineer to use this framework for better conversations.

Be sure you have another party willing to engage in good-faith.

With that in place, research based tools like the difficult conversations framework improves outcomes.

If you enjoyed this thread:

• Follow me @mattschnuck for more threads on EQ, entrepreneurship, and growth.
• Retweet the first tweet to share this framework for anyone interested in communication skills at work

Follow: @mattschnuck



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