Startup Reading – Do better in stressful conversations


Startup Reading is an ongoing reading list of articles and resources that I think will be of great value to startups and entrepreneurs.

Taking The Stress Out of Stressful Conversations

full PDF $6.50 from HBR

There are three common patterns of stressful conversations in this article, and I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing each of them, almost exactly as they play out in the examples.  Stressful conversations aren’t something that can be avoided, but in fact are probably some of the most important conversations you will ever have with your co-workers, partners or employees.  The times when emotions are running high and important information needs to be heard are critical make-or-break moments for your relationships and, over time, your company.

Luckily, there are a few key findings from behavioral research that give us tools to use when preparing for a stressful conversation or managing one that’s gone seriously sideways.  The situations and tactics are well described in the article, but a few brief extractions are:

– Disarm by acknowledging responsibility for your part of a problem, even if it’s in the form of “I feel like I’ve let you down by not bringing this up in the past, because I value our relationship and your contributions here, but we need to rectify this issue…”

– Disarm by restating your intentions – often people hear something completely different from your intentions, so it’s not necessary to give ground but instead work to clarify what you really mean: “I can see how you took that from what I said.  That wasn’t what I meant though, so let’s go through this again.” – Don’t argue with them about their perceptions, instead take the responsibility for aligning your words with your intentions.

– Fight tactics, not people.  Some people use aggressive “thwarting” tactics that prevent you from making your points.  The best way to neutralize a tactic like this is to name it, as people are generally not comfortable raising the bar and continuing to be aggressive once it’s out in the open.

A worthwhile read, that pretty much anyone can use to improve their conversational abilities where it’ll do the most good.

The Startup Library


I love books.  I’ve done almost all of my learning from books and web pages.  So following up on a post by Boris about finding startup books in Vancouver, I wondered what would be the required reading list for a startup (or a Bootup cohort company).

Here’s my tentative list, from personal experience.  What else needs included?  Is there a great Drupal book?


  • Four Steps to the Epiphany – Steve Blank – on my TO READ list, the bible of customer development.
  • Startup Lessons Learned – 2008-2009 – Eric Ries – I’m not listing blogs on this post, because there’s plenty of resources for that.  But I get to cheat and include this book form compendium of Eric’s posts.  This material is invaluable, for the detailed discussion of continuous deployment practices and the lean startup business model.


  • Test Driven Development by Example – Kent Beck: the how-to book for applying test-driven development (a great Extreme Programming technique for rapid reliable code, and very applicable to continuous deployment) and unit tests.
  • Refactoring to Patterns – Joshua Kerievsky: if you’re writing a lot of code hopefully you’ve read both Refactoring and Design Patterns, but this book puts the two together and gives you strategies for migrating spaghetti legacy code to nice patterned code.
  • Facebook Cookbook – Jay Goldman: this is a great book that covers all aspects of Facebook platform and Connect programming, from ideation and planning to viral marketing and API code samples.  The only downside is that the API is constantly changing and portions of this were already out of date when I bought the book last year.


  • Getting Things Done – David Allen: on my TO READ list – sounds like the least gimmicky, most lean and effective way to stay focused on what’s important and cut out your wasted cycles.
  • Getting To Yes – Fisher,Ury: how to negotiate effectively in all areas of your life (with employers, investors, spouses, fishmongers) by avoiding positions and addressing underlying interests.
  • The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work – John Gottman: <preach>Some things are more important than your next round or release.  Without strong support at home you can’t succeed, and whether your startup succeeds wildly or flames out, you will have failed if you lose what’s important to you.</preach>

Please, let’s fill this in with more.  And then get Chapters or Amazon to sponsor a set for new cohort companies 🙂