Scary Honesty: An Essential Tool in my Communication Toolbox

While many people associate empathy and deep listening as the cornerstone of Collaborative Communication, equally important is the skill of expressing our needs honestly to other people.

Recently, I discovered that an electronic version of several chapters of a book that I co-authored, “Connecting Across Differences” had been uploaded online without the permission of myself, my co-author, or the publisher.

I was faced with the decision of whether or not to respond to this discovery, and if so, how to go about it.  Out of consideration for the actual people involved, I have replaced actual names and organizations with information [in brackets], but hopefully, you will still be able to follow along.

Hi [Colleague],

I hope you are happy in this moment!  I am warm writing this, thinking about you. 🙂

I am writing with a question:  Recently, in the process of looking for quotes from Connecting Across Differences, I discovered that the first three chapters of the book appear [on this website], which is a website for a course about [topic of the course].

You are listed as one of the trainers for the course, and I believe you are the only trainer on the team that I am aware of from the Nonviolent Communication network.  I am reaching out to you to see if you know about the site and who administers it, since am concerned that this much of the book is available for free download with, I believe, without permission (I reached out to the publisher, Puddle Dancer Press, and they did not give permission, nor did my co-author, who I also checked with).

I can’t find a direct link from the website to the book excerpt; rather, it appears on a list of uploads, so it’s possible that the course used “Connecting Across Differences” as one of its books and someone scanned and uploaded the first three chapters (that’s just a guess).

We (me, my co-author, and the publishing company) would be fine with the first chapter being available at no charge to download on the site if a link to buy the book and/or more information about where to purchase it is also included.  We want the material out in the world of course, and also want support/sustainability for the publisher, who invested in publishing it.

And I’d like people to know where they can obtain the entire book.  The way it is posted on the site, there is no way to know that — or that more of it is available.  I am sad about that.  😦  (Given this program appears to be based in a Spanish-speaking country, I also would love that some titles in Spanish be linked on the site — I believe Marshall Rosenberg’s book, “Nonviolent Communication” is available in Spanish, for example.)

The publisher’s lawyer could send a “cease and desist” letter about this, and I offered to reach out to you hoping we could resolve this more easily and with more connection, especially if you are involved in some way with the group.

Appreciating in advance your letting us know what you know about this site/group and if you can help resolve this in any way, and looking forward to hearing back,


(end of the email message)


What did you notice about the way that I expressed myself to this person?  If it was you receiving the message, do you imagine you would be open-minded or defensive… or some combination?

Would you have said or done anything differently?  My goal was to express what’s important to me and to meet my needs but to do so in a way that is respectful and is more likely to stimulate curiosity and collaboration, rather than resistance.

In part 2 of this story, I share the actual outcome of the email (I really did send it!); meanwhile, let me know what you think — leave a comment below!

15 thoughts on “Scary Honesty: An Essential Tool in my Communication Toolbox

  1. Dian, Thank you for inviting readers to reflect on your letter. I choose to have “scary conversations” at times because I’m trying to uphold boundaries to care for myself, and seeing an example helps me think about what I want to write in those situations.

    I really enjoy how direct the letter is. Often when I am trying to initiate a “scary conversation” I tip toe in and end up being so vague I wonder if the reader knows what my request is at all (or how I”m feeling and what I’m needing). I like how you share your feelings, then some questions, which to me shows you’re not jumping to conclusions, and then I like how you are direct with your request.

    When I read the part about how the publisher could send a “cease and desist” letter, my first reaction was “whoa. That’s a threat.” If I were the recipient of the letter I’d likely get scared and angry (because of my interpretation.” I’m wondering how you meant it, Dian, and if you thought about sending the letter without it. Ultimately, I guess I’m wondering what you were trying to do by include it, since I’m guessing it wasn’t meant as a threat.

    I’m definitely curious about what response you receive so I’ll surely read when I receive another email from Work Collaboratively.

    Thank you for reading!

    • Thanks so much Bunny for reading my blog and for your reply! And now I am really thinking about your question: Why did I mention that the publisher had been planning to send a letter from their lawyer? (BTW, I say in the blog “could” and the publisher was in fact ready to send the letter; I asked them to hold off to see if I could first resolve the situation.) I am a little sheepish about this (because I would like different intentions) and I think the main reason I included that reference to the lawyer’s letter was because I had a desire to be seen for my efforts to find a different solution; on one level too, it was a “fact” or an observation (if we did not hear back–though I would have followed up once more first) that would have been the next step, so I wanted them to know that (full information). I do take your point how it could be interpreted as a threat. If I was writing an email like this again, I think I would state that out loud: “I am concerned that this might be interpreted as a threat, and I also want you to know, out of simply sharing information and what could happen, that the publisher’s first instinct was to protect the material by sending a letter from their lawyer. They also were very happy about my offer to reach out, since we would all prefer to resolve this amicably and from a place of connection rather than coercion or threats.” Luckily, as you’ll see in the next blog post, my intentions were heard and the issue was resolved. Thank you again for your feedback!

  2. Your words had such cadence and allowed for an open and balanced energy that left room for response and resolution !! It was like singing a song !!

  3. You used lots of observations, and just mentioned one time the negative feelings that came up for you (sad) – though I’m sure there were many many more that were triggered. You didn’t say anything about what you wished the person had done in the past (i.e. consult you), just what you’d like to see happen in the present/future so there was no guilt tripping. This is hard to do!

  4. I strongly appreciated the way you worded your letter to your colleague, and would not have been at all defensive to receive such a communication. I believe I would have been able to respond in kind, respectfully and effectively. It reminded me of the DESC model for assertive communication ~ Describe situation, Express your feelings, State your preference for outcome, Consequences that could be beneficial for all ~ that is presented in the DBT curriculum, as well as being effective NVC. I hope your colleague was able to receive and respond in kind!

  5. I mostly felt open reading your e-mail, and willing to co-operate. I did tense up when I read that the publusher could send a cease and desist letter. That statement seems to come too early in the process, before I would have a chance to respond to your initial requests. My need at that point was trust-that you would trust me to respond from a compassionate place after reading your needs.

  6. Hi Dian,
    I felt invigorated by your email! I liked the invitation you are offering the reader to accept their part in the matter, and be part of figuring out how to move forward, too. I sensed respect and trust in that. I read your email as being like ‘hey I see a problem, want to help solve it?’ Beyond that, I hear “Oh, and here are some more cool things we could do together!” (eg, make available the books in Spanish). So the main word I would associate with your email was ‘inviting’. If I were the colleague, yes I can imagine a twinge of defensiveness or guilt like ‘whoops, I bet I stepped on Dian’s toes with this one’ but also I’d be thinking ‘well, but Dian clearly still wants to work with me about it and wants to be friendly in spite of it all’. Those were some of the thoughts that went through my head as I imagined the scenario. Thank you for sharing…super inspiring story. Honesty is the hardest part of nvc for me, because I feel most vulnerable. Especially I am afraid the other person will ‘catch’ me being angry. The best thing in the world is when I am not entirely ‘over it’ and a friend decides to keep listening anyway.
    All best,
    “Care” Kar Fraser
    Community Liaison, NVC Santa Cruz (I answer emails for the organization, so that led me to your blog)

    • Thanks Kare for reading! I’m glad you found it helpful! Be sure to look out for the next blog post which includes the response I received. 🙂 And are you related to Jamie Fraser from Outlander? 😉

      • No relation that I know of. There sure seem to be a lot of Frasers out there! : ) Cool, I’ll watch for the next blog post.

  7. Thanks for sharing your note, Dian. What I noticed particularly was that you did not assume any kind of awareness of the issue in your colleague, and therefore you did not assume any mistake had been made by him/her. Not jumping to conclusions–a lesson to learn!

  8. I love the opening – you are all about the connection. The rest comes across to me as an inquiry “Are you aware that this is happening?”, and not as an accusation. You assume the best of the other, and seek to understand their side of the story.

    There is a clear explanation of your needs and a request for understanding. The extra bit that you wrote afterwards to Bunny about the cease and desist lawyers letter is especially noteworthy. I like the “amicably” touch.

    This is such a learning opportunity – not only for you, but also for us, vicariously, as we follow along. So thank you so much for sharing it.

    On the subject of Scary Honesty, I’ve found a lot of useful material in Kim Scott’s book “Radical Candor” – in particular, that we can choose to be frank with others because we care about them. Not so relevant to this particular case, but useful with people in our inner and middle circles.


    • Thanks David. I’m glad you enjoyed this blog, and appreciate hearing what you liked about it. Just so you know, in this case, I did/do care about the main contact because she’s a colleague, that I already know. I’d like to check that book out! 🙂

  9. Pingback: Scary Honesty, Part 2: What response did I get? | Work Collaboratively

  10. Pingback: What’s Love Got To Do With It? A Thousand Ways to Say, “I Love You” – in Giraffe. | Work Collaboratively

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