Crucial Conversations: A Book Review

Someone somewhere recommended that someone read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and we thought that was a good idea, so one of us checked it out from the library.  She had to recall it, and it has been recalled on her, so up on her Amazon wishlist it goes.

We think this is a great book, and wish everybody would read it.  As #1 was reading it, she thought back to previous crucial conversations and how the ones that went well tended to follow their advice and the ones that went off the rails really could have benefited.

The basic premise of the book is that if you pretend to (or actually believe in) give (ing) the benefit of the doubt to people and keep your thoughts focused on the end goals with that in mind, attacking problems instead of people, you’re more likely to get what you really want, make good decisions, foster a positive environment, deescalate potentially fraught situations, and get a reputation for being professional and reasonable that will help you in the future.

They summarize their technique with the following steps:

1. Start with heart. Focus on what you really want, and what you really don’t want.
2. Learn to look. Pay attention to emotions, problems, silencing, and the conversation no longer feeling safe for at least one party.
3. Make it safe. Fix misunderstandings, apologize as necessary. (I’ve found this step incredibly helpful in blaming things on miscommunications and going back to the big goal– what we both want– really does seem to defuse situations.)
4. Master my story. Separate facts from narrative– know which is which. State the facts.  Choose a good narrative. (This is where you give the best possible story behind the other person’s actions rather than the one that may actually be true. I have found that occasionally when I ascribe positive motives to people, they tend to start believing those motives themselves.)
5. STATE my path. Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for other’s paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing. These are all things a good leader will do– you’re more likely to accept a decision you don’t agree with if you trust the process that came to it. (The difference between our provost saying, “I’m the decider” and a better communication of, “Here are the pros and cons of each choice. These are the reasons I made this choice over the other choice.” I really wanted to send hir a copy of this book. BTW, hir decision was terrible and has already had some pretty nasty consequences.)
6. Explore other’s paths. Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare. These are ways of talking about alternative views and coming to the best decision for your main goal while making people with other views feel validated and focused on their main goals.
7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up. (A meeting in which you discuss, come to an agreement and then don’t do action items is a waste of time.)

They share a lot of really helpful language along with their process.  While reading the book, I thought back to good bosses I’ve had and bad bosses I’ve had, and the good bosses almost instinctively use these techniques.  Heck, my father-in-law uses these techniques.  It’s been helping me a lot with some of the dramatic fall-out of the provost’s bad decision.

It’s not a perfect book– it almost seems like there’s some victim-blaming in the middle, and it isn’t until very near the end of the book that the book specifies that no, a woman does not have to put up with sexual harassment on her own.  This is a shame because some of the examples they use are very close to sexual harassment, and although the actions they suggest are appropriate, they come too close on the heels of admonitions to accept the role you had in whatever tragedy is going on.  Their example seems to suggest that muggings are the only crimes in which the victim is not at fault.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault, and they would do well to point that out far earlier.

The book doesn’t separate by gender.  It tells everybody to use some of the softening language that Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office tells women to avoid, which may be problematic.  We know that people have different reactions to male and female managers saying the same thing in the same way– are the suggestions in this book truly gender neutral?  We don’t really know.

An interesting thing to note– in the back of the book one of the authors mentions that they get fan mail from people who have only read the introduction and the first chapter.  Apparently those first ideas of just giving people the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the big goals make a huge difference for some people.  We do think the rest of the book is worth reading through because it gives helpful language that does deescalate situations.

Also:  We’ve posted this on a Monday because it’s about work and career, but many of these techniques also work well in personal relationships.  They also give examples from marriages and dealing with teenagers.

What do you find works for dealing with other people at work?  Do you have recommendations for books on communication or otherwise dealing with coworkers?  Have you read this one?

I listened to podcasts and then I read YA books

This happened.

I like books, I like podcasts, some podcasts talk about books, and there you are in the library’s YA section.  This library happened to have a handout about the Printz Awards, which are for YA literature.  You could do far, far worse than to read anything on the Printz lists!  In particular, books that I have liked from that list include An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I have heard good things about a lot of the other books, too.  They have a lot of women authors too, in addition to a few that I list below.

the YA books I got at the library recently, or as gifts, and loved:

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. It took me forever to pick up this book, but… Ok, everyone was right! This book is so fantastic (see what I did there? FAN-tastic?). It’s about a young woman that goes off to college, and her family, and the people she meets, and how she tries to adjust. The woman also happens to be extremely active in the online fan-fiction community and is a passionate writer trying to find her place in the world. Recommended by everyone, and now by us too!

I got Doll Bones by Holly Black from the library because it looked interesting, but I haven’t read it yet. Has anyone here?

In the library I put down several books that I’ve heard are probably good (e.g., Gregor the Overlander) because they looked like they were all-boys, all the time.  I was bored with that.

I read The Archived by Victoria Schwab, which I finally picked up in a local indie bookstore after having it on my wishlist for a while. It was great! I can’t wait to read the sequel. Mac knows that the dead aren’t gone, they’re just… shelved. Cataloged. Organized. Archived. Sometimes they break out… In a family reeling from loss and grief, Mac has to find a way to deal with catastrophe in her own way.

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King, is another book I heard a lot about from podcasts. I think it was probably Rebecca Schinsky at Book Riot who talked about it (though it could have been Veronica Belmont from The Sword and Laser. But I think Schinsky.  Or, no, wait, it could have been Jenn from The Bookrageous Podcast).  Holy cow, this book is amazing.  I love how it’s written, the voice of the main character, Astrid.  I like the chapter titles, the way it’s structured, and of course the characters.  Just go read this book, it goes quickly, and it’s worth it.  Reeeeeaaddddd ittttt.

I also recently re-read Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy (starting with Terrier). All I wanted to do was read this book and not go to work.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, which isn’t technically YA, but whatever.  The first story, from which the book title is taken, is lovely in particular.  The editors are famous for the excellence of their work on fantasy anthologies of all sorts, and rightly so.  Read the first story and you’ll want to read the rest.

Other suggestions?

Feminism ahoy! (part eleventy, and reading)

In handy-dandy bullet-point form because the month is squirrelly…

  • why do they have to be bullet-point?  Why can’t they be, like, gumdrops or something?  Pennies?  Give us suggestions in the comments for what we should call them instead.  Maybe bonbon-point.  Mmmm, bonbons.  (Random bonbons of crap!  on second thought…)
  • Man telling women they are fighting misogyny in the wrong way: ally FAIL.
  • keep on reading YO, is this racist?  Never stop.  (Unless racism and etc. all stop, ha ha)
  • Why are we feminists?  Why not just say ‘humanist’?  (Word to the wise: don’t read the comments.  Don’t.)  Maybe it depends on what type of feminist you are.
  • To hell with ‘skinny’ recipes.  Also, I would really like to eat “Rocket Scientist Macaroni and Cheese” or “Excellent Pal and Confidante Apple Pie”.  Giant middle finger to all body-shame.  ETA:  Down with fat-shaming, and once again don’t read the comments.
  • I’m making an effort to read more women of color in speculative fiction.  I like to read a lot of fantasy but other kinds of specfic are good too.  Suggestions appreciated!  I mostly want novels, not short stories, and I’m not heavily into horror.  (Though a million years ago I read “The House of Dies Drear,” by Virginia Hamilton.)  YA stuff is good, too.
  • For context, I love Lauren Beukes (Zoo City) and totally love N K Jemisin a lot.  I of course have read and appreciated Toni Morrison.  I like some but not all of Michelle Sagara.  I found Nalo Hopkinson to be okay.  I loved Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson!  Perhaps one day I’ll check out L.M. Davis and her Shifters series.  I have read some Dia Reeves and have more on my to-read list.  Also on my to-read list: Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler (should have read her before, mea culpa).
    Things I own, in addition to the above, include:

  • Ooh, here’s a link about global women of color.  Here’s AfroFantasy.
  • Ok, your turn!
  • Update:  See comments for what should have been a separate ranty blog post on PBS Kids.

All-new what are we loving (and not loving) to read

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.  Fantastic!  New and interesting magic system.  Passes the Bechdel test.  Reminds me of other books, but only other really good books, and in a good way, too.  Will definitely read the sequel.

Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog by Ysabeau S. Wilce — We have read the first and second in this series.  Both of us liked the first, #1 is intrigued by the ending of the second… hm….

Morning Glories, Vol. 1: For a Better Future: Graphic novel series.  Squick warning: extremely violent.  This thing is so messed up, I just can’t even.  I have to keep reading!  I can’t even believe what goes on here. I’m on Volume 4 or 5 by now…

Trilogy starting with The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle.  Yummy. Read the whole thing! A good new author.

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire.  We both love it. You can’t go wrong with this author or this series!

The Pirate Vortex (Elizabeth Latimer, Pirate Hunter) by Deborah Cannon.  Ok, actually, I didn’t love this.  The premise was great but the writing was Not.  Eminently skippable!

Developing Math Talent, 2e.  Turned out not to actually be about developing math talent, just another book on advocating for your gifted kid.  Not much different than many of the other books about advocating for your gifted kid, though it has two chapters of excruciating detail about all the different tests that you can use on your gifted kid, which might be helpful if you want to test your kid for whatever reason.  Also might be useful if you live near one of the Talent Search places.  Which we don’t.  It does recommend some textbooks and workbooks from the 1980s and 90s that may or may not be useful, but I don’t know.  The only one I had heard of was Challenge Math For the Elementary and Middle School Student (Second Edition) by Zaccaro.  The others are not available direct from Amazon except one which is a very expensive textbook.

 

What are you loving these days?

What are we reading: special edition

I read this book, and it is so great: Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell.  Authors’ page for the book here, where you can read the preface and a sample chapter.

One thing I love about this book is the authors’ voices.  The two authors are long-time collaborators, and their friendship comes through in the writing.  The cover is kind of dumb, but ignore that — this isn’t a romance book or even necessarily about romantic relationships (though they are in there).

The idea behind this book is to look at how we fool ourselves, in all sorts of relationships, into being unaware of the bad things we “should” know are going on.  This includes spouses not knowing their partners are cheating on them, but it also includes employees not being aware of how badly their companies are screwing over the employees legally and financially (see: Enron).  Through easy-to-read, nonacademic summaries of science and also through numerous personal stories, the authors lay out many situations in which it is adaptive and necessary for people to be unaware of being cheated: to be blind to betrayal.  The tone has a lot of sympathy for people who find themselves struggling to explain this situation in themselves, and even includes some of the authors’ own experiences.  This book sheds a light on what we can do as individuals who are dependent on institutions (marriages, governments, workplaces) that may not act in our best interests.  I appreciate the hopeful ending.

You should really read this book, and tell your friends.  It’s very readable and would even make a good gift.  It’s available on kindle and audible too.  Check it out of the library, buy it, ILL it.

Try reading the samples and tell us what you think in the comments?

A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2’s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

A review of this library that you might not even know is here

There is kind of a “stealth” library really near where I live.  It is part of the county system, not the city system, so I didn’t know about it until I walked in looking for a place to work on my laptop.   It looks like a secret from the parking lot.

It turns out to be a pretty good place to work if I’m feeling done with the coffee shop for the day.

It’s quiet, with just enough noise to not be creepy.  It has lots of places to sit, including this:

bookcase fakeout

Facilities include study rooms, a computer room, and a surprisingly decent collection of graphic novels.  I started a new series while I was there, and I’m planning to go back for 2 more.

Near a sofa is a vase with some yarn and a pair of knitting needles in it.

In the back is a huge classroom with kid- and adult-sized chairs.  I don’t know what classes are held there.

It has carrells, an enclosed children’s room where they can make some noise, and a “Christmas tree” made out of old encyclopedia volumes (it was summer when I went).

If you get bored you can wander around and look at all the pocket pets they have distributed throughout the library in little cages: tiny tree frogs, a guinea pig, gerbil, bearded dragon, gecko, dove, koi.

As you may be gathering, it’s much bigger than it looks from the outside, as well as having good a/c and wireless access.  On the somewhat sad side, there are surprisingly fewer books than I think it needs (the shelves are not full and there is room for a lot more of them).

There are some “honor books” by the front that you can take without checking out and return whenever.  I haven’t checked out their bookstore yet.

It’s really doing a pretty decent job overall!  It sort of looks like they have not grown into their huge space yet, though they have been there at least 3 years.

This review does you no good, Grumpeteers, but it amuses us.  #2 adds:  What do you like about your favorite library?  What would your dream library have?

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