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?

Advertisements

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?

What the Most Successful People do at Work: A Book Review

Laura Vanderkam sent us her new e-book, “What the most successful people do at work.”

As with all of Ms. Vanderkam’s writing, this was a very easy read.  She’s got the Malcolm Gladwell thing down.  (Well, maybe not Malcolm Gladwell… there’s not quite as much suspense, but she has breezy edutainment down cold.)

The book touches upon a number of topics about productivity.  Unfortunately, it just touches upon them, giving a vivid example from a single case study for each idea, and maybe another from her own life, but in most cases not going into any depth about how universal each of these ideas is.  And it turns out there’s a lot of research out there on psychology.

Early on, she talks about getting in the zone.  There’s been books written on how to get there and what it means to get there, only instead of calling it “in the zone,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term, “flow.”  Laura V. is a far better writer than Mihaly C., and we’d love to see her do his material justice.

(#2 thinks C. is a fine writer!  #1 had a hard time with one of them– the other was easier, but not what one would call fun.  V. books are actually fun.)

Understanding sunk costs is a basic concept of productivity from economics– don’t throw good money (or time!) after bad.  Understanding them can also help productivity by keeping you from lingering emotionally.

The idea of a planning period also has research and randomized controlled trials to back it up.  Our favorite productivity researcher, Robert Boice, talks about the importance of planning and schedules and routines or habits.  And, of course, there’s the new best-selling book on The Power of Habit out there.  Something that should be noted that isn’t included in the research… whenever you’re working with other people, they will often drop the ball.  So it’s important to have secondary plans.

One chapter that’s completely missing from this ebook is the research on creativity:  the need for regular breaks to allow your subconscious to puzzle things out.  The breaks may be mentioned, but there’s hard science and reasons why, and not just about Willpower (another recent best seller) or energy levels.

The chapter on meetings had good ideas, but was a little disorganized.

I am reminded that I should do more networking.

The book’s discussion of progress on a goal brought to mind Virginia Valian’s solving a work problem.  (And, of course, there’s a huge dry psychology literature on goal setting, that we bet Laura Vanderkam could sex up.)

The book ends suddenly– a page or even a paragraph summing things up would make it seem longer!

Overall, I felt like this book was only the article portion of something that could be a real book.  It felt a lot like the book prospectuses I occasionally review for publishers.  It left me wanting Ms. Vanderkam to write a real book on productivity.  Something that ties all the research out there together into one magnum opus, but an opus no longer or more difficult to read than say, NurtureShock, with a chapter dedicated to each idea.

Such a book will require research.  And there’s a lot of research on productivity out there.  Best-selling recent books on Habit and Willpower are only the tip of the iceberg.

As she says, it’s priced at ebook novelette price, not full book price.  But I think she’s got a $24.95  (or $13.95 if you buy from Amazon) book in there that isn’t just a “What the most successful people” compilation.  So, yes, it’s well worth $3.99 (Buy it!), but it will leave you wanting something more substantial.   And I do think she’s the right person to give us that more substantial best-selling book on productivity.

Would you buy an in-depth book on productivity by Laura Vanderkam?  One that translates the academic research into real action items you can use?

Book Review: The Zebra Said Shhh…

The Easter Bunny brought DC2 a paperback copy of Wandering Scientist’s The Zebra Said Shhh.  I figured I’d review it here.

The quality of the book itself is quite good.  The paper is thick and better suited to destructive little hands and mouths than most non-boardbook children’s books.  Well worth $11.25 (or $9 if it’s on sale).

The pictures are quite nice and are similar to several of our other children’s books.  I think this style that looks like cutouts was popularized by Eric Carle, though these are not as sparse and come with full backgrounds.   I especially like the parrot.  Lots of bold bright colors.

As for the story, it has a pleasant repetition and simple concepts for its target audience.  It holds the same wish fulfillment for adults that Go the F**k to Sleep does, only without the profanity.  If only saying “Shhh” worked on small human children.  There’s always the hope that books like these will build that connection.

After the excitement of breaking open plastic Easter eggs and scattering their contents (raisins) over the floor waned, DC2 was immediately drawn to the book.  Ze opened it, folded over the cover, chewed on the inside a bit (another note:  the book itself was not made in China), and generally seemed to enjoy it.  Miraculously, the book is still in really good shape.

When DC1 (age 6) woke up and started going through DC2’s loot, hir attention was arrested by the book and ze immediately read through it.  Later I noticed hir reading it out loud to DC2.  So that passed some sort of test.

In any case, I recommend purchasing this book.  It’s a good solid children’s book in every respect.  And we own a lot of children’s books.  Hat-tip to both Wandering Scientist and to X-ist publishing.

Motherhood Online: A book review

We  were sent Motherhood Online by the editor, Michelle Moravec.

This book is a scholarly academic tome, but even given that, there are only two articles in it that I would call inaccessible to non-academic readers.  (And those two articles are both short and probably inaccessible to most academic readers as well.)  Non-academic readers will find the first section just as amusing and the second and third sections just as interesting as this academic reader.

The book starts out with case studies that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a pregnancy or mothering forum.  It does seem that if you’ve been on one of these forums, you’ve really been on all of the forums, for all the differences we perceive between the mothering.coms and the babycenters of the world, the dynamics are not that much different, even across forums from different countries.  Oddly, this section is titled “Theoretical perspectives” but is, for the most part, a-theoretical and, for the most part, focuses on each author’s own experiences with an online parenting community.

The second section… titled, “Case studies” includes articles with a broader theory base, more formal qualitative methods, and comparisons across different cases.  This second section focuses on communities that many of us have had less experience with, but are interesting in their own rights.  I especially enjoyed the studies of teenage mothers, autistic parents, port-wine stain, stay-at-home dads, and really most of the articles in this section.  I felt like I learned something reading many of these articles.

The last section focuses on blogs and community, with the stand-out piece being one on the community of people from developed countries who use (employ?) Indian women as surrogate mothers.

Although the introduction focuses on the positives to these online communities, the articles themselves are even-handed with both the positives (community building, information sharing, support) and the negatives (conflict, incorrect information, rationalization, etc.)  The authors come from a number of different disciplines, including communication, sociology, public health, anthropology, history and others.  These different disciplinary paths and perspectives come across in the methodology and writing.  Obviously we feel more comfortable with the social scientist methodologies, but other disciplines provide for entertaining reading and discussion.

Is this worth reading?  Sure!  Especially if you’re into non-fiction and would like to think a bit about they dynamics of online communities.  The book includes a nice collection of articles that, should, for the most part, be as easy to read as a Malcolm Gladwell book, but with perhaps a few more citations included.