Monday, March 07, 2011

Review - Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are HighLike most self-help and business books, this book presented ideas in a straightforward approach and with simple examples and explanations to the extent that most of the concepts presented felt very "common sense" and leaving the reader with thoughts like "well, yeah, why didn't I think of that?" The book discusses the topic of Crucial Conversations which are conversations in which there are 3 Elements: (1) High Stakes, (2) Varied Opinions and (3) Strong Emotions. In these situations, the authors posit that people generally trend towards one of two veins of communication: Violence or Silence.

The first few chapters do a good job at explaining their definition of what makes a conversation "Crucial" by presenting some key identifiers and using some "real world" examples. For example, what color shirt to wear or what to have for dinner may not be a crucial conversation…unless you're having that conversation on your anniversary with your spouse and even then, depending on your relationship with your spouse, that may not be a "crucial' conversation. Other examples include providing negative (or "constructive") feedback to a co-worker or (even more crucial) a boss, discussing sensitive lifestyle choices of a sibling/child/friend, etc. As the book continues, the authors make a point of teaching readers to look at themselves as much as they look at others…or even more, since the only person we can directly change/influence is ourself.

So once the book explains WHAT a crucial conversation is and how to recognize it, the authors proceed to give methods for identifying our personal way of dealing with the stress of crucial conversations (do we move to Violence or Silence…do we lash out at others with hurtful accusatory language, or do we pull back and refuse to add anything helpful to the conversation?). They also help provide insight into recognizing the dialogue styles of others. Once the dialogue styles are identified, then the task is to bring the Crucial Conversation to a healthy middle ground where thoughts and ideas can and will be presented without driving any of the participants to Violence or Silence and as a result, the participants can move towards a healthy resolution. The authors also provide examples of how to identify that successful outcome (because we may feel like the conversation ended well, when in reality the other person is now off sulking silently).

Overall, I felt like the book was an insightful and intriguing read. As I mentioned at the onset, many (or at least the better ones) business/self-help books are presented in such a way that it's easy to accept the concepts as logical and true. I felt like this book did a good job doing just that. The concepts and ideas presented may not be easy to adhere to (especially in the heat of an emotionally stressful discussion), but they are good ideas and I do believe that if a person could, at the very least, keep them in mind, that person would likely have more successful interpersonal interactions. The authors make some pretty audacious claims about things that will come if we master Crucial Conversations (ranging from being more successful at work or having a happier home life or a healthier body) and once again, they back their claims up in logical ways. I would be skeptical of their claims to the extent that they are based on becoming a "Master" of Crucial Conversations and so the caveat is that the definition of "Master" may not be possible to fully achieve. Still, I do believe that any progress along the trajectory will be beneficial and will help you make strides towards reaching the outcomes they claim.

I felt like this was a worthwhile read. It moves pretty quickly and has some humorous anecdotes to keep the reading fresh and accessible. If you're interested in communications, have your own "crucial conversation" coming up, or are just looking for some general advice that may help you relate better to others around you, go ahead and pick this book up. It had good advice and ideas that would help in both personal and professional venues.

3 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

think i will toss this one into the maybe someday pile...i do think the art of conversation is crucial in and of itself...and being able to say the things that need to be said...

Phoenix said...

Great review. I have not heard of this book but I think most of us (being human) could stand to get some good tips on how to act when the stakes are really high.

I'll check it out, now I'm intrigued!