Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron
McMillan, and Al Switzler (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book gives you much to think about, and will
probably help most readers function better in conversations about touchy
topics. The authors are speakers and presenters, and this book shows
that. As I read it, the book struck me as one you'd pick up on the back
table after a seminar. It's a worthy read, but not a great book.
I think great books about life principles tend to fall
into one of two camps:
- They reach you emotionally. They provide
insight rather than methodology. They are typically based on some
profound life experience(s) of the author(s).
- They reach you intellectually. They provide
methodology based on research. They are clinical and prescriptive.
This book doesn't fall into either camp. The book
provides a methodology and says it's based on research, but the book
doesn't have the requisite bibliography and other references. There is
one page of end notes for the whole book and this covers four of the
twelve chapters. In books written by the original researchers, there are
still outside references plus there are details about the research
methodology and analysis. This book lacks those things.
What we don't know, because the authors don't
provide substantiation, is whether their prescription is proven. There
are no double-blind studies of students involved in researching the
techniques. There are no A/B comparisons. There are no brain scans
showing how people respond to this kind of approach versus that one.
There are no case studies of going into a dysfunctional corporation and,
well, I think I made the point.
It's left to the reader to try the prescribed
techniques to see if they are effective. The methodology is based on the
authors' theories, experiences, and observations, rather than on
research that follows the scientific method. That doesn't mean the
authors are wrong; much of what we learn in life doesn't arise from
applying the scientific method. At the same time, the authors present
their prescription as "based on research." Which, given what they wrote
(and didn't write), it's not.
Why they didn't present this as coming from their
experience, I don't know. If Warren Buffet came to me and said, "I'm
going to share with you a money management tip based on my experience,"
I can assure you I would not reject him out of hand. In their own field,
the authors may not be at the level Mr. Buffet is in his, but
still--what they say appears to come from wisdom and experience so why
not say so and get on with it?
Now, let's look at what this book does offer. Have
you had those surprise moments when you get suckered into a conversation
you shouldn't be having and it all turns out wrong? That's the problem
this book addresses. It does that in a prescriptive manner, and what the
authors say makes sense. This particular problem is pervasive and often
devastating. The ability to mitigate such a problem or even turn around
a failing conversation is highly valuable. The authors present a
methodology for achieving this. And it's one that makes a great deal of
If you're having communication issues (and who
isn't?), the small investment in this book is probably going to be
worthwhile. You may not solve all of your problems and become an
unflappable conversationalist, but you can probably improve enough that
you're much happier in your relationships. Shortly after reading this
book, I personally tried some of the techniques with someone who is
always very difficult to talk with and things went better than normal.
This book is well-structured and well-written.
It's become increasingly rare that authors have a passing command of
English and increasingly rare that a book undergoes competent
copy-editing. I don't recall a single grammatical error in this book.
That counts as a minor miracle, these days.
Crucial Conversations consists of twelve chapters,
a foreword, a page of endnotes, and a small index.
Stephen R. Covey wrote the foreword. In so doing,
he oversold the book. I was dismayed that he overdid the blarney this
The chapters are as follows:
Chapter 1. What's a Crucial Conversation. The
authors start the book by getting us all clear on what they are talking
about. This chapter explains why one conversation is crucial and another
Chapter 2. Mastering Crucial Conversations. The
key is to understand that dialogue is the free flow of meaning between
two or more people. When you fill the pool of shared meaning, you have
success. The rest of the book concerns itself with how to stay in
Chapter 3. Start with the Heart. The basic concept
here is to examine your own heart, determine what you really want, and
work on improving your dialogue skills to communicate that. In this
chapter, the authors also begin to talk about Sucker's Choices, which
they'll keep coming back to throughout the book. In the Sucker's Choice,
you justify poor behavior by assuming or suggesting you are caught
between two distasteful options.
Chapter 4. Learn to Look. To keep the other person
on track in a conversation, you need to look for clues that the other
person doesn't feel safe and then take action to help that person feel
safe. When people don't feel safe, they get defensive and fall back on
behavior that derails a conversation. They'll retreat into silence or
violence, neither of which is healthy. This chapter contains a self-test
for determining your style under stress. After you review your results,
you'll know which subsequent chapter most applies to you.
Chapter 5 covers what to do when you find those
clues that the other person doesn't feel safe. Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9
each address other areas identified by the self-test.
Chapter 10 is titled "Putting It All Together" and
it recaps up the book. Chapter 11 provides advice on specific types of
hardcases that defy the techniques in the book. Chapter 12 is titled
"How to Turn Ideas Into Habits." The intention of this chapter is to
give you something so you don't just read the book and continue as
before. Basically, it says to study small parts of the book and practice
what you learn.
I think this book makes a good addition to any
self-help library. While it falls short of a "must read," it comes