Book Review – ‘Crucial Conversations’ by Kerry Patterson

A team of professional trainers and communication experts have come together to produce this work. ‘Crucial Conversations’ is a book that at its heart attempts to covers in detail a very specific type of conversation that can be classed as crucial. A conversation becomes crucial when the stakes are high, when opinions vary, and when emotions run high. In such situations our choices are pretty straightforward, we either completely avoid such discussions, or we face them without much thought and action and in the process fail spectacularly, or we manage such conversations by using some communication frameworks that help avoid confrontations and still deliver results agreeable to all. It is this framework that the book attempts to equip us with.

We generally fail in crucial conversations because as humans, when faced with danger, our responses are still driven by our hardwired primitive actions of fight or flight and both these responses don’t help us have an engaging and meaningful discussion over a crucial matter, taking away any opportunity of successfully resolving it. Breaking this down further, we realize that four key factors that come into being the moment we get into a crucial conversation, rob away from us our chances of successfully navigating through such conversations without derailing them. These factors are human ‘Biology’ which during such crucial times rushes blood to our legs and arms, to prepare for a flight or a fight, instead of to our brain thereby reducing our logical thinking abilities. The lack of rational thinking makes us either ‘Silent’ or verbally ‘Violent’ in our behaviour. The next is the fact that such conversations come unannounced leaving us with hardly any time to prepare properly to handle them successfully. Third, they are confusing by their very nature and therefore require us to change quickly to stay in the dialogue, something which we generally aren’t prepared for. And, finally our behaviour makes things worse as we say inappropriate and hurtful things in the heat of the moment effectively killing any further dialogue possibility.

The authors present seven key steps that form a part of a systematic approach designed to handle such tough and crucial conversations. Through this approach we are made aware of our typical thinking patterns during crucial discussions, our common responses to others, and others responses to us. Based on this awareness, we are then provided a set of tools that are demonstrated through various examples. These tools have a potential to diffuse the most conflicting situations, helping us get the desired win-win outcome from any crucial conversation. Each of the seven steps is followed by a brief action plan that can be deployed when a similar scenario plays out in real life later on.

While the book provides a very new and useful way of looking at things in the context of crucial conversations and how to master such conversations, what the book seems to lack is a clear acknowledgement and understanding of the implications of the change process itself. Crucial conversations as such is a nice concept to master but our mastery of it alone won’t get us the results, as the person on the other end has to be willing to accept and therefore be willing to change, and it is here that the book seems to have made a major omission. What if the other person won’t listen to our viewpoint, what if the other person refuses to change despite our logic? It is these questions that need a bit more thought and answering in order to make the book’s advise even stronger.

Kerry is a prolific writer who has coauthored numerous articles and award-winning training programs. Kerry taught at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management and then cofounded Interact Performance Systems, where he worked for ten years as vice president of research and development. Kerry is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer. Kerry has completed doctoral work at Stanford University. He is a recipient of the Mentor of the Year Award and the 2004 William G. Dyer Distinguished Alumni Award from Brigham Young University.

This book is available in many convenient formats. So go ahead and read it!

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