Every year, I try to read something that’s a little more leadership focused so that I can continue to hone my supervisory skills. This year, I read Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, which was recommended to me by my friend Cam. Overall, I liked the book, though it does oversell itself in the first chapter (which I find to be an annoying pattern in books from this genre.)
I think the easiest takeaway from this book is that having an effective dialog, when the stakes are high, requires paying attention to the conversation. In particular, many of the skills they talk about center around recognizing the situation and analyzing it rather than reacting to it. Many of the skills and frameworks that they discuss follow from this, but they all rely on thinking about the dialog and not just letting it happen.
Generally, I found that the skills and frameworks presented in the book were helpful, but a bit overly canned. They distill what they’re teaching into acronyms, buzzwords, and step-by-step processes which felt very constraining compared to the more general concepts and ideas that they discussed. In this sense, I found that the time they spent providing context sometimes more useful than the content provided afterward – their description of what was going on made me think critically, while their descriptions about how to deal with it often felt vacuous.
While I find it annoying that books of this ilk tend to start or end with, “and now sell this book to everyone you know because it solves all problems!!!!!!!!!!!”, I must give the authors credit that the last chapter did talk a bit more critically about bigger challenges. While they did still try to answer every question with, “just do the stuff in the book,” there were cases where they did back off. What was odd here was that in a couple of cases, they said, “bring this up with your HR person” (specifically addressing workplace harassment.) While I don’t disagree, it made me think about how that crucial conversation then traveled around – now it’s not you having a crucial conversation with a person you have a conflict with (which, if it’s not safe, can be good,) you instead have a crucial conversation with HR (which can be much safer,) followed by a crucial conversation between someone else and the person you have a conflict with. This dissipation of conversations seems fascinating in its own right, and somewhat caught me off-guard.
As a self-help book, I would recommend it to those who are looking to think more about crucial conversations and are looking for a jumping-off point. For those who are willing to think critically about how to improve their communication, this gives some nice context about where to start.