Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reading Listening to books - part 4

TL;DR - I'm listening to audiobooks, some reviews below, and I would love to get some recommendations from you.

This is the 24th part of a series of (audio) book reviews Here are the previous posts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler:
Short summary: A book about people skills. Specifically, how to have better discussions.
What I have to say: I'm fairly ambivalent about this book. On one hand, it addresses a super-important subject. On the other hand, I was very alienated by the examples in the book.
Starting with the good stuff - the authors coin the term "crucial conversation", which are conversation that might have significant outcomes. Some are easy to detect - trying to agree upon a big business decision, asking for a pay raise, or deciding whether to relocate the family. Other conversations might turn crucial in a very rapid manner - a minor disagreement becoming a shouting contest, a family dinner resulting in multiple people sulky and hurt, or a routine work meeting where the wrong decisions are being made because people are not really listening to each other.
People, so it seems, are really bad at speaking - despite doing so for most of their lives. And just to make things more fun, people are acting even worse when they need to be at their very best thanks to the all familiar fight\flight mechanism that kicks in in stressful situations. Some people, however, seem to do better than others - and this book tries to explain how they do that.
The overall strategy, as far as I understood, is "pull out, relax, calm others, build confidence and start thinking together instead of trying to 'win an argument' ". Naturally, I'm simplifying things here, and skipping some of the tools they mention to actually do all of those points, but I think this is the core of all processes in the book.
When sticking to the principles and intentions mentioned in the book, I found myself agreeing vehemently. It does sound like a very compelling way to approach potentially difficult conversations, and some of the tools actually makes a lot of sense. It is only when I got to the examples that I started feeling a bit off - sure, the examples are simplified to make a point, but as I was listening, I found myself sometimes wanting to punch the teeth out of the example speaker. It is then that I started wondering whether the book is heavily biased towards American culture. For example, in the fifth chapter a technique called "contrasting" is presented. In short, it's a way to neutralize suspicion by acknowledging it, and the example goes as follows: "The last thing I wanted to do was to communicate that I don't value the work you put in, or that I didn't want to share it with the VP, I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular". When I hear something like that, I assume that someone is lying to me and trying to weasel their way into a hidden goal. Living in a much more direct (and way less polite) society, I feel such statements to be pretty glitter meant to cover up some ill meant actions. There are ways to phrase such a message in a way that will be acceptable for me, but this is not one of them. This lead me to think - it seems that the components of effective discussions mentioned in the book are very aligned with the stereotypes I have about the American behaviour patterns. There isn't a single example that I can find (audiobooks are not easy to scan quickly), but almost every example felt a bit off - a bit too polite to be real, a bit too artificial to be convincing, and in some cases, simply achieving the opposite goal: Sowing suspicion instead of trust, seeming detached instead of concerned, and so on. It reminded me of something a friend who has relocated to the states has told me: "At first it was very nice that everyone around were very polite and kind. After a while it started feeling phoney and annoying". All in all, the book left me thinking that in order to really benefit from this content, I would need a localized version of it, where the principles were taken, assessed and modified to match the culture, and the examples updated to something a bit more realistic. Given time and need, I think I can do some of it myself, so this is a book I intend to get back to in the future.

So,  those are the books I've listened to recently (and currently listening to Great Mythologies of the World, that won't receive a review here, being unrelated, but I think it's generally quite nice) and I'm gradually compiling a wish-list to tackle one at a time. What are the books you think I should listen to?

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