Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations


Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny

My Rating

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It would be extremely foolish to think that merely the act of reading a book would have the instantaneous effect of transforming you into world's greatest diplomat. But there's a lot of sense in reading a book that helps you to become aware of your attitude when engaged in important dialog. And that is why there is great value in reading a book like Crucial Conversations.

Unlike many books that focus on human behaviour, this one isn't padded out with references to psychological studies. I can't actually recall a single reference to psychological literature. Instead, this book is opinionated and anecdotal.

You'll read crucial conversations, and you'll frequently arouse the thoughts: "that's obvious", "that's common sense" and "of course!". But that would be missing the point. As common sense as those ideas may be, you still need the cues to put them in the focus of your mind. 

To imply that's it's useful only as mental cue does the author's of Crucial Conversations a huge disservice. They have clearly put a lot of effort into understanding human dialogue, culminating in a series of heuristics you can apply to improve your performance in important conversations. I do, though, have serious doubts about some of their claims, which are frankly just laughable.

The biggest take aways from the book for me were to focus on making conversations safe. Everyone knows that meetings frequently turn into a series of emotional outbursts, where system 1, takes control. But how many people go home at night and aim to better themselves by not falling into that counter-productive trap? Not many based on most meetings I attend ending up that way.

Trying to make a conversation safe involves de-escalating the tension before trying to discuss the matter at hand. And I absolutely buy into this belief. Calm down your system 1 so system 2 can regain some control. As much as the authors didn't refer to any psychological theory or literature, their opinions align neatly with Kahneman's much-lauded system 1 and system 2 theories.

Holding no punches back here, the first few chapters of this book are ridiculously cringeworthy. They are like websites that hype dud products upto the eyeballs. "For just 20 dollars we will make you look 30 years younger". Had this book not been highly-praised and recommended by someone I dearly aspire to, I'd have completely binned it. Fortunately it does get better, and I'm glad I read it.

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