Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Do you ever come away from a conversation thinking, “I wish I would have handled that better”? I think we all do at times. When tempers get hot, most of us tend to say things we shouldn’t; sometimes we even begin to fight about things that don’t really matter to us! Communication is not always easy; sometimes it’s just downright hard! It can seem impossible to have open, honest, productive communication with certain people; maybe it’s a spouse, boss, or family member. When the conversations are crucial, it becomes even harder!

A group of researchers wanted to find a way to help people with these problems; they wondered if there was a way to help people learn to communicate more effectively. In particular, they were interested in what they termed “crucial conversations”: conversations that were highly important in terms of their ramifications; possibly even life-changing! They noticed that a few highly influential people seemed to handle these conversations with great finesse, and after careful study, they wrote a book to help the rest of us blockheads communicate more effectively.

I have no idea where I heard about this book; I got it for Christmas, from someone who saw it on my Amazon book wishlist. I suppose I must have heard it about somewhere, but I can’t recall where for the life of me. So I was nonplussed when I opened the book; I had no idea where it came from; I wasn’t immediately interested in it, and in fact, I started reading it simply to help pass the time on my long flight back to Seattle.

That being said, I’m incredibly thankful that I read this book when I did! I have found it to be one of the most helpful books I have read. I got engaged shortly after reading the book, and the lessons and methods I gleaned from it have been of immense value in my burgeoning relationship. I’ve said some really dumb things, and used these methods as damage control; and they’ve also helped keep me from saying even more dumb things!

Crucial Conversations is not about cheap tricks to get what you want; you can’t use these methods well if you’re intent is to be deceptive. Rather the goal is to help you come to positive, mutual resolution and agreement on things that truly matter to you. In fact, the very first section of the book is about the necessity to “start with heart”; get out of the headspace of simply trying to win the argument. Think about what you really want instead! Find mutual purpose, and seek to be honest while also maintaining your relationship with the other person.

With a book titled Crucial Conversations, you need to know when a conversation actually becomes crucial. That requires learning to recognize when others, or yourself are resorting to silence (withholding information) or violence (forcing their meaning). When you learn to recognize these signs, you are positioned to guide the conversation to something healthful and beneficial. One of my takeaways was learning to identify the unhealthy methods I tend to move toward when conversations get heated.

My personal biggest lesson from the book was “changing your story”. When we begin to react emotionally, it’s often because of the story we are telling ourselves: “I can’t believe they did that! What a selfish idiot!” It’s very difficult to control your temper when you think someone is a selfish idiot! Instead, focus on identifying where the story you’ve created is wrong. For example, is that person who inconvenienced you really a selfish idiot? Or do they just need your help? It’s much easier not to be angry with someone who simply needs a helping hand.

If you want to have fruitful conversations, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of Crucial Conversations. It’s been incredibly helpful to me; I think it will be to you too!

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