Review: “Crucial Conversations”

Book Review
Book: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
I don’t re-read books often, but I made an exception for this one. I’ve now read it three times, and I plan to revisit this book for the rest of my life. It’s honestly that good. Crucial Conversations is packed with insights into how to deliver a tough message. The most valuable lesson I learned was the tendency of the human brain to craft biased hero/villain stories amid periods of conflict with others. I draw upon concepts from this book everyday in my interactions with my colleagues, spouse, and friends.

Takeaways from the Book

What is a “Crucial Conversation”?

  • “When conversations matter most, we’re usually at our worst.”
  • Crucial Conversation = A discussion between two or more people where…
    1. Stakes are high
    2. Opinions vary
    3. Emotions run strong

*Note: Jenna Ryan on The Self Love U Blog has more amazing Crucial Conversations sketchnotes on her blog. Click on the link for her site or the image above to see more of her work.

The Shared Pool of Meaning

  • “When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open.” They ask clarifying questions to encourage others to add their knowledge to the “shared pool.”
  • Generating a shared pool of meaning has several advantages:
    • “As individuals are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, they make better choices.”
    • “When people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things.”
    • When a decision is finally reached, everyone knows why/how you got there and can be committed to the final decision.

Work on Yourself Before Working on Others

  • “Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely bystanders in life’s never-ending stream of head-on collisions, rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.”
  • “It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills.”
  • “The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and completely respectful.”

Embrace “And” > “Or” When Making Decisions

  • We often fall into the pitfall of making a “sucker’s choice” between two ugly options. Example: We think we need to choose between bringing up something important or being kind. We can have both.
  • “What makes these sucker’s choices is that they’re always set up as the only two options available. It’s the worst kind of either/or thinking. The person making the choice never suggests there’s a third option that doesn’t call for unhealthy behavior. For example, maybe there’s a way to be honest and respectful. Perhaps we can express our candid opinion to our boss and be safe.”

Create a Safe Environment for Voicing Productive Conflict

  • When put into challenging situations, people often resort to silence or violence. To counter this unproductive tendency, establish mutual purpose in conversations with others.
  • “Mutual purpose means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values.“
  • Example: “Pro-life” advocates were asked to partner with “pro-choice” advocates to establish a mutual purpose between their two groups. Despite the fact that both sides had passionate opinions about abortion, they were collectively able to establish a mutual purpose of reducing teen pregnancies. This shared purpose aligned both sides behind a common goal—despite the fact that they vehemently disagreed with each other on many other issues.
  • Use contrasting to rebuild safety when others misinterpret your intent in the discussion. Contrasting sets the boundaries of your message by expressing what you DO mean and what you DON’T mean.
  • For instance, if one of your personable team members needed to work on their technical skills, contrasting could sound like this: Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think that you’re not doing a good job as an Account Manager. You have incredible interpersonal skills and clients love working with you. I just think you could be even better if you worked on your technical proficiency. Strive to learn the details of our technical processes and you would be unstoppable.

Path of a Story

Don’t Confuse Stories with Facts

  • “Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action we observed.”
  • The Path to Action: See/Hear —> Tell a Story —> Feel —> Act
  • We cannot help the fact that our brain instantly constructs a story based upon a set of observations. However, we can work to always put facts before interpretations (stories) and open our minds to other stories that fit the facts we’ve observed.
  • We often turn others into villains by telling a bad story for them based on what we’ve observed. “When you find yourself labeling or otherwise vilifying others, stop and ask: ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?’”

State the Path that Led to Your Story

  • Example: “The cheating husband”
    • The Facts: Carole reviews her and her husband Bob’s monthly credit card statement, only to find that there’s a charge from the “Good Night Motel”—a cheap place located not more than a mile from their home.
    • Carol’s Mental “Story”: “‘Why would he stay in a motel so close to home?’ she wonders. ‘And why didn’t I know about it?’ Then it hits her—‘That unfaithful jerk!’”
    • Other “Stories”: What story did Carole tell herself? What other stories could be told from these facts?
    • The Truth: “The couple had gone out to a Chinese restaurant earlier that month. The owner of the restaurant also owned the motel and used the same credit card imprinting machine at both establishments. Oops.”
  • Sometimes it’s important to share your story with someone during a disagreement. In those instances, it’s vitally important to first lay out the facts that led you to craft that story. Here’s why:
    • Facts are the least controversial.
    • Facts are the most persuasive.
    • Facts are the least insulting.
    • Facts contribute to the shared pool of meaning.
  • Just like Carole, we jump to conclusions frequently. These conclusions are often fraught with unfair assumptions and inadequate facts. Be careful what story you tell. Take a second to ask clarifying questions and assume positive intent. You often don’t have all the facts.

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen, and Bruce Patton

Other notable books by the authors:
Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Influencer by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Review: “Contagious”

Book Review
Book: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
When I first heard about this book, I immediately thought of the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Made to Stick is one of my favorite business books of all time. After I began reading Contagious, I discovered that author Jonah Berger was actually mentored by Chip Heath in grad school, hence the similarity in book topics. Berger differentiates his work as follows: “Although the Heaths’ book focuses on making ideas ‘stick’—getting people to remember them—it says less about how to make products and ideas spread, or getting people to pass them on.” Contagious is the by-product of years of research on why/how ideas spread. Berger’s real-world examples and research provide rich insight into how to craft products and ideas that generate word of mouth advertising.

Takeaways from the Book

Six Ingredients for Contagion

  1. Social Currency: Craft messages that others will want to share
  2. Triggers: Link products and ideas to prevalent cues
  3. Emotion: Focus on feelings over function
  4. Public: Make things more observable (it makes them easier to imitate)
  5. Practical Value: Highlight the incredible, distinctive value you offer
  6. Stories: Realize that information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter

Contagious Ingredients

Human Psychology

  • “To get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way.”
  • “People often imitate those around them…People are more likely to vote if their spouse votes, more likely to quit smoking if their friends quit, and more likely to get fat if their friends become obese…Television shows use canned laugh tracks for this reason: people are more likely to laugh when they hear others laughing.”
  • “Observability has a huge impact on whether products and ideas catch on.” This is a large reason why certain shirts and shoes become fads, but socks often do not cause social trends.
  • “If you want to get people not to do something, don’t tell them that lots of their peers are doing it.”
  • In regard to store discounts, “researchers find that whether a discount seems larger as money ($5 or $50 off) or percentage (5 percent or 50 percent off) depends on the original price. For low-priced products, like books or groceries, price reductions seem more significant when they are framed in percentage terms. Twenty percent off that $25 shirt seems like a better deal than $5 off. For high-priced products, however, the opposite is true…A simple way to figure out which discount frame seems larger is by using something called the Rule of 100. If the product’s price is less than $100, the Rule of 100 says that percentage discounts will seem larger.”
  • “People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”
  • “Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.”

Mental Triggers

  • “Sights, smells, and sounds can trigger related thoughts and ideas, making them more top of mind…Triggers are like little environmental reminders for related concepts and ideas.”
  • In mid-1997, the national news media frequently reported on NASA’s Pathfinder mission to Mars. The candy company Mars noticed a pleasant uptick in sales, despite the fact that they hadn’t changed their marketing, pricing, or promotions. “The media attention the planet received acted as a trigger that reminded people of the candy and increased sales.”
  • Similarly, stores selling wine have found they can increase the sale of French wine by playing French music, German wine by playing German music, etc.
  • “Products and ideas also have habitats, or sets of triggers that cause people to think about them. Take hot dogs. Barbecues, summertime, baseball games, and even wiener dogs (dachshunds) are just a few of the triggers that make up the habitat for hot dogs…Most products or ideas have a number of natural triggers…But it’s also possible to grow an idea’s habitat by creating new links to stimuli in the environment.”
  • Marketers often use triggers to make consumers think of other products or ideas. Take this famous example used by an anti-smoking campaign to target Marlboro users…

Bob, I've Got Emphysema

Game Mechanics

  • “Game mechanics are the elements of a game, application, or program—including rules and feedback loops—that make them fun and compelling…Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated, and always wanting more.”
  • “People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others…And this is how game mechanics boosts word of mouth. People are talking because they want to show off their achievements, but along the way they talk about the brands or domains where they achieved.”
  • “But if a product or idea doesn’t automatically do that, it needs to be ‘gamified.’ Metrics need to be created or recorded that let people see where they stand.” Foursquare does this incredibly well by tracking checkins and awarding “Mayor” status for the most checkins at a given location.

Questions to Ask Yourself About the Six Ingredients

  • Social Currency: “Does talking about your product or idea make people look good? Can you find the inner remark ability? Leverage game mechanics? Make people feel like insiders?”
  • Triggers: “Consider the context. What cues make people think about your product or idea? How can you grow the habitat and make it come to mind more often?”
  • Emotion: “Focus on feelings. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion? How can you kindle the fire?”
  • Public: “Does your product or idea advertise itself? Can people see when others are using it? If not, how can you make the private public? Can you create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people use it?”
  • Practical Value: “Does talking about your product or idea help people help others? How can you highlight incredible value, packaging your knowledge and expertise into useful information others will want to disseminate?”
  • Stories: “What is your Trojan Horse? Is your product or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share? Is the story not only viral, but also valuable?”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Other notable books by the author: