Tag Archives: Book Review

Quick Review – Dignity: The Essential Role in Resolving Conflict

This month I read Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays In Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks.  It relates to some of my current coursework, had high ratings on Amazon, and the forward was written by Desmond Tutu so I figured it was worth reading. I don’t give this book the 5-star rating many on Amazon do.  I don’t even give it the 4-star rating, but I’ll unpack the highs and lows of this book below to me.

First, there’s a lot of great stuff here in the book from a research standpoint. I will be using this as a resource to find different relevant research to the world of conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation. There’s a lot of helpful research cited.

Second, the author writes many times how she has developed a “model” of dignity – “The Dignity Model” of conflict resolution. However, it’s nothing remotely resembling a model. It’s just a list really of behaviors that can increase dignity or diminish dignity in others and ourselves.  In some ways it’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for treating people with dignity. But it’s not a model and I thought it was strange how often the author referred to it as such. It’s like calling the 10 commandments or even the book “everything I needed in life I learned in Kindergarten” a model.  There isn’t any conceptual framework in the model – just descriptions of how to treat people with a view towards increasing dignity.

Third, the whole approach is based heavily on evolutionary psychology and 19th-century psychologist William James. I don’t share the same fundamental worldview assumptions as the author so that’s a factor here, but I can still see value in unpacking things with a socio-historical perspective.  What’s hard for me is when the cavemen come out and we start talking about evil behavior and violence as “outdated survival strategies.” That’s just so empty to me and left me very unsatisfied.

This book goes beyond conflict resolution to really try to frame a human rights argument that at one point the author refers to as “God-given.” And in so doing, there has to be some effort to tackle the problem of evil and human darkness or “sin.” The worldview here attempts to build a case for dignity as a human right while also building a case for how fallenness in humanity is a result of a loss of dignity and the impact of these “outdated survival strategies” on an interpersonal, communal, or societal level.

This really is a secular humanist effort to build a theology of dignity without God.  It is a secular attempt at a theology of “the image of God” in humanity based on evolutionary principles and contemporary attitudes.  But the reality is the overwhelming majority of the book in its principles and its model would be obvious extensions of the Christian doctrine of Imago Dei and reflects really blatantly at times a New Testament ethic – just without reference to God.  So that’s the elephant in the room with this book – it represents a longing to treat people in light of innate God-given value and unpack what that looks like. But it tries to build that ethic on a foundation of evolutionary principles.  If there had been an attempt to acknowledge and integrate that these “ideas” were not “new,” but reflected in human history in other belief systems I would have done a lot better with the book. But there was a component of academic snobbery in asserting the “newness” of this approach when in fact – there wasn’t much new about it all.

Another criticism is the framing of “Dignity.” I think the word is good attempt to capture a governing principle here, but it’s a bit sloppy in its usage. The author uses the word dignity as a general concept that overlaps with dimensions of honor and shame, concepts of intrinsic worth, identity, and how Christians think about the “image of God.” There were points where the language of dignity as used ran into problems. There was also so many more opportunities to explore the dynamics of honor and shame, but they were treated with minimal effort.

So it may sound like I’m very critical – and in the ways I am I believe the book deserves the criticism because it really pretends as if whole bodies of knowledge and insight out there don’t exist. That to me is not good scholarship. However, the author and I probably share a lot of common values and perspectives. We just have a very different foundation.

It does bother me how many 5-star reviews there are, which reflects that people are highly interested in this topic and looking for solutions to the heart issues that plague mankind. But there are better paradigms that address the human heart and the human condition – but it takes the humility of faith to explore them. It seems like the fundamental effort of the book is trying to preserve “God-given” value by distancing fallenness and any concept of “sin.” The Christian worldview allows for both intrinsic value and completely sinful depravity – it just requires needing something outside of ourselves for redemption.  The tragedy is how Christian doctrine has been corrupted and abused for depraved purposes and power agendas – the merits of theology has lost credibility through leaders and societies seeking personal advantage.  But the theology is still there to be engaged and it’s foolishness for people to reject where such ideas are unpacked in favor of trying to “re-create” something similar on their own.

There’s tons of value here though and conversations and illustrations of how to treat people with dignity and what tends to lead to breakdowns in relationships and conversations. So it’s a worthy resource if you want to go deeper into the conversation about what is required to create environments in which human identity and worth is valued, respected, and preserved, then this can help challenge and refine some of your thinking.

 

Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

It’s that time to post my top books read in 2017. These are the best of the books I read in terms of the value I gained from them and the contribution they make to a person’s development in key areas of life.  Every year I read in a wide range of areas, but I always try to read a few parenting/marriage/family books since that’s our life stage.

Before starting – my best book read in 2017 was The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci because it was a journey of 2016 Cubs World Series afterglow.  In the same vein, Teammate by David Ross brought a lot of the same feel-good vibes.  But since these are niche books, I’m leaving them off the official list.

Here’s the list from the past year, whittled down from about 40 books total this year…

1. The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma – A great primer on the current and historical landscape of racism and systemic injustice that aims to help majority culture white Americans enter into the national dialogue and reality more deeply.

2. Negotiating the Nonnegotiable by Daniel Shapiro – One of the best of all the negotiation books I’ve read because of its attention to identity, communication, forgiveness, and reconciliation in addition to typical training on integrative bargaining.

3. Self to Lose Self to Find by Marilyn Vancil – This was a helpful book on the spiritual formation assessment tool known as the Enneagram. This was a treatment though that was grounded deeply in a teaching of the Spirit-filled life and theology of personal transformation in Christ. There were great prayers for each “profile”/number of the Enneagram. This has been helpful for me in some of my own spiritual development.

4. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan – One of the most important books for me in 2017 because of it’s depth and skill to unpack a theology of Sabbath and rest with reflection on all the ways we choose less than God’s best. This helped bring some healing and restoration in a weary season.

5. Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderan – Maybe the best parenting/family book I’ve come across to date with its focus on grace and the heart of the gospel for the journey and task of parenting. I also highly recommend Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfect Parenting via audiobook.

6. Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch – A great resource related to the causes and results of shame with a Biblical foundation for seeing identity renewed and transformed through Christ. Welch unpacks psychological or identity-based shame really well and in very helpful ways for personal growth, counseling, and leadership that is coming alongside the hurting.

7. The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership by Mark McCloskey and Jim Lewesma –  This is a book introducing the 4-R model of transformational leadership, which is the framework I was trained in at Bethel Seminary and that my organization has used for a couple decades. I waited awhile for this book, but I really enjoyed this accessible summary of the model integrated with the case study of Nehemiah and several contemporary leaders.

8. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – This was a powerful and poetic reflection of the history of oppression and racism in America and its impact on identity and behavior. It’s written or delivered to the author’s teen son so it brings a personal dimension that makes the reflections all the more powerful and visceral.

Factoring in the two Cubs books at the beginning – that makes 10 books!  If you read any of the above and enjoy them – let me know.  If you want to see my best from 2016 or later you can visit this link.

If you have read some great books this year, leave me a note in the comments and if you are on goodreads, look me up!

 

Quick Review: Negotiation (An Ex-Spy’s Guide Series)

So as I’m researching and reading the topic of Negotiation in a lot of contexts I decided to add this book to my reading more for fun.  It’s a short, 100-page crash course on negotiation through the lens of “the field.” There’s a whole series of topics covered by the author and negotiation is one of them.

It was actually quite fun to read and there was a lot of practical advice and some of the general nuts and bolts were covered. But a lot of the focus was on dynamics that would take place in real conversations in which something was at stake. So the stories and anecdotes were great.

The big flaw with this though is that it is among the many Negotiation books that are focused on someone “getting what they want.” A phrase that repeatedly comes up is along the lines of, “It’s not good to manipulate people, but here are a few things you can do in this situation to make sure the outcome turns out in your favor.”  This is the spirit of a lot of contemporary negotiation literature – evident in titles like “How to Get What You Want” and the like.

It really is a completely different paradigm to look at Negotiation through a Biblical lens and the mandate to “look after the interests of one another” instead of the modern-day quest to ensure your interests even if they are at others expense.

That being said – there were great nuggets about navigating hard situations, regulating emotion, and assessing the needs and interests involved in a negotiation. And it was a fun read.  I don’t think this should be your negotiation primer, but it was a fun side read to compare and contrast some of the ideas from one experienced practitioner to what else is out there.

 

Quick Review: Negotiating the Non-Negotiable

The best of the negotiation books I’ve read this year has been Daniel Shapiro’s Negotiating the Non-Negotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts. Shapiro heads the Harvard International Negotiation Program and was also the primary author of the book Beyond Reason, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

One of the things I loved reading this book is that it reflects other streams of relationship theory that I’ve been pursuing for years, especially the application of family systems theory to leadership. Shapiro never refers directly to family systems theory, but does consistently discuss identity and relationships in ways that reflect the concept of self-differentiation as a foundational character foundation of mature and healthy relationships. In fact, themes like anxiety, cutting off, emotional fusion, and self-differentiation are all over this book.

Shapiro’s book focuses on identity-driven conflict – conflict that because of its deep connection to how people see themselves and what is most important to them. He doesn’t like using the language of identity-driven conflict because he sees all conflict impacting and flowing out of identity. But this book fundamentally is a roadmap of navigating deep-rooted conflict that tends to lead towards entrenchment.

Shapiro has some very helpful sections on emotions in negotiation, taboos – those things considered sacred and untouchable in every context, and some of the helpful components of integrative bargaining (i.e. the win-win bargaining). But one of the really interesting aspects of the book is that it’s not just about negotiation in the integrative bargaining kind of way – there’s a large section focused specifically on reconciling relationships. He explores apologies and forgiveness in a way that is quite helpful when considering the overall context of high conflict negotiation. There’s just really solid stuff throughout the book and this will be a go-to resource for me.

An additional note is that one of the awesome things about this book is the 75 pages or so of endnotes that discuss additional research and clarify smaller ideas or concepts. It’s a gold mine. I can’t remember a book where I spent an hour or two just reading endnotes because they were so interesting and helpful. Several of them have led me to other resources that will be super helpful for my research right now on negotiation.

From a leadership or relationship standpoint – highly recommend this one!

 

Quick Review: Beyond Reason

Another help Negotiation book I’ve gone through in the last few weeks is Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro’s Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.  This isn’t the most dynamic of books content-wise, but there’s tons of gold throughout that is extremely useful.

It’s common knowledge that emotional dynamics present some of the biggest challenges to negotiation, including conflicted negotiations. This book focuses less on the substantive dimensions of negotiation and instead tries to unpack how to use emotion in positive ways – but really it’s just a framework for being civil, encouraging, and good to others in the context of negotiation.

Shapiro is the founder or head of Harvard’s Negotiation Project and Fisher was the author of Getting to Yes and is pretty influential in the field. Shapiro provides the book content while Fisher provides a lot of examples and anecdotes from his career as a negotiator and mediator.

The book addresses 5 core areas:  appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status, and role.

I’m looking at affiliation and autonomy as complementary concepts that might complement some of what I’m researching for my dissertation. But there’s also tons of honor and shame embedded in these categories. In the west, a lot of people still are ignorant of honor and shame dynamics but it really does impact the emotional landscape of a lot of conflict and negotiation.

What I appreciated about this book is that the spirit of it is not manipulation, but on shifting mindsets so that there can be productive conversation in which relationships are being nurtured and not destroyed.

The five categories I think are helpful beyond negotiation into the realm of leadership and supervision. I think all five of those categories are important pieces of an employee’s relationship in their organization and with their team or supervisor. So these elements are pretty significant to increasing organizational health.

People on a team need to be appreciated, need to feel like they are a part of something and that they aren’t alone, they need to be empowered with a defined scope of authority and responsibility, they need to have appropriate status and honor in their community and situation, and they need to have meaningful contributions and purpose (role).  In that sense – this book isn’t just a negotiation resource, but a team leadership resource as well.

Both reasons are sufficient to spend some time with this book. It has an immense amount of wisdom and insight in the interpersonal level that can impact us wherever we might be seeing to influence.

 

Quick Review: Getting Past No

Another negotiating book I read recently is William Ury’s Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations. This is an extension of Getting to Yes, but it focuses on an arena that Getting to Yes does not attend to in as much detail – the biggest obstacles to negotiation from an emotional standpoint and in terms of resistance.

The book treats emotional and resistance barriers more through the lens of substantive negotiation as opposed to offering a deep dive on the true impact of emotions. Another book I’m reading now that does that is Beyond Reason by Fisher and Shapiro, which I’ll review soon.  However, this is a helpful book related to developing strategies to find common ground for agreement in high difficult situations or negotiations where maybe there is significant resistance from one source or another.

The essential framework for this book is simplified into these key approaches when there is significant resistance to negotiation:

  1.  Reflect instead of react.  Exercise self-awareness and self-regulation so that emotions do not drive the negotiation.
  2. Agree instead of argue.  Don’t give in, but instead of arguing or increasing positional tension try agreeing with everything you can possibly agree with to help keep positive engagement with the real interests involved.
  3. Reframe instead of Reject. Don’t just throw out the other person’s position but try to explore the interests by reframing the issues in ways that allow for mutual problem-solving.
  4. Collaborate instead of Sell.  Don’t push your own agenda, but really work for mutual satisfaction and that interests are met on all sides.
  5. Create, don’t Escalate.  If things start breaking down, don’t escalate conflict but seek to find creative solutions to keep things focused on interests and generating possible solutions.

So the book is really an extension of Getting to Yes, but there are great stories about these things being implemented in real negotiations. But it’s helpful to think about these things BEFORE negotiation or conversations go bad.  It’s helpful to be prepared for how to handle negative resistance as we often don’t expect it and as a result, our response to it ends up being poor or reactive.

Of the above – they all have merit, but I think #3 is perhaps most crucial because I think it helps shape a mindset that allows you do to #4 and #5 better.  I think this book and other books don’t always include tons of cross-cultural reflection or insights, so that is an intriguing arena for further reflection. In some ways, I think Ury’s principles work well in Honor Shame and other contexts. Emotional self-regulation is key and having a more relational and community perspective is crucial.

I suggest googling some summaries as you can get the gist of this book in a few places on the web and you can even find some pdf’s of some older versions of the book for download.

 

Quick Review: Self to Lose – Self to Find

Last week I gave a quick review on the enneagram book The Road Back to YouHere is the second book I’ve read recently in my attempts to explore and understand the enneagram as a tool to help myself and others dig deeper into the heart issues that drive behavior.

Self to Lose Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil was a much shorter treatment of the Enneagram types, but had much more depth to it from a spiritual standpoint. Half of the book is presenting a theology of Spirit-filled living, unpacking a framework of spiritual formation through the paradigm of dying to self and grounding one’s identity in the person and work of Christ.  This was a solid treatment and helpful for both those who jump into these things for the quick rush of finding their “type” like its a horoscope as well as those trolls out there who are quick to try to destroy anything that feels different to what they are used to.  I still am exploring how useful the enneagram is in life and ministry, but Vancil does a great job laying a solid framework for the bigger picture of how self-awareness is in service of our journey to put off the old self and put on the new self.

Self-awareness is something we all need and most people in leadership and ministry are trying to help other people develop in as well.  But often, the foundation of why we should pursue self-awareness is shaky or fuzzy. I like the beginning of this book as a primer of self-reflection and the Enneagram stuff aside, the rest of the book unpacks a helpful framework or process for cultivating Spirit-facilitated self-awareness. Vancil entitles that process with the acronym OWNUP, which links the process of reflection with the fundamental taking of responsibility inherent to what it means to “die to self.”

The descriptions themselves of the 9 types are helpful and framed more from a Biblical perspective with some helpful categories to give insight to the types such as core sins, core fears, and several other areas helpful as a road map for personal reflection.

While the strength of the book is framing everything through a clear Biblical framework for following Jesus through putting off the old self and picking up our cross daily and embracing the new self, the cost is at more contextual content related to the specific types. I find that I need more context and content on each type to really get a handle on them, but having already read The Road Back to You and listened to some other content really helped. I am not sure this is the first book I would recommend to someone on the Enneagram for that reason. I benefitted because I already had some context.

Another disappointment was the section on wings was practically non-existent. That’s something still confusing to me and Vancil really doesn’t try to tackle that outside of making a small argument that each type is affected to some degree by each wing to the number’s left or right. That seems like a different take than some of what I’ve heard so far.

There are two unique contributions to the Enneagram as a spiritual encouragement. First, there’s a section where the author includes an “invitation” through God’s perspective to each type through a more Biblical lens and vision for what God may want for each person based on Scripture. Second, there’s a section of prayers from the perspective of each type that walk through a process of confessing core sin patterns and inviting God into the core needs and desires.  Both the invitations and the prayers were great and I think provide a helpful roadmap for people how to approach God authentically and in full surrender to His purposes and power.

So if you are into the Enneagram or are exploring it, I think this is a great resource – but its strength is in providing Biblical foundations and a framework to understand how this can be in service to God’s work of sanctifying a person. It is not the comprehensive resource for descriptions of the types themselves or other nuances, though the material that was included was helpful in what it tried to do.

I still plan to read a couple more, but will take a bit of a break from the Enneagram for a couple of months but hope to come back to it around the holidays when I have more time.

 

Quick Review: Crazy Busy

As I’ve continued to prioritize some reading related to rest and well-being, I decided to read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy as another resource to reflect on how to best steward my soul and my contribution, given the immense stress of my life with its many demands, especially in a different country.

This is a short book – about 130 pages or so and it could be read in 2-3 hours easy.  They are short chapters that cover a lot of the main areas that need attention in modern society impacting well-being and business.  Prioritization (mission creep), Parental anxiety, Internet and Technology addiction or even attachment, Sabbath and rest, Personal Limitations, and most importantly the heart issues that drive our decisions and behavior that are rooted in sin or immature character.

This book is not a deep dive into these areas, but a broad exhortation in these different areas to highlight a key overall concept – we need to choose what is best even over the good.  And the best is resting in and abiding in God as the source of life, trusting that He will do what only He can do and expressing that confidence in faith by only doing what we can/should for God’s glory.

So many of us are struggling here with one or more of these areas covered in this book and we need to stay vigilant to guard against these enemies of living out of God’s abundance.

For a deeper dive I still recommend Buchanan’s The Rest of God as a more devotional journey going into rest and abiding in God that will draw you more deeply into God’s presence.  But this is a good and simple exhortation that we all need on a regular basis to guard our hearts, schedules, and relationships from drifting away from abundant life in God.

 

Quick Review: The 3 Big Questions For A Frantic Family

I read Patrick Lencioni’s The 3 Big Questions For a Frantic Family over the past couple of months in different sittings.  In short – it’s a strategic planning book for families, which sounds horrible and boring. But it’s not. If you didn’t know, I’m a strategic planning professor right now – but that doesn’t mean it’s a niche book.

What I like about this book, like a lot of Lencioni’s leadership fables is there is a simplicity that makes organization and leadership doable, sustainable, and worthwhile. It’s a great book not because it’s sophisticated, but because it’s simple in its strategy for helping parents take greater ownership in stewarding their family in line with their sense of purpose and values.

The 3 questions are basically?

  1.  What makes our family unique?

    This is a simple way of doing value and identity work. It’s important to get a working understanding of what your family is about and what you’re committed to. So this is a “vision and values” type of question but it’s framed simply.

  2.  What is our top priority right now (rallying cry)?

    This is a simple and family version of the rally cry/thematic goal Lencioni unpacks in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. But this is one of the most helpful things and I actually have utilized this concept in trying to lead our family.  Right now our family rallying cry is, “To increase our family capacity and live with more joy and peace in a challenging city.”  It’s a 2-6 month big picture goal that you can make significant progress towards that’s crucial for your family vision and values.  A part of this is establishing some objectives and measurements to help you know you are going the right direction. He talks about defining objectives and standard objectives. Standard objectives are the more ongoing categories of life.

  3.   How will we talk about these questions and help them stay alive?

This is a plan for communication and accountability.

So in some ways, it’s not rocket science. Lencioni does a good job illustrating that parents fail to exercise the same common sense and skills they might know in their work in the context of their family lives.  He’s not advocating people lose the family vibe, but to just take the organizational leadership skills crucial to parenthood a little more seriously for the sake of more robust and value driven lives.

Go to tablegroup.com and download a 4-page summary as well as a worksheet you can use if you want to do some planning and prioritization for yourself or your family.

I’ve noticed that while many families may make some specific choices for the sake of values, most do not really plan intentionally in light of their true or desired values. We all save for vacations, but few are planning for family connection and intimacy. That’s where value driven planning can make a huge difference.