Tag Archives: Communication

Quick Review: Ask More

I read Frank Sesno’s Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change. It was published in early 2017 and I’ve been going through several books that deal with question asking in different ways.  I reviewed Conflict Coaching recently which contains large sections related to question asking when coaching people through conflict situations. Leadership Coaching contains great content on asking different types of questions to get at the heart and help someone problem solve in different ways.

But I really enjoyed this book as well for different reasons. It was really easy reading but set up in a way that was very helpful. Each chapter was basically self-contained which allows the book to have multiple resources for different contexts.  The chapters are designed around different contexts or types of questions so you get deeper dives on categories like diagnostic questions, strategic questions, empathy questions, scientific questions, confrontational questions,  hosting questions, mission questions, legacy questions, and others.  The author was a significant reporter and utilizes his connections to draw on some big names to illustrate the different sections. For example, Gen. Colin Powell is interviewed in “strategic questions,” Anderson Cooper contributes to “confrontational questions, ” and several other big names like Sandra Day O’Conner and others contribute a lot of wisdom and insight.

The chapter I found most helpful was the mission questions chapter and it would seem to be a great resource for some of the courses I teach. The empathy and hosting questions were helpful as were the diagnostic questions.  The most interesting or challenging set of questions was the confrontational questions – how to use questions to hold people accountable.

One of the things I liked was the way it sought to help someone prepare and be intentional with the questions they ask in different situations. It gives great criteria and guidance for developing the questions needed.  One area that I think was not really addressed was the role of culture in terms of questions in some of these areas. The author touches briefly on culture in the final main chapter and occasional through a few different anecdotes, one involving Yasser Arafat for example, but it’s a bigger variable than what is sometimes acknowledged.

The book has a helpful appendix section where there are abbreviated “refreshers” of each main chapter that gives a summary and review to help retain the information and as a quick reference section which I’ve found helpful.

It’s a helpful resource. For audio folks, it’s a great listen. But I’ll be picking up a hard copy so I can use sections in classes in the future.  But there’s going to be a lot of value in this book for just about everyone given the wide range of questions involved.

 

Quick Review: Conflict Coaching

I’ve been working through the textbook Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual by Tricia S. Jones and Ross Brinkert over the past few weeks.  It was written about 15 years ago when conflict coaching was just starting to become more popular in the dispute resolution world.

Jones and Brinkert introduce their Comprehensive Conflict Coaching Model, which has a lot of narrative dimensions to it as well as a lot of components that are quite helpful to negotiation, conflict coaching, and mediation. The general flow of the process begins with discovering refining the story in a conflict and then proceeds towards deeper reflection about story through the lenses of identity, emotion, and power. That provides the foundation for crafting a better story in a conflict situation and working skillfully through relationship building forms of communication.

The dimension of the model I find most helpful is the intentional process of helping facilitate reflection in identity, emotion, and power. This is what makes or breaks conflict in my opinion and lack of reflection in these areas is often where people get stuck.

Like many narrative or secular dispute resolution models, there is no treatment of themes like forgiveness, confession, or apology. There is only conversation about how to shape a better story with others, which I believe metaphorically is a great way to envision an alternative future. But that future has limits without heart change and the dynamics of reconciliation. I believe combining heart work and Biblical approaches to reconciliation with this type of narrative framework for working through conflict can be very powerful, but there are problems if we just try to move forward without dealing with hearts.

That being said, this is a tremendous resource for people who want to do a deeper dive into conflict coaching and mediation. There’s a lot of great research and scholarship pulled into this that makes for a lot of great research-based insights and learnings.

 

 

Quick Review: Feelings and Faith

I recently read Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life by Brian S. Borgman. There’s so many that ride the extremes of emotion – either being driven completely by emotion or rejecting emotion out of hand. Feelings and Faith is a theology of emotions for people who want to understand emotions through the grand story of creation, fall, and redemption.

A good amount of the book is focused on unpacking from Scripture what it has to say about emotions and what that means for the character of God and what it means to be human. Borgman challenges various false perspectives about feelings that plague Christians and non-believers alike. He anchors his theology of emotions with a solid foundation that is easy to understand and follow even though it still is challenging.

He continues to tackle Biblical perspectives on various emotions such as anger, fear, and depression among others. He does a good job in this section helping the reader understand the intersection of the physical person and spirituality. In the world today much is treated as exclusively physical – but there are helpful discussions about spirituality, Scripture, and sin as they impact feelings and emotions.

He dives into various areas such as worship, preaching, Christian community, and reading Scripture among others to explore the importance of holistic experience as part of God’s design of revealing Himself.

This is a very solid book. I have read so much on some of these areas that I did not find much of the book revolutionary. But if I had read this in college or in my twenties I would have really benefitted from it. But I continue to be struck by one of the main points of the book – that our emotional life is subject to the Lordship of Christ just like any other area. This isn’t a popular notion as emotions still tend to get filtered by what’s culturally appropriate, but there are emotions God wants us to experience and emotions that He wants us to have control over.  That’s a radical idea to many.

So if you find yourself blown around in the wind too often or detached from any source of meaning and connection, I’d suggest reading Faith and Feelings.

 

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: Braving the Wilderness

It’s been a month or two since I read Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I’ve delayed writing something up on it because I’ve had mixed feelings about it. It’s both the book of hers I’ve liked least, but it’s also the most intriguing related to some of my areas of research and study.

A lot of the book is similar to her other works – shame, worthiness, and vulnerability. I recently reviewed Rising Strong and there’s some overlap. It’s good stuff and there’s several stories and anecdotes from other books. However, there’s also a lot that is new and there is a different emphasis on this book. This focus, as I would describe it, is the connection between identity and belonging in a reactionary and tribalistic society.

What I liked was that at the core of this book, it really is a tackling of identity between individuality and community. Essentially, Brown is unpacking what family systems theorists call self-differentiation, the grounded identity that is both connected and separate even in the midst of an anxious and reactive society.  I kept thinking of one of my favorite authors, Edwin Friedman and his book Failure of Nerve as I read this. If you want to take a look see my post linking to a couple summaries here and also here.  It is one of my top 5 books of all time and has profoundly impacted my views on leadership and leadership formation.

Anyway – back to the wilderness. Braving the Wilderness is really a metaphor for self-differentiation. It’s living in between the polar extremes of reactivity and anxiety. Friedman calls one extreme emotional fusion. Christian psychologist PaulTripp calls this immersion. Harvard negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro calls this defaulting to affiliation.  It’s the surrendering of individual identity to the group out of fear of rejection, judgment, or shame. It’s compromising the integrity of personhood to belong – belonging becomes being part of a tribe.

Friedman calls the other extreme cutting off. Tripp calls it isolation. Shapiro calls it defaulting to autonomy for the sake of identity.  It’s surrendering community and relationship to preserve personhood. It’s to some degree distancing from those that provide a threat or challenge to be able to feel secure again in one’s self.

Brown is unpacking these dynamics. I think initially I was irritated because it felt like it was being unpacked as new data or phenomena, but these concepts have been out there getting discussed in a lot of places. But I like that she connected shame and vulnerability what can lead people towards surrendering their identity for either reactive extreme. People feeling anxiety and shame tend to seek security and certainty and if they cannot stand on their own and hold their ground for their higher values and their integrity – the emotional forces of society will bounce them around.  Thus Brown is directly addressing in this book how to foster civility and empathy in a society that is looking to dehumanize others and where everyone is trying to strengthen their tribe at the expense of the other.

Worthiness is at the heart of Brown’s books – that people who feel and act worthy and like the belong, actually believe that they belong.  The elephant in the room is the question, “Where does that worthiness come from?” I do not believe Brown offers an answer for this, but to describe that we need to do our best to be civil and understanding and do our part to help extend hospitality across difference.   Added to this though, Brown also discusses a lot about curiosity and civility as key to fostering civil discourse and belonging across difference.

Brown is advocating for people to connect as humans, fighting the tendency of people to dehumanize for the sake of certainty and tribal belonging. As I read this, it’s a perfect apologetic for the Christian worldview as the image of God, loving your neighbor, and the call to grace and truth are core foundational pieces. It’s a shame that Christians tend to be just as tribal, if not more, than others. It’s a sign that the gospel has not taken root. But Brown is pointing to a question that is theological in nature. Can we achieve our own worthiness? Or do we have to receive it from someone else?  Can we get it from other people or does it have to come from a higher authority?

So there’ s a lot that I like and it’s the most I’ve thought about any of her books so it’s a sign that it maybe it ranks higher than I initially thought. But there are things that are hard. I understand why some reviews complain about her being too political, but I didn’t think it was that bad – but an example of tribalism in the reviews.  There’s also a stronger tone of anger and “screw you, I gotta keep it real” to this book that wasn’t as evident in her other books.  On one level – I get it – I think Brown has to have some of that edge to play the role she is playing.

However, I’ve seen too many applications of her work where people are rejecting shame and community accountability to defend their positions (an ironic example of what Brown is speaking against). People can find justification through some of the concepts to defend their personal choices.  Not all shame is bad – when people reject the voice of community completely to “keep it real” they then run the risk of cutting off and getting lost in a myopic view of life. This connects to a series I did many moons ago called “Prophets vs. Posers.”

All in all – it’s a good book and I’m still thinking about a lot of it. But it is a clear reminder that there are deep solutions to questions of shame and belonging and vulnerability. Will people humble themselves to really find those solutions outside of themselves and receive the dignity, belonging, security, and love that can anchor one firmly in that identity so they can freely love and serve others across difference?  This is the Christian life.  Now more than ever, followers of Christ need to embody this self-differentiation in Christ so they can brave the wilderness where is increasingly anxious, hostile, reactionary, and tribal.

So I recommend it, but I recommend Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve even more.

Quick Review: Crucial Conversations

Among the negotiation books I have been going through the last month or two is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.  There’s a lot on this one out on the internet so I don’t need to get into it too much.  But there’s some simple and very helpful aspects of this book when it comes to interpersonal negotiation on the relational side – particularly when things are in danger of escalating towards conflict.

One of the things I like is that the authors start with the heart.  They explore some of the centrality of identity and motivation in high stakes conversations before getting into communication strategy and technique.  A lot of the book aims at self-reflection and self-awareness as to what is driving our engagement with others and what our emotions might reveal about the heart.

This book is grounded in a storytelling approach to high emotion conflict or negotiation.  That’s one of the strengths of the book – it’s focused on the intersection of two stories and how to navigate emotion in establishing shared meaning.

In this discussion, there are 3 “clever stories” the authors discuss as the common strategies people use to justify their position or situation rather than really learn and listen.  There are victim, villain, and helpless stories.  I find that these 3 stories cover a lot of ground when people are stuck and limited in conflict.

There’s helpful chapters on listening, emotional self-awareness, asking questions, and discerning safety through personal clues or from another person.  This dimension of equipping people how to assess safety with a view of how to build it or restore it is a pretty practical and helpful resource for what is a  pretty crucial skill set for most leaders.

I would check it – at the very least you can google some summaries and find some good stuff out there.  But it’s a great resource to have on the shelf and to use as a teaching and training tool.

 

Quick Review: Community – The Structure of Belonging

I finished Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging last week and want to share some of his thoughts if it interests you. This book essentially is about community development and transformation. Block’s style is often theoretical and heady in its content and tone, yet there is a real commitment to organizing work and life around the dignity of human beings and the impact of relationships and organizing efforts on that dignity. This is one of the things I like about Block in his books.

What is helpful about this book is that it steers conversations in the process of community building away from victimization and learned helplessness and paternalism.  His focus is on building what he calls the social fabric – the quality of relating within a community.  He unpacks the ideas and patterns of modern society that are undermining true empowerment in society at large and argues for methods and community processes that both lead to the goal while also being the goal themselves.

Many want to build communities and build the social fabric, but they focus on the end result and meanwhile their methods and processes undermine the very relating and social fabric they want to achieve.  Block proposes a set of commitments and processes to help communities begin relating in empowering and accountable ways that increase the consistency and quality of the social fabric. He argues that the small group is the unit of transformation.

There’s a lot here – and it’s a big that needs a lot of reflection to make connections for the sake of integration and application. But Block does a great job building a process around question asking and safe spaces.  He argues that community transformation is driven by well-crafted questions that create the kind of anxiety and tension that drives people to get involved and commit.  He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

In today’s society, you have many groups in many places blaming other groups for their situation and looking externally for solutions.  Block offers a methodology and community building approach that challenges all of us to take ownership of our communities and commit to something new together instead of engaging in the toxic cycles of blame and dependence.  It’s easier said than done, but there’s a lot here to inform how we try to bridge differences today in a culture that is often very divided.

 

Quick Review: The Tipping Point

A few weeks ago I finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little things Can Make a Big Difference.   I fully enjoy Gladwell’s books as they often popularize more complex ideas out there. His books are also ideal audiobooks for driving in traffic given how story oriented they tend to be.

More detailed reviews and summaries can be found out there, but I enjoyed the book because of its blatant relevance for leadership, ministry, and the sharing of ideas. Gladwell is focused on the phenomena of what makes some ideas really take off while others do not.

Gladwell is focused on the phenomena of what makes some ideas really take off while others do not. He structures the book around “The Law of the Few”, “The Stickiness Factor”, and “The Power of Context.”

The law of the few suggests that there unique types of people that drive the spreading of ideas. He calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  Some people have unique gifts in connecting other people, some have unique talents and passions to be informed on all of what is going on, and some have the charisma and gifts that can bring alignment to ideas or products effortlessly.  I enjoyed the illustration about Paul Revere being an example of an individual who was a couple of these – why is Revere so remembered in the events of the opening of the Revolutionary War when there was another man who equally shared the same task?

“The Stickiness Factor” is the sense of memorability (if that’s a word) or ease at which people can lock into a concept, product, or idea.  This is what marketing strives for and what much of educational theory is working to master.

“The Power of Context” is looking at the systemic impact of the environment on change phenomena. I was intrigued most by the example of the “Broken windows theory” that was at the heart of change efforts in New York’s dramatic crime reduction over a decade ago. After analyzing a host of variables – the idea that small symbols of neglect can lead to widespread invitations for crime. By quickly cleaning up graffiti and making other quick improvements to fix things and keep things in shape among other minor changes, there was radical changes in crime for the better.

These are quick and hasty summaries, but this book is a great stimulator of ideas and creative energy if you are thinking about how to spread ideas or lead change in a particular context. All such efforts will involve the need to shape thinking, relationships, and behavior. This book touches on all three of these areas and thus, a great resource.

 

Stats Lie Pt 14: You Think You Know But You Don’t

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes this all-time Jim Mora (former NFL coach) rant pops into my mind when people outside of my leadership and the cultural context I’m in make one-up judgments or bring criticism that is anchored in a totally different worldview or ethnocentric perspectives.  Sometimes criticism is fair and we always need to take it in with a humble ear and learning posture.  Sometimes it says more about those giving the criticism. So this is a post about a contextual reaction and polemic against non-contextual criticism.

This fits the general scope of my “Stats Lie” series as well despite not dealing directly with measurements. But this does deal with the presuppositions behind what measurements or clues we look for to define success (or failure).

And sometimes I can be the one to make the judgments or bring ethnocentric criticism unfairly onto others who know their landscape better than me or anyone else.  And every time I do that – I fully deserve the Jim Mora treatment.

This obviously has a lot of humor to it, but it covers some legitimate arguments as to why the best people to assess success and failure are those working with all the knowledge and who know the context and all the variables the best.  It’s actually genius and not just a reactive meltdown.

So next time someone “who thinks they know, but they really don’t know” tries to judge what you’re doing – be inspired by Jim Mora!  Just find a way to enter the dialogue in less of an aggressive way 🙂

**I just really love the breakdown too of how sometimes people think something’s bad, but it’s good and sometimes they think it’s good, but it’s bad.  And how sometimes you think it’s good and it’s good and how sometimes you think it’s bad and it’s bad.  Fantastic summary of cross-context success criteria challenges!

And my friend and were messing around with the iphone app smule and it generated this beauty of a song/video:  http://www.smule.com/p/51484037_2660855