Tag Archives: Communication

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

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

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


Do Your Words Heal Lightly or Deeply?

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good “Prophets vs. Posers” quote. I was re-reading a book I read before I started blogging a few years ago and wanted to submit this quote for your reflection,

“Throughout these events [anxiety times] God sends prophets to open the people’s eyes and to expand their horizon.  As we know, though, true prophets are without honor in their own anxious country.  Many of God’s messengers are ignored, mocked, or annihilated.  But the false prophets who cry, “Peace, Peace,” and heal the wounds of the people lightly are too often welcomed.  They promise stability but invite no reflection.  False prophets offer simple, immediate relief.  They don’t challenge people to change their limited point of view.”

-Peter Steinke, How Your Church Family Works, pg. 44

In our positivity driven culture, truth is so often treated like a buzzkill.  Worse yet, it can be treated as toxic when the desire to medicate and bath in the delusions of happiness overwhelm the quest for reality and wisdom.

Do you tend to gravitate towards denial and delusion to preserve your perceived safety and the status quo?  Or do you courageously pursue truth wherever it might lead you?  Do you choose stability over wisdom?

Originally posted November 4, 2010

Embracing the NO’s to Sex: Putting On The Big Boy Pants

Putting On the Big Boy Pants

Encountering limits and experiencing boundaries are reality checks.  We need limits as they remind us that our reality is in fact bigger than just ourselves.

While it might be a rude awakening if a particular spouse is in the mood and starting to put the moves on and they are met with, “You know, I just really don’t want to right now because I’m…..” or “I’m really not feeling that great…” or “I’m not sure I can right because I feel like we need to finish that discussion we had earlier and I can’t be close until we resolve that.”

Initially it might be a buzzkill, but in the bigger picture it can be reality giving you a cold slap to the face, reminding you that your burning desires and the sexual feelings you have in the moment aren’t the only thing going on in the world.  We need to be slapped by reality sometimes.  Some of us are far too crafty in our efforts to avoid reality and we need it to find us and wake us up if we’re getting a little too insular in our perspective on life and marriage in this example.

But we’re talking on some level about rejection. More than building resolve and serving as a catalyst to a husband to be a student of his wife, being told no when you’re putting the moves on can be pretty developmental in other ways – identifying areas of insecurity or pride being some of them.

Those buying in that we ought not ever reject our spouse amidst sexual initiation (according to some teachings on 1 Cor 7 which I’ll address in a few days) create a dynamic in which the husband especially never has to deal with his own security as a person and a man.  When he wants sex, he gets it.  He can feel comfortable in his own world of his own desires without ever really having to be ok when he doesn’t get his way all the time.  There are men whose ego’s are riding pole position in their marriage and all the dynamics are designed to support that ego.  These are men who hear these types of marriage teachings and feel validated for their “rights” as a man.

You know what this reminds me of – raising my young kids.  What happens if my kids always get what they want and they never learn to be ok with disappointment and not getting what they want in the moment – their heads get big and they become more self-centered and demand more.  They need to hear “No” a lot because they have to learn how to balance their own desires with the desires of others and the limitations that often exist in getting what you want.

There’s a pattern to some of the leaders and ministers that flame out later in life for some kind of moral failure or character issues – usually they were coddled a lot and often they had wives who instead of helping their husbands become stronger and more accountable, they enabled their husbands through unconditional cheerleading and refusing to do anything that wounds the ego.  Some get wrapped up in the success of their spouse and things become about image and performing rather than strengthening the relationship and marriage in a mutually transforming way.

When my wife says no to sex or no to a host of other things I might want to do that she feels strongly about, I believe she’s helping me become a better leader when she sets limits with me.  She’s helping me live within my personal and family limits.

So you know what we as men (and sometimes women too) need to do when our sexual mojo doesn’t get the results we might want in the moment?

We need to go put our big boy pants on and figure out an alternative way to connect with our spouses or we need to go find something else to do besides brooding or pouting.  I believe there’s a connection between our capacity to stay secure in our relationships and handle “No’s” in both the personal and professional contexts.  If we can handle “No’s” without making it all about us in marriage – we’ll be able to demonstrate those same dynamics in our work relationships.

Related to this, my suspicions for a while have been that those I see not being able to work with strong female leaders are coming from marriages in which their marital “system” doesn’t allow for a lot of no’s to the male ego.  They aren’t used to hearing “No” from women and therefore such leaders aren’t secure enough to lead WITH leaders of BOTH genders – especially ones that will say “No.”  Just an observation that at this point seems to me to be a pattern, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Never say no to your spouse’s sexual initiation as a teaching in my mind reinforces a Napoleon complex for husbands.  Little dudes wearing big hats expecting everyone to fall in line with their will.  I think God’s design for marriage and sex in marriage aims a little higher than that.

So let’s exchange our Napoleon’s hats for our big boy pants and embrace adult and peer dynamics in marriage.  Because one of the fruits of our marriages should be that we become more mature and better leaders – in our families and in our vocations.


Turning Clarity On

I’ve posted a few times on communication clarity in leadership and loved this cartoon.  We always underestimate what it takes to communicate clearly in leadership.  If you want to check out a few related posts I’ll put the links below the cartoon…


Ringing the Bell of CommunicationWithout Vision, Maybe the People Will Be Better OffMISdirect Communication