Book Review: Crucial Conversations

What do I really want for me? What do I want for the others in this conversation?
How to stay in the dialogue or the conversation you are having when you are angry, scared, or hurt. (Unsplash)

Putting better communication into action

By Michael M. Dugan

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler is a must-read. This is a book about the tools that we can use when having a conversation. This is something that is done by every one of us every single day. Whether at home with our families or in our second home, the firehouse, we have conversations every day. Some of those conversations are boring, mundane, and routine. This is a book about the skill that can be used to improve our ability to communicate effectively.

A crucial conversation is a discussion that takes place between two or more people where the stakes are high, emotions run high, and people have differing opinions of what is going on. Wow, does this sound like the firehouse! It can also be your living room with your spouse, significant other, children, or any member of your family.

One of the tools used in this book is what the authors call “the pool of shared meaning” or, to paraphrase for us common folk, common ground. If we start conversations with common ground in the areas where people agree, we are more likely to listen to the others in that conversation. We also in this book learn a phrase “start with the heart.” When having a crucial conversation, you should ask yourself a few questions. What do I really want for me? What do I want for the others in this conversation? And what do I want for our overall relationship? After you have asked yourself these questions, you should include one more: How would I behave if I really wanted results?

(author photo)

This book teaches a lot about nonverbal cues in conversations. Is the other person getting angry or defensive? We get angry and defensive; we go to silence or violence. I have found myself in that position many times in my life. This book has helped me to understand that to have in-depth and open conversation, we have to feel safe, as do the people we are conversing with. If we make them feel that they are safe and express their opinions, it allows us a better exchange of dialogue. You have to treat the individuals in this conversation with mutual respect and find a mutual purpose.

This book also talks about how to stay in the dialogue or the conversation you are having when you are angry, scared, or hurt. This allows you to concentrate on and make sure that you have all the facts. Make sure you understand if you have a role in the problem. Understand what you expect the outcome of this conversation to be. And, if the conversation is getting off track, you should ask: Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this? Understanding these parameters and facts about a conversation might lead us to a much healthier and more productive conversation.

Another part of this book deals with the other folks in the conversation–how to listen when others blow up or clam up. Listening to others allows you to understand their position. You can ask the other people for their views, acknowledge any emotion they appear to be feeling, paraphrase what they said, and try to understand what they may be thinking or feeling. This allows you to understand their positions.

We can then put our conversation into action. These actions are part of putting it all together. We decide what we are going to do and then we do. We can use tools to recognize when someone is not feeling safe in a conversation, and we need to take steps to make it safe for them. By using the tools in this book, we can make our conversations safe and therefore accomplish great things.

This book allowed me to become a better communicator. I understood the dynamics of the conversation and learned how to use those techniques to become better. I have taught these techniques and use these techniques frequently in my life. I have also failed at doing it correctly and got into a knockdown/drag-out fight in the firehouse with one of my bosses. That happened because I allowed myself to become emotional and not focus on the facts. This book allows all of us to become better at a basic human skill. I highly recommend it, and it will make you a better firefighter, fire officer, chief officer, husband, and wife and generally just a better person.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 42-year veteran of the fire service, is also a 27-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he retired as the captain of Ladder Company 123. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx and was a firefighter on Ladder 43. He is a member of the FDIC International and Fire Engineering advisory boards. He is the recipient of the 2020 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.

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