Patterson, Kerry, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2012.
The authors identify “crucial conversations” as emotionally-laden, high-stakes differences of opinion. Noting that most people lack the skill to deal with such topics, the authors write, “We often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse.” Avoiding these conversations can mean a strategy of silence (any kind of retreat from the conversation), or of violence (verbal attacks on the opposing party). The book contains a quiz that allows readers to identify their own “Style Under Stress,” so that they can determine the best strategy for improving their communication skills.
A flaw of many self-help books is that examples seem contrived, but each chapter of this book provides well-written scenarios that feel true-to-life. In some chapters, the authors present examples that they invite readers to think about before they continue reading, providing an element of role-play practice. A summary at the end of each chapter lists key points to remember and provides an easy way for readers to revisit the material from time to time as they work to incorporate the various techniques into their repertoire.
Agile practitioners will find Crucial Conversations very valuable not only as a personal guide to better communication, but as a way to recognize the danger signs of broken communication on Agile teams, and mitigate against them. Agile practices require innumerable conversations around contentious topics where stakes are high. Handling these conversations safely and respectfully is key to delivering high-value solutions in happy, healthy working environments.
Langer, Ellen J., Mindfulness, 25th Anniversary Edition. Da Capo Press, 2014.
In the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Mindfulness, Ellen Langer writes, “Mindlessness is pervasive. In fact I believe virtually all our problems…either directly or indirectly stem from mindlessness.” If that is true, this book offers insight into both the source of our problems and the potential to overcome them.
In Part One, Langer defines and examines “mindlessness”— a state of rigid over-reliance on outdated, incomplete, and therefore false mental models. She identifies multiple sources of mindless behavior, including erroneous beliefs in constraints, an education system that values outcome over process, and the power of context to determine our behavior and expectations. Mindlessness leads to narrow self-image, inability to adapt, and stunts our potential.
Part Two defines mindfulness as a life-affirming practice that contributes to good mental and physical health. Mindfulness means the ability to create new mental categories and adjust old categorizations, openness to new information and multiple points of view, and having a process orientation rather than a results-oriented outlook. Chapters cover mindful aging, creativity, mindfulness on the job, decreasing prejudice, and the confluence of mindfulness and physical health.
Agile Coaches may find its insights valuable to deepen their understanding of why Agile principles and practices work. Although Langer cites dozens of academic resources and studies, Mindfulness is written for the layperson. Summaries of experiments are clear and concise, and where data are inconclusive, Langer identifies the shortcomings and possible alternative interpretations. However, it is not a recipe book for mindfulness. The reader will find no instructions on how to be more mindful here; and will have to take a mindful approach to applying its lessons.