Good Read: How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work

Review by: Angela Fieler, MPA, CMQ/OE, Consultant

I am always on the lookout for books that help me “sharpen my saw” in terms of my coaching practice. Often times, I read one book or article that cites another in a way that peaks my interest. In the Nurse Executive’s Coaching Manual, Kimberly McNally and Liz Cunningham say this about Kegan and Lahey, “We find the self-assessment exercises in their book designed to move you through the process of unearthing your personal competing commitments particularly valuable. It is a highly recommended resource!”

I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was so enamored with the first few exercises and what they revealed to me about not only my personal competing commitments but the assumptions that drive them, that I actually stopped reading the book after working through the first four languages. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to keep reading, it was that the first section was so powerful, I wanted to run with what I’d learned and recommend that others do the same . My recommendation sounds something like this, “This is one of the most profound and poorly titled books I’ve ever read.” Had I taken the time to read the rest of the book, I would have taken out my editorial comment about the title.

Having now read ”How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation” not once but twice, I can say that I am still enamored with the self-assessment exercises. I’ve done them all now – they don’t stop with the first four languages. For me, they did far more than unearth my personal competing commitments. Without them, I’m not sure I would have grasped the underlying concepts of the book. The “new technology” and “mental machine” metaphors often confused me, as did some of the complex language. Doing the exercises and making the effort to connect the experiences I documented as part of the process to the key points helped put me back on course.

I wish that I could summarize the book in one or two sentences, but I don’t want to do the authors or the book a disservice by over-simplifying. They have created a structure that seeks to explain why individuals and organizations struggle and often fail to actually change behavior. They’ve challenged some age-old leadership tenants that shake the foundation of what I “know” and make me question some “truths” that I hold dear. I’m not sure that I am on the precipice of true transformation, but I think that’s okay. At one point in the book, the authors say, “…we expect there will be no effect…” from just reading the book and doing the exercises. What they hope is that you keep reading, repeat the exercises, engage others in discussions about what you are learning and in so doing, you will create the opportunity to truly transform. It’s a lofty proposition, but I’m game. Are you?