altWhen to Speak Up and When to Shut Up:  Principles for Conversations You Won't Regret by Michael D. Sedler (Chosen Books, 2003)

I jumped at the opportunity to review this book, because conversations are often difficult for me.  As an introvert, I generally find conversations mentally and emotionally taxing, and thus tend to avoid them in situations where others might seek them out, such as with strangers on an airplane, or in those awkward "get to know each other" social gatherings.  Over the years, I have attempted to improve my skills in this area, with the result that I'm now much more likely to initiate and contribute to conversations.  Perhaps too likely.  Once started, I can be hard to stop.  I talk too much, running roughshod over others.

Hence my enthusiasm for reading this book.  I was looking for help in achieving the proper balance, that is, when to speak up, and when to shut up.

Unfortunately, the book does not deliver what I was expecting.  It is not so much about conversation as about confrontation:  the times you should speak your mind, the times you should hold your tongue, and how to tell the difference between the two.

As such, it still should have been useful, but even in its stated purpose the book did not work for me.  I found it hard to get through the 156 pages, and was not inspired by much.  I also found the book overly personal, with too many examples from his own experiences and a gratuitous testimony of his conversion to Christianity at the end.  As far as I was concerned, both took away from the professionalism I was expecting.  One other complaint:  Sedler uses examples from the Bible, which befits an explicitly Christian book, but many of them felt contrived, as if he wanted to prove a point and picked out events and encounters for that purpose—with a little too much speculation as to what the characters might actually have thought and said.

All that aside, others might be better aligned with the author's efforts and find the book very helpful.  Sedler actually makes several good points, even if they didn't hang together well for me.

One of our sons, when younger, had a habit of asking questions and then arguing with the answers.  If he did not get the answer he wanted to his question ... he would respond with "You don't understand" and ask the question again.  Oh, on the contrary, we did understand!  He had not heard what he wanted to hear and questioned our judgment.  He did not really want to hear just any answer; he wanted to hear the answer that coincided with his desires. ... Here is what Joyce and I did.  Prior to giving him a response we would ask, "Are you ready for the answer we are going to give, even if it is not what you want to hear?"

I'd say that approach is as applicable to conversations with adults as with children.

When approaching leaders or those in authority, we must examine our motives.  In other words, are we interested in hearing their perspectives or are we more interested in sharing our perspectives?  Do we want to understand the situations from their viewpoints or do we want them to understand our viewpoints?  Do we desire to have an understanding of their thought processes and decision-making or is it more important to point out flaws we perceive in their final analysis?

Again, I find that important in much broader application than merely with authority figures.

Allow the person to give as much input as possible about solutions to the problems presented.  It is an interesting fact that if you make a suggestion, it will probably be met with resistance.  If given the opportunity, however, the other person may make the same suggestion.

Don't own problems that belong to others.  Some people have an agenda and will push it at you until they have you hooked into an argument or debate.  If you sense that the other person has this in mind, minimize the amount of feedback you give.

What about those whose motives are not pure—bullies whose tactics may include berating others, yelling, screaming?  It is not uncommon for bullies to attack a person's age, color, religion, intelligence, maturity or culture.  Those with impure motives attempt to intimidate others into a particular course of action.  People with impure motives may use hatred as a weapon to create dissension and disunity.  They may use pressure tactics or prey upon one's fear or insecurity.  They may make threats in order to manipulate others' emotions.

There will always be those whose voices are used to pollute, to contaminate and to injure others.  Their voices are so strong, so forceful that their victims can become paralyzed in silence.  They sound so convincing, so sure of themselves, they seem to be right at the time.

It is easy for our confidence to dwindle in the face of bullying rhetoric.  Confusion and paralysis fall upon us while words of poison infiltrate among the people.  We must be careful.  We must be wise.  We must be willing to be a voice of action in the midst of confusion.  If we are not cautious, our very voices may be silenced by intimidation.

Legal Blather Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, Chosen Books . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 7:13 am | Edit
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The first quote still scares me, though. How can we be sure we did understand? If you tell someone "you didn't understand me" and they say "yes I did, and you're wrong" it doesn't inspire confidence or deepen relationship. We should be very cautious employing this judgement!!

Posted by Janet on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 9:16 am

I agree. Let me explain what was going through my head when I read that, however.

There's a certain kind of question that is sometimes asked and/or answered without regard for ones ability to handle a complete and honest reply. For example, "What can I do to be a better wife to you?" sounds like a noble and possibly helpful question. But if you're hoping to hear, "Nothing! I think you're a wonderful wife!" and are not prepared to handle, "I'm glad you asked; I have a list here...." then you may not be doing your marriage any favors. Similarly, I think we need to think twice when people ask us for information that might hurt or disappoint them. "Are you prepared to listen to an honest answer, not responding with defensiveness or derision?" seems to me a wise response when we're not sure of how our answer will be received.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm