Reviewed by DeAnna Miller
Most of us know that communication is the key to any relationship. We also know that consistent, quality communication is necessary for maintaining a healthy and productive partnership with our colleagues.
Although we know these things, many of us would still love to improve our communication skills and be more effective when engaging in dialogue with one another. Thankfully, Jim Knight’s insightful book, Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected, can help us achieve this goal.
Knight explores the beliefs and habits that are necessary to promote better communication leading to positive change. He uses anecdotal summaries to make these beliefs and habits connect with our own experiences. And his straight-forward, to-the-point examples allow us to immediately begin to hone and put into practice these beliefs and habits.
More about the book
The first chapter opens with stories from Knight’s own research and experience, designed to introduce us to the idea that we can improve our conversational practices. He explains his better conversation philosophy and identifies the six beliefs and 10 habits of better conversations.
In chapter 2, Knight more deeply explores each of the following six beliefs:
► I see conversation partners as equals.
► I want to hear what others have to say.
► I believe people should have a lot of autonomy.
► I don’t judge others.
► Conversation should be back and forth.
► Conversation should be life giving.
Knight tells us that by holding these beliefs we help others “walk away from conversations feeling valued” (p.27). The conversations that we are more deeply engaged in, he says, are the ones “more apt to change our lives.” And by holding and fostering these six beliefs about better conversations, we can create more engaging, and perhaps life-changing, conversations with our peers, colleagues, family, and friends.
The 10 conversational habits
In chapters 3 – 9, Knight provides greater insight into the 10 habits of better conversations. He helps us understand that empathy, trust, and exerting control over any toxic emotions – as well as asking better questions to foster dialogue – are needed if we hope to achieve better conversations. Each of these chapters explores one or two of the habits in depth and then provides adaptive strategies for our immediate use.
For example: In chapter 3, “Listening with Empathy,” Knight gives us four ways to be better listeners: (1) commit to listen; (2) make sure your partner is the speaker; (3) pause before you speak and ask yourself “will my comment open up or close down this conversation?”; and (4) don’t interrupt. (p.57) These practical skills can be put into place immediately in an effort to improve our listening skills – a critical component of having better conversations.
More tools and resources
Because this book is about helping readers grow, Knight also includes downloadable worksheets after each habit chapter that are designed to allow us to reflect on our current conversational practices, improving each area as needed. He recommends using audio and/or video recordings of our conversations with colleagues as we fill in each worksheet.
Knight also provides a “Going Deeper” section in each chapter that includes recommendations for additional books and other resources. Each recommended outside resource is intended to help us delve deeper into the areas that we may have identified as our areas of growth.
Last, and most important, building trust
Knight’s final chapter deals with building trust. For most of us, this strategy might be first on our list of habits for better conversation. I believe that Knight includes it last because it is the foundation of all we do. He says: “…trust is like the air we breathe. We don’t notice when it is there, but when it is gone, everything stops.” (p.204)
Much like ending a persuasive or argumentative paper with your call to action, Knight calls us to remember that trust is everything. If we don’t have trust, it won’t matter how much we improve in the other areas of conversation. Without trust, our conversations will fizzle out and we will not be able to make the deep connections needed for our growth and the growth of others.
DeAnna Miller has worked in education for 12 years. She currently lives in Enterprise, Alabama and works as an Instructional Partner at Dauphin Junior High School. She and her husband have three daughters and one cat, and are Disney fanatics. She enjoys running, reading, writing, and being an advocate for introverted students and teachers. Miller is a member of the Alabama Instructional Partners Network, a coaching collaborative.