Category Archives: Book Review

Never Split the Difference

If Getting to Yes is the book that teaches you how to negotiate with someone who’s looking for the best outcome in collaboration, the Never Split the Difference is the book you need to read to get better at negotiating in adversarial conditions.

The author has been involved in high stakes hostage negotiations, and uses this experience to distil a series of tactics and techniques you can use in daily life to get better negotiation outcomes.

Through each chapter we start with a scenario from the hostage negotiation world, and then translate that into usable advice, with examples of putting it into practice.

The book encourages you to build rapport quickly by mirroring, using empathy to label the pain of the other side and starting off looking for ‘no’ to gain real commitment to any later ‘yes’. It recommends you to seek “That’s right” to show agreement, and how to discuss what is or isn’t ‘fair’. Finally, it pushes on securing commitment, and also uncovering the ‘unknown unknowns’ that can transform a negotiation when discovered.

It ends with a guide on how to prepare for a negotiation, with steps and sample questions you can tune to your own needs.

This was an interesting read, with some new and updated techniques that are great to add to your toolbox. It very much benefits from familiarity with ‘Getting to Yes’ and other books that are referenced in the text, but it can still be read standalone.

I’d certainly recommend it.

 

 

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Manager as Coach

Manager as Coach is an introduction to the OSCAR coaching model. This is an evolution of the simple GROW model that’s especially useful to coaching in a management context.

The model is broken out to consider the Outcome, Situation, Choices, Actions and Review. The focus on Actions and Review is the main difference for the model when compared to GROW, and this is what slants it towards a more management focused approach. GROW looks at the Coachee’s Will to commit to change, but the Coachee will not necessarily sign up to a firm agreement to make that change.

In OSCAR, Actions and Review build an agreement to both what will be done and how it’s going to be reviewed. This is familiar in style to SMART objective setting, hence the power of this model in a management coaching relationship.

As well as an introduction to the model, the book covers applying it to Coachees in various mindsets. It also walks through different types of relationship that can benefit from coaching, how you can show the value of coaching to an organisation and how you can build a coaching culture.

There are lots of examples spread throughout the book, with case studies and testimonies throughout every chapter. This really helps to bring to life some of the considerations raised in the main text.

The book may be a little bit long in some places, attempting to apply OSCAR to too many situations beyond the core coaching conversation. There’s certainly sections that are less valuable once you’ve picked up the core model, so don’t be afraid to pick and choose your reading after the first few chapters.

Other than that, it’s a worthwhile read for managers new to coaching approaches and is deserving a place on your coaching bookshelf.

 

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is the starting point for anyone who wants to stop and really learn about how we think and make decisions. It’s an incredibly information rich book, it’s certainly not an easy read but it is most definitely a worth while one.

It collects decades of research into how we make decisions, how we consider risk and gain and how we use shortcuts that are sometimes great but can often be terrible.

It starts by discussing System 1 and System 2, two models of thought. System 1 is the hasty and instinctual prone to taking shortcuts and making lazy decisions. System 2 is the more rational, willing to spend effort to make important decisions. Kahneman discusses the differences between these two modes, and shows us when System 1 can make good decisions, and where it can fall down.

We then move on to thinking about Humans and Econs. Traditional economic theory suggests that people always make rational decisions. Kahneman shows us times we may not behave rationally, when we are Humans and not the Econs of rational theory.

Finally, he discusses the differences between the remembering self and experiencing self. In this approach, we see that people are often willing to experience greater overall discomfort if the end of it is more pleasant. We remember the end of the experience more clearly, or we recall the peaks more than the average. It’s a surprising insight.

The book is brilliantly researched, each insight is backed up with rock solid studies that are brilliantly footnoted. Every chapter covers one of these major insights, compressed down into less than a dozen pages. There are regular ‘Speaking of’ sections that give great short practical views into each of the complex topics.

Take the time to drink this book in. Don’t rush through it, but do rush to buy it!

 

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson have just released their latest book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. It’s a collection of micro essays on covering the authors’ thoughts of damaging or short term working practices.

It’s an incredibly quick read, each thought is presented over at most three pages, so it’s easy to rattle through them at speed. Most of them have examples of the described approach and benefits from Basecamp, the company they founded in 1999.

The basic premise is that you can find time to do important work by shutting out distractions, rather than pushing to be the most reactive, always on and always struggling to grow.

Not every piece of advice will be relevant to you, or possible for you to enact (some of the bigger benefits like a four day week can be hard to implement). However, some of them likely will be useful. Cutting down on chat software, setting sensible boundaries and other simple changes can make big differences to what you are able to accomplish, without it feeling crazy.

People rarely do great work while under unreasonable pressure or whilst constantly distracted. This is worth recognising, and this book is certainly a good quick intro to some of these thoughts.


I’m available for coaching opportunities in Central London. Leadership development, especially in a technical organisation or with anyone leading a digital or agile transformation. Connect on LinkedIn to kick-off a discussion.

Crucial Conversations

Vital Smarts’ Crucial Conversations is a classic book on the subject of communication. Its core message is that some conversations are far more important than others, that they may suddenly occur without warning and that if you aren’t prepared for this, it’ll often go badly.

It’s set out much as you may expect, opening up with the basic premise, running through how to recognise what a Crucial Conversation is and when you might be about to enter one. It runs through techniques to succeed, methods to deal with complex situations and finally works through how to secure actions and commitments at the end of a conversation.

The newer edition also covers a series of particularly difficult cases or types of behaviour, dealing with a large number of the possible objections along the lines of “Great ideas, but my specific case doesn’t fit because …”.

Altogether, it’s well written and simple to follow. If you’ve read a lot in this area, then you’ll find the ideas and approaches familiar, but that’s probably because newer books build on them or take them as a starting point.

If all you take away from the book is that some conversations are vital, and that if you can be aware of that then you’ll improve your overall communication and effectiveness. If you can go to the next level, and seek to improve how you build dialogue during those conversations, then you’ll really be taking the value from this writing.


I’m available for coaching opportunities in Central London. Leadership development, especially in a technical organisation or with anyone leading a digital or agile transformation. Connect on LinkedIn to kick-off a discussion.

 

The Coaching Manual

Julie Starr’s book on the required reading list for anyone exploring the Coaching method. It has reached its fourth edition, first released in 2002, it has been revised and updated regularly, and is an excellent guide to the practice and processes of Coaching.

Spread over several chapters, it covers what coaching is, and shows some differences between effective and ineffective methods. It covers the skills of coaching and the barriers you might encounter. Finally, it works through how a coaching session can be put together, and then how to put together a wider coaching engagement spanning multiple sessions.

It’s a very practical guide, well written and split into easily consumable sections. It’s simple to dip in and out for details of ares that are of interest in the moment, but it’s certainly worth reading all the way through.

There are numerous sidebars that encourage you to reflect on what you’ve read, to consider your own practice or to complete a relevant exercise. It’s easy to skip them on a quick read through, but worth returning to those that cover the places you most wish to improve upon, as they will really cement your learning.

There are also hints and tips, practical examples and short summaries scattered throughout the book, all of which can provide useful guidance. The appendix covers a toolkit of useful documents and considerations, and Julie provides a number of web based resources online, which are also extremely valuable.

Overall, this in an excellent reference book, and should be on the shelf of all practising coaches.

Effective Modern Coaching

Miles Downey’s book, Effective Modern Coaching, is the recent update to his 1999 Effective Coaching. It’s a short and punchy introduction to the art of business coaching.

It’s split into four main parts, a description of coaching practice, the models and skills you can apply in coaching, approaches to coaching in the workplace, and a final short section on coaching for genius.

Overall, it’s a good initial introduction to coaching, especially in a business context. It has a couple of really useful ideas, the first is a consideration of the coaching relationship. In this model, Downey refers to the ‘coach’ and the ‘player’. By moving away from the terminology of ‘coachee’, Downey brings the player fully into the relationship as an equal participant rather than a passive recipient. It’s a fundamental recognition of the core of successful coaching, that both sides must be fully invested in the process to ensure a great outcome.

The second is his recognition of the possibility of coaching unlocking the genius inherent in a person. It shows the understanding that all people have it within themselves to excel in an arena, and that one of the major strengths of coaching is that it can help them to recognise that, and to help them find the area to excel, and to discover the path to get there.

If you take nothing else from this book, then those two ideas alone are worth the cost of entry and a place in your coaching library.