Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations
Wakefield Hare after reading Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson

Crucial Conversations is a child of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Crucial Conversations does a deep dive into applying the 7 habits into our dialogue.

Crucial Conversations' main premise/question, "What do I really want out of this conversation?", is intuitive yet powerful. People rarely exert the will or know-how to slow down enough to consider that question when they try to dialogue. So our conversations end up careening out of control and we all walk away worse off.

And if we will believe it, it is actually our fault we lose control! We sabotage our desires by not slowing down long enough to engage other people thoughtfully.

It is true, we do not control the people we engage with. So when they don't act or speak like we desire we are tempted to believe we have no options. "This person's behavior is keeping me from what I want and I have no control....I'm a victim." Does that mean we have no options? Or are there ways we can speak and behave that empower us to get what we want out of even very difficult situations? Crucial Conversations' theory is that we do have power.

The question above ("what do I really want?") is the one I will keep in the front of mind after this read, but the book actually has numerous tools to help deploy in our conversations and attempts at dialogue. Most of these tools have acronyms (ABC, STATE, CRIB), and the authors have helped by turning the tools into a Crucial Conversations Model that would be easier to commit to memory than words. However, the only way these tools become powerful is if one practices them. Over and over and over.

The most effective practice would be role playing. However, role-playing makes most so uncomfortable, they won't try it. However, if you find that you have multiple relationships that cause you stress instead of adding joy to your life, isn't the practice and the role-playing worth a shot? Is there any chance you see no positive difference in those relationships?

So Many Applications

It was difficult for me to keep my brain focused on particular applications of the book's tools. My mind kept hopping from applications in my family, to my church family, to my role as President of the Chamber of Commerce, to my client interactions, to Young Life leaders, to Young Life students, to my community, to my friendships.

If I had more time, I would reread the book at least a few times with the goal of focusing on one particular area of application each time. I'd start with my family, because they are the closest to me physically and emotionally. Then I would read the book again thinking about client interactions. My hope is that I can broadly and effectively apply the tools to those areas after reading the book only once. We'll see how it goes!

Should you read?

This book has principles that can be applied to everyone and every organization and so I would recommend it to all. I would love to see a kids version of Crucial Conversations meant for kids between 6 and 12 years old. But parents modeling will be the best teaching tool our kids can have to help them learn effectiveness in their conversations and relationships.

As a leader in a few organizations (Young Life, Church, Chamber of Commerce) I will strongly encourage others in those organizations to read or listen to this book as well.

The toughest challenge to apply these principles will be truly dying to our own desires and genuinely wanting to see others' desires gratified. Most are simply unwilling to want that and it will take a change of heart to get there. But what if this book is the beginning of changing our heart? Seeing that our hearts are actually the problem instead of others?

In my experience, I have often been my own worst enemy keeping me from the fullest and most gratified life I was created for. Everyday I come to believe that a bit more, and these types of books certainly speed that process.

If you're ready for that type of journey, then move Crucial Conversations towards the top of your reading list.

Book Review: Happy Money

More money → more choices → more happiness. Right? But what about “mo money mo problems”? Or what about this:

What is the truth about if money can make us happy and if so, how? That’s what Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending addresses.

I had heard one of the book's authors, Elizabeth Dunn, speak at XYPN Live last September. She was the best speaker of the conference, providing numerous “that’s interesting” and “I’ve never thought of it that way” moments. Her book is simply an expansion of those same thoughts.

Does money buy happiness?
Yes. That’s it….yes, money does buy happiness. It’s true and research backs it up, and my own experience backs it up, and it’s likely yours does as well.

BUT is happiness subject to the law of diminishing returns? That’s economist speak that says more money eventually does not buy more happiness. In fact, it doesn’t take long to run out of space to buy happiness. How long? Research says that it’s rare to increase “happiness” with more money after your annual income reaches $75,000. Here’s the research if interested.

All of those findings are actually established in the prologue of the book….really, all within the first few pages. The rest of the book argues there are ways to make spending decisions that will make us happier, even after our annual income goes north of $75,000.

Happy Money lays out 5 ways to spend money research suggests will make us happiest. The book doesn’t keep you in suspense or drag out the revelation of those 5 ways. It tells you the 5 ways in the table of contents, and then again in the prologue, and then uses the chapters to elaborate on each. Here are the 5 strategies and the meat of the book:

Buy Experiences
In a culture of plastic, throw-away goods this point seems obvious. But the goods the authors emphasize aren’t plastic toys. The authors point out that bigger, nicer houses and bigger, nicer cars will deliver less happiness than if you bought minimal living quarters and minimal transportation and used the extra money to do awesome things.

Do awesome things, don’t buy awesome things. What you buy will always deteriorate and diminish, but what you do will live on as a cherished memory, that actually gets even more valuable as time passes. How cool is that….memories are an appreciating asset!

Do my experiences with clients and my own life confirm this suggestion? Absolutely. Bigger houses and, to a lesser extent, nicer cars have rarely satisfied my clients, and those two items are usually the double whammy that makes American family's budget so stinkin’ tight! Those families then feel budget pressure in all areas of their life, especially their work and the pressure created to make more money.

And another great part about buying experiences is you don’t have to find a place to store them when their finished….unless you count the videos and pictures (but that’s what Google Photos or the iCloud is for).

Make it a Treat
It’s easy to believe there can be too much of a good thing. I still remember fondly reading The Chocolate Touch in elementary school. In the book, a kid loves chocolate so much, soon everything he touches soon turns to chocolate. The treat becomes a curse.

Some of our favorite things aren’t giving us the satisfaction they could because we indulge ourselves too often with them, says the research. Those things might include drinking a fancy coffee, driving a nice (or really, really nice) car, eating a nice meal, drinking soda, and more. So what’s the answer?

Simple. Take advantage of these treats on a limited basis and your satisfaction with them will go up, producing more happiness for you.

Scarcity makes anything more desirable. I see this often with my children. When there’s 10 kids lined up to say, take a go-kart ride, there’s much more desire to take the ride simply because 9 other kids also want to do so. Putting the kid on a go-kart with no one else lined up waiting for the experience doesn’t take away all the fun, but it does change the experience.

We have control over making any treat more scarce in our life, and can manipulate our own ability to enjoy our “treats” more fully.

Buy Time
Carl Richards, in his book The One Page Financial Plan, makes the point that we are always exchanging 4 resources for one another: money, energy, skills, and time. In Happy Money, the authors suggest we need to be more eager to exchange our money for more time, particularly for the tasks we dislike.

Some easy examples are to pay someone to do your house cleaning if you hate it. Have someone else do your grocery shopping, or almost any task you despise for you via websites like Instacart or Fiverr or TaskRabbit.

I think this principle applies the best when thinking about how we work and how much time we spend working. You can’t buy time at work like you can when you hire someone to mow your lawn, but you can sacrifice compensation to find better work.

As a financial planner, I have come to believe that the single most impactful change a family needs to consider is how they spend their “working” hours. And yes, it will likely mean a decrease in money, but maybe not, and maybe not for long. And even if it’s a permanent decrease in comp, is it possible it’s still worth it if it makes you….happier??

It’s an extremely important point that this book doesn’t focus on because they are focusing on where we spend our money, but the principles apply. Sara and I reflect on how we’re are spending our working hours at least weekly and if you aren’t doing the same, I highly recommend it.

Pay Now, Consume Later
The pain of paying is real, and it can actively steal joy away from the things or experiences we buy. The solution? Separate the payment from the pleasure.

Actually, many people in the US are already well-versed in this. They swipe their credit card, they get their goods, and they don’t have to worry about payment for weeks! But we all know that’s not a winning strategy.

How about an alternative? What if we pay for things well in advance, that way by the time we experience our purchase, the pain of paying is well behind us, almost forgotten? Research says this is the answer to more happy spending.

An example could include a concert ticket purchased months in advance of the show, or a cake you pre-ordered from a student’s fundraiser at school.

I saw this applied most evidently by friends describing their trip to Walt Disney World. My friends loved their trip and gave me some tips on how I should plan my own family Disney trip. They insisted I had to get a Disney meal plan because it made it so much more enjoyable to eat meals and get treats in the parks knowing you didn’t have to shell out the $8 for a Mickey shaped ice cream sandwich.

That family actually did have to shell out the $8, and much more, for their food at the park, but they paid it months before when planning for the trip, so they had much more enjoyment at the parks.

For the record, I still don’t recommend getting the meal plan at Disney because you’ll end up spending way more on food than is necessary for a great time at Disney parks, and you’ll end up consuming way more calories than you want to. But don’t let a curmudgeon like me get in the way of what science says equals the happiest way to spend your money!

Invest in Others
The final strategy for happy spending is to give your money away! The authors admit how counter-intuitive this seems, but their own lives and the research once again back up the principle. And I will wholeheartedly attest the principle of giving money away works like a miracle (impossible to explain, but has evident power).

The researchers mentioned in the book studied the effects of giving in multiple ways and found that being charitable with money has a whole host of benefits that are both physiological and physical. The only type of giving that wasn’t very beneficial was forced giving (where someone was required, say by an employer or a parent, to give).

As a person who believes God’s Word is true, it’s really enjoyable to see Biblical teachings confirmed by research and validated by our experiences in the world. This is definitely a point where a Christian could step in and say, “I can trust God when he asks me to trust Him, even to do a hard thing like give away my possessions.”

Simple Ideas, Powerful Application
Any one of the five strategies above could lead to significant increases in your life satisfaction and well being, a.k.a. your happiness. The book is fun and easy to read and multiple stories and studies are shared to prove each strategy.

One word of caution from my perspective and I’ll put it in the form of a question: Is happiness really your goal in life? If we did everything this book suggested in all 5 areas, and the actions indeed made us happy, would we be satisfied? Unfortunately, I don’t think we would be.

What if you followed all these principles and life was going great, and you’re very happy, but then your spouse gets diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer? Or the economy crashes and you lose your job? Or your child’s car gets hit by a distracted driver? These things are out of your control, yet they can take all your happiness in an instant.

In the past, I would have claimed that all I want is to be happy. That’s all most people want. The goal for myself though has shifted away from happiness, and onto lasting peace.

When someone has peace they are often going to have accompanying happiness. But happiness isn’t required for peace. And all of those mentioned nightmare scenarios can come, and they would steal our happiness, but they’ll never take our peace….if our peace is invested in something greater than the resources and experiences of this world.

Granted, this book could be called Peaceful Money and all the applications would still hold true (and they probably would have sold less copies). Almost the entire book agrees with Scripture on how we use our resources, particularly the investing in others strategy.

The only knock on Happy Money is the epilogue. If you read it you’ll figure out quickly why it’s difficult to digest.

The ideas of the book are strong and I do recommend reading Happy Money, however if you just want to know the key points to focus on you can get away with reading the prologue.

Always remember that the choices you make with your money, and all your resources, matter, and if you don’t have peace, or happiness, then seek help because peace is always being offered to you….freely.

Book Review: Thou Shall Prosper

Money is a great way to measure if you’re a valuable human being. That’s my controversial one line summary of Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book, Thou Shall Prosper.

Why I read this book

I have been going through as many of Dave Ramsey’s “library” recommendations as possible, and Thou Shall Prosper has been on my reading list for at least 3 years. The title alone is intriguing, but it’s usually refreshing to get a different cultural perspective on a familiar topic. I’m not sure how closely Rabbi Lapin’s thoughts on money align with Jewish culture at large, but he definitely gives fresh perspective.

The substance

Rabbi Lapin uses ten chapters to give ten commandments for making money. Some chapters are more “rich” than others, but all were worthwhile. This book is very philosophical (the author would say spiritual) but it is also highly practical. At the end of each chapter, there are bullet point steps to take to fulfill the money making commandment. The major philosophical argument is that business gets a horrible wrap from the world at large, specifically the media and those with socialistic political views. Rabbi Lapin makes an effective case that not only is business not bad, but it is the very epitome of goodness, something valuable. How is business so good? Simply because business transactions always involve at least two parties who voluntarily exchange one resource for another. When those exchanges are made, it makes at least those two parties better off than they were before. There are times when there is a winner and a loser in a transaction, but most times there are multiple winners. Everyone is often better off when exchanges, or trades, happen. Rabbi Lapin says most people don’t succeed in business because their minds and hearts won’t allow them to, because we’ve been conditioned to believe business is evil.

YOU are in business

Before you start thinking this is only a book for business owners, hear this plea from Rabbi Lapin:
Almost everyone is in business. You have your time, skills, experience, personality, and some other attributes to market. You have customers, clients, supervisors, employers, associates, bosses, or patients to please. You many not realize it, but you probably even have a board of directors. It consists of you as chairperson, perhaps your spouse, and maybe some of your trusted friends with whom you discuss your professional career. These people are also unpaid members of the board of You, Inc.
That’s an empowering idea if you can live like you are the CEO and President of You, Inc. Not only that, but it may be one of the most secure ideas you ever let your mind chew on. Because if You, Inc. has one customer generating revenue (your employer), then that puts You, Inc. in a very precarious position. If anything disrupts that one “customer” of You, Inc., all of You, Inc. could be going under. The alternative is to diversify You, Inc.’s prospects a bit and take more control over your life and money as opposed to leaning heavily or entirely on an employer. This book gave me a few different nuggets like that which shifted my thinking.

A distorted view of money

My biggest knock on Thou Shall Prosper is the book’s tendency to elevate money to a very high status. Like dangerously high. However, Rabbi Lapin would classify my concerns as part of the negative conditioning this world has laid on business and money. But as I examine my own experience and Christian Scripture, particularly the Gospels, I don’t see money as having a primary, or even a secondary, role in discovering the fullness of life we believe God created us for. Granted, Rabbi Lapin doesn’t have the Gospels of Christ as part of his Holy texts. But I do, and I think Jesus’s words and life give us the greatest example of how to realize full life and complete joy. The view of money espoused is simply too high. Instead, I think a neutral money philosophy is the key. Money is not an ends and it is not good in itself, but it is also not evil. Rabbi Lapin does point to an intense focus on serving and creating value for people as the road to monetary prosperity. And even encourages to not treat people as a means to material wealth. But despite those admonitions, the book does elevate money above people. The good news is that under this philosophy, even if someone’s end goal is to accumulate as much wealth as possible, they will have to treat people really well and create a lot of value for other people to get there. As for you and me, I believe we have to relentlessly emphasize that money, time, and our other gifts are all given to serve and love people. And merely using people to enhance our money, time, or other gifts will always leave us discontent. Finally, Rabbi Lapin does very little to reassure those who have chosen to serve others with their lives and not be monetarily rewarded. The most obvious example in my life is Sara, my wife, who has chosen to dedicate her time serving her husband and children by doing full-time homemaking. Another example as the numerous folks who volunteer their efforts and take significantly reduced salaries to do work they love or feel is valuable. In all of those cases, Rabbi Lapin’s money philosophy belittles those who have sacrificed in such ways. Money is not the best way to measure the value of a human, or human productivity. 

Recommendation

I recommend Thou Shall Prosper, but not in isolation. I believe someone whose primary money philosophy is taken from the pages of this book will not clearly see how God designed us to use the resources and economies of this world. Get other perspectives, particularly from the Bible and then test them for yourself.

Book Review: The Millionaire Next Door

I am quick to play the victim card in my head. When something doesn’t go my way or I don’t get something I want, I quickly find the outside forces I can blame on why I didn’t get my way. Most people suffer from focusing on the external forces rocking our world as opposed to the internal feelings, motivations, and preferences that we actually have control over. External conditioning (how forces outside ourselves shape our decisions) is the theme of The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. The premise is that many people who have wealth, or what the authors call PAWs (prodigious accumulators of wealth) don’t live like most think they would. Basically, PAWs avoid high dollar luxuries and live frugally, and it’s that very nature that made them wealthy in the first place. Contrast that to the UAWs (under accumulators of wealth). These folks may have incomes north of 6 figures, but ultimately, they accumulate very little wealth because of their spending habits. They do what comes natural…they spend…a lot. Granted, that spending allows them to experience some very nice vacations, some very name brand clothing, some sweet vehicles, and some very large living spaces. However, it does not secure their financial future. If these high earners were to have a disruption in their income, many could not go longer than a year before they would be completely broke and some much less time than that. The contrast between the PAWs and the UAWs takes up the entire first half of the book. Then the authors took a shift that surprised me. In much of the latter half of the book, it turns into a parenting book! The authors don’t focus on the contrast of PAWs and UAWs children. Instead, they focus more on what happens to children that causes them to develop into a PAW or a UAW as adults.  Being a PAW does not guarantee your children will pick up on the principles that helped their parents accumulate wealth. In fact, research shows that children who receive substantial financial support from their parents often never develop the ability to sustain themselves. They survive on what the authors call Economic Outpatient Care (dependency on financial gifts and support from the folks). It is reasonable and seemingly virtuous for a parent to want to help their kid, especially for something such as advancing education via college. But the research showed that large financial gifts to kids can be incredibly dangerous to a child’s ability to become financially independent if such gifts are given before the child has already proven independence. Perhaps some parents prefer the children to be indefinitely dependent, because with dependence comes a level of control that many parents desire to maintain over their children, or children-in-law, and later grandchildren. Personally, I want to raise independent kids. And my guess is you do too. Not because I don’t like to keep my kids close or want them to come around often as adults. I certainly do! But I can’t guarantee how long I or their mother will be around. If something does separate us from our children, I expect my kids to mourn. But not  because they are fearful of how they’ll find provision. My take is this: our children have to experience pain in their lives so seeds of love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control can be planted deep within their souls. Powerful experiences are the only thing that can get those seeds deep enough into our children’s hearts to make them take root without our constant supervision or intervention. Those powerful experiences often come with pain. This book shows the difference financial discomfort can have on our kids. Allow your child to know what work is required to be financial successful, or what it takes to earn and pay for a college degree. They deserve that from you! But it’s not enough to limit the painful experiences to money. Our children need to learn the same when facing relational turmoil or when searching for answers to the universe’s biggest questions. Before accusing me of masochism, know that I HATE pain personally. I fear pain much more than death. And I HATE even worse the thought of my (or others’) children enduring pain. But I would much rather have my children go through difficult experiences when I am there to comfort and catch them. My heart breaks for the kids who are sheltered from pain/sacrifice all their lives only to get punched in the gut by the world once they leave home and feel completely unequipped to pick themselves back up. I didn’t expect to get fired up about parenting when I read this book! But our children’s lives are the legacy that can be far more rewarding and enduring that our net worth. So it’s worth learning what other financially successful people have done to liberate (or handicap) their children. Regarding this book and the recommendation to read it…I haven’t read enough other books to classify The Millionaire Next Door as a must read. But I think if you find you and your family taking your cues from the world instead of making decisions based on your priorities, including spending and savings decisions, than this book will be of great value. Finally, if you need some financial empowerment, this book can deliver. The case is strongly made that your ability to accumulate wealth rests solely on your shoulders and your ability to make wise spending (and earning) decisions. If you can do that, financial independence is within reach for you. And for all people…that’s news worth sharing.