The theme of my latest reading rampage has been on the management of conflict and crisis. Deborah Tannen’s You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation kicked off this non-fiction frenzy.  Tannen provides a sociolinguist’s insight into the sometimes volatile world of mother-daughter communication.  This book was appealing because my own mother drives me nuts — a feeling that, I’m assured, is entirely mutual.  (Hi, Mom!)  I think I’ve finally got her to stop inspecting me through her bifocals like I’m some sort of new species of insect, which has improved matters greatly.  Yet sometimes in our interactions I still feel like I’ve been handed a script and I have to play the role I’ve been cast in whether I want to or not.  Tannen talks about this phenomenon in her book — along with the Big Three critiques:  hair (“You did that to your hair on purpose?”), clothing (“You’re wearing that?”), and weight (“You lost two pounds? That’s great, you should keep it up.”).  Unlike some authors in academia,  Tannen writes in an accessible and friendly style.  That’s not to say she “dumbs down” the material.  Instead, she supplies numerous examples from transcripts of conversations to illustrate the more abstract linguistic concepts. She also provides specific strategies to help the reader step out of a conflict and analyze what went wrong.  We don’t always have to read the script we’ve been handed. It’s within our power to change the path that conversations take…of course that’s a lot easier said than done sometimes.

Next up is Rudy Giuliani’s political autobiography Leadership.  Political autobiography is not my usual reading fare. I’m the sort of person who likes to finish what I start, so it’s with shame I confess that I’ve attempted and abandoned Bill Clinton’s My Life and Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.  I managed to make it through Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, but that was a feat of sheer determination utterly devoid of literary joy. Maybe I just needed a book written by a good, hardy Republican.  I probably just needed more drama — and Giuliani delivered. He began with a personal account of the events that took place on 9/11 and the aftermath of that crisis.  The writing was vivid and intense and captivating. From there he went backwards to describe his career in law, his personal and professional challenges, his mistakes, his mistress, his fight with prostrate cancer, his philosophy, his politics, and the stuff in his career he got right.  This is a man who knows how to get stuff accomplished. It’s a beautiful thing.  And he certainly has some interesting tales to tell my favorite was the one in which he had an uninvited Yasser Arafat thrown out of a private party.  Nevermind the Audacity of Hope…how about The Audacity of Principle?  In the midst of all the stories, he gave some great practical tips you can apply to your own path. His intellect, fiesty spirit, and love of words shined through every page.  I loved it.

And finally, to complete the trinity of crisis, conflict, and communication, I finished the book that found me on a vacation in Colorado  – Taking Charge of Organizational Conflict: A Guide to Managing Anger and Confrontation by David Cowan.   I could have done without the first four chapters of this book, which lay out the sources, dynamics, and nature of conflicts. (They bored me silly.) The last four chapters were meaty and filled with good information and strategies related to listening and engaging in dialogue, managing confrontations, and mediating conflict.  Good – and timely – stuff.

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