Unexpected Books For Musicians: Crucial Conversations

I read a lot. For fun, escape, learning, self- and professional-development, and plain curiosity. Many of the books I read have unknown, unexpected, or unintended applications for musicians. If they do, I’ll let you know about them here.

The Book

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High was written by New York bestselling authors and international corporate consultants Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. It was published initially in 2002 by McGraw-Hill, and updated edition was released in 2012.

Why I Read It

Effective communication is a skill I highly value in my personal, professional, and creative life. As a social worker in a domestic violence program, conversations with clients, employees, co-workers, and others are often emotional. The stakes are high. I had a really challenging conversation coming up – on a topic I’d never addressed before – and I was a bit panicked despite my many years of experience talking with people professionally. I needed to communicate clearly, demonstrating fairness and compassion while setting strong boundaries. I did some research and found Crucial Conversations.

In A Nutshell Summary

The authors of Crucial Conversations claim that when you’re in a discussion where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong you have three choices:

  • You can avoid the crucial conversation and suffer the consequences;
  • You can handle the crucial conversation badly and suffer the consequences; or
  • You can effectively have the crucial conversation and reap the benefits.

Since most people are apt to avoid hard conversations or fumble through them, we’re unfortunately familiar with the consequences to our self-esteem and relationships.

Crucial Conversations teaches you techniques for mastering these types of conversations and what to do when things don’t go as expected. The seven outlined steps to mastering crucial conversations encourage introspection, empathy, and – importantly – action. The steps are:

  1. Start with Heart (stay focused on what you really want)
  2. Learn to Look (notice when emotional or physical safety is at risk)
  3. Make It Safe (make it safe to talk about almost anything)
  4. Master My Stories (stay in dialogue when you’re angry, scared, or hurt)
  5. STATE My Path (speak persuasively, not abrasively by sharing your facts, telling your story, asking for others’ paths, talking tentatively, and encouraging testing)
  6. Explore Others’ Paths (listen when others blow up or clam up)
  7. Move to Action (turn crucial conversations into action and results)

The authors provide a variety of relatable personal and professional scenarios which help the reader to see how it would work (and sound) in reality.

What Musicians Will Get From It

Yeah, this book sounds a little hokey. Admittedly, if you’re not interested in learning communication and interpersonal skills, it’s going to be a little boring. But, hey! you can get a lot out of it. Crucial Conversations provides very useful, easy-to-understand concepts and easy-to-use techniques that help in a variety of situations.

Why would a musician want to read it? What artist-specific benefits might you gain? Musicians have crucial conversations (discussions where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong) all of the time with lots of people and in lots of contexts:

  • Bandmates. Disagreements about work ethic, band trajectory, or overall sound?
  • Venues. Concerns about booking, guarantees, or marketing?
  • Managers or Agents. Conflicting ideas or priorities? Issues with payment?
  • Family Members. Competing demands and needs? Misunderstandings?
  • Business colleagues, co-workers, friends, press contacts, and more. Something not sitting right with you?

The concepts and techniques learned from this book will help you prepare for these conversations and effectively handle them so you’re more likely to get what you need out of the conversation while maintaining and even fostering healthy relationships.

Top TakeAway for Musicians

Photo by Trevor Richards.

There are a lot of tips, techniques, and ideas in Crucial Conversations that are applicable for musicians. The top takeaway, in my opinion, is “learning to look.”

Chapter 4 of Crucial Conversations is “Learn to Look: How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk.” The authors guide us through self-assessment of our typical communication style.

  • Are you prone to silence? Do you mask your feelings with sarcasm or sugarcoating? Do you avoid sensitive subjects? Do you withdraw when the conversation goes deep? Do you know how to identify when others are doing this and know how to keep the conversation going effectively?
  • Or, are you prone to violence? Do you control conversations by coercing others to your way of thinking or dominating the conversation? Do you label people or ideas so they can be dismissed as a stereotype? Do you attack by belittling or threatening? Do you know how to identify when others are doing this and know how to keep the conversation going safely?
  • What happens when you’re under stress, though? Even if you’re prone to one style or another, when you’re under stress things may change. This is important to know.

You’ll learn more about both of these typical communication styles, assess your personal communication style, and perhaps begin to better understand why you’re prone to this style of communicating. Once you have this self-awareness, you’ll be able to better manage yourself – and others – in conversation.

Top Throwaway for Musicians

Some of the examples in Crucial Conversations are very “corporate” and unless you’re also in that arena, it will feel irrelevant or exceptionally corny. I preferred the more personal examples (dealing with friends, family members, and co-workers) and just rolled my eyes at the more corporate examples.

Recommended For Musicians

The concepts and skills taught in Crucial Conversations can be helpful to everyone, but I recommend it to musicians who:

  • Know they have some hard conversations coming up and want some extra support to handle them effectively.
  • Struggle with clear communication, setting and holding strong boundaries, and are prone to avoiding important conversations.
  • Like learning about effective communication and interpersonal skills for self- or professional-development.
  • Are trying to communicate better and more safely in order to get what they want in a respectful way.

If you read the book, let me know what you think!

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Friendly reminder: Of Music and Mind content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the assistance of qualified providers (such as some of those found on the Resources page) with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions.