Cover for I Never Thought of It That Way by Monica Guzman

This is a curious book. On the one hand, it is a pithy self-help book, riddled with acronyms and buzzwords, and continuously padded with “we’ll talk about that in a later chapter” and “like we talked about in a previous chapter”. On the other hand, it is an effortless and engrossing read. Ironically, Guzmán’s conversational tone betrays her professional expertise. Here is a journalist of high caliber; someone who is experienced and expert at talking to anyone.

Guzmán has written an excellent guide to a deteriorating skill, conversation. At its heart, this is nothing more than an analysis and instructional manual on how to talk to another person. It’s not the only way to converse, but the fact that Guzmán has started with the most difficult scenario for this task, talking to someone with whom you fervently disagree, is significant. This is a true test of conversational skill; I would posit that this is the only meaningful measure of it.

Guzmán has many stories to tell, both from her personal and professional life. Examples abound and her tone is, appropriately, conversational. The great strength of the stories and lessons Guzmán brings to us is that they are actionable. Conversation is a skill. If you practice correctly, you will improve. Guzmán provides a clear picture of what to do and how to do it better.

There are echoes and mentions of other models and research, Crucial Conversations, values bias, and the like, but Guzmán’s approach feels more organic, more grounded. If there is a weakness to her lessons, it is the taxonomic analysis of the process: the acronyms, the buzzwords. These feel forced, more useful for analysis than practical application, but Guzmán keeps them in their place; labeling without belaboring.

The wisdom in this book is telling by what it omits. Guzmán makes little mention of misinformation, of deception, of being wrong. This is not a book about winning or being right or even being factually correct; it doesn’t address all problems. This is a book about conversing, and it delivers its message with clarity and humanity.