walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_In Mixed Company_, J. Dan Rothwell, Fifth edition

I bought this a few years ago (not able to find the Amazon order record, so either I'm doing the search wrong or I bought it somewhere else), when I was serving as first an alternate then a Trustee for a library. The process that led to me participating in the board, and the experiences I had previously had on my condo board (3 years, and then another year later on, stepping in to replace someone who moved -- you would think I would learn) convinced me I should make an effort to study communications and working in small groups in the hopes that I would enjoy the process more should I be so foolish as to do so again.

I'm perfectly happy with the _outcomes_ I have, in terms of what the group accomplishes during the period of my participation. I just find it a really painful to participate. I have more recently reframed this as not a skill problem on my part, but a disability. That is, I _can_ do it (I can even do it well), but it hurts, and I need to respect that, and respect my limitations.

With this new frame in mind, I made one last effort to read this book, which I found profoundly disappointing (it's way up on the list of textbooks if you're trying to study this kind of thing) and annoying. And I still don't care for it. Textbooks in general tend to belabor the obvious and then mention in passing something really interesting and give the reader no easy way to pursue it further. So that's frustrating. In the "Closer Look" sections, the author frequently refers to "A friend of mine" (I sort of wish I had the e-version, rather than the p-version, so I could search on that phrase) and the experience they had, and some of those stories are the sort of thing that make you think maybe the friend was misrepresenting their experience, or that the wrong moral was drawn. In one case, it's not that the boss was a bad leader, per se, it's that he wasn't actually working. At all. Like, not present. A better "bad leader" example would have been someone who was actually trying to do the job, but doing it terribly. Then there are just odd examples, like the I-statement example.

"2. Make your descriptions specific, not vague. "I feel weird when you act inappropriately around my boss," is an inexact description. ... "I feel awkward and embarrassed when you tell my boss jokes that ridicule gays and women" is much more specific."

Gaaah! Why is the boss in this example? "I feel awkward and embarrassed when you tell jokes that ridicule gays and women.", maybe, but I don't think this should actually be about descriptive communication. I think maybe there should be an action component here. Like, "I am not okay with jokes that ridicule gays and women. What is your plan to stop yourself when you feel the impulse to tell them?" Seriously. Book's copyright is 2004. That is some creepy shit, right there. It should have been in the "Control versus Problem Orientation" part, or maybe the "Strategy versus Spontaneity" which Rothwell interprets as straightforwardness, directness and honesty.

There's actually a huge amount of good information in this text. Like this:

"This doesn't mean that you can never raise your voice, express frustration, or disagree with other group members. Conflict can remain constructive even when discussion becomes somewhat contentious." That is an awesome and helpful thing to point out in the context of how to determine whether an interaction is constructive or destructive conflict. However, the rest of the discussion is surprisingly empty of discussion (beyond are you doing juvenile stuff to win, getting physically aggressive, etc.) of _how_ to tell that you're heading into destructive conflict -- and we know a lot about self-analysis of physiological indicators and that those can be helpful.

Every page or chapter I sample, I run into this problem of much to like -- but crucial things that are missing and poorly chosen/presented examples.

I want to like it. But I cannot. I've tried. YMMV. I think it should be possible to learn a lot from this book, particularly people who have never had good success (outcome or pleasurable experience) in group efforts.

This is technically NOT a book review, because I did not read the entire book.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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