Book Review – The Four Conversations by Jeffery Ford and Laurie Ford

Lately, I have become fascinated with the questions words:


We use those queries to navigate the world. Dan Roam showed us a great example of that in The Back of the Napkin by connecting those questions with natural pictures you should draw to answer them (page 141 is worth the entire price of his book and there is a new, expanded edition of TBotN coming out this week).

Jeffrey and Laurie Ford did the same thing in The Four Conversations but through the lens of management and with the interchanges that should be taking place in the workplace.

The Fords believe conversation can be classified into four types. Initiative conversations set the vision and direction, like John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech that committed putting men on the moon. If initiative conversations are about what, when, and why, understanding discussions answer the who and the how. These conversations ground individuals at the start of a project by laying out the roles they will play, and reinforce the value of the initiative. Understanding conversations do not create action, however; that’s the purpose of performance conversations: ask that something be done and obtain a promise for completion. Closure conversations mark an ending and create the opportunity for new beginnings.

The authors also point out that we favor some kinds of discussion. Most of us overuse understanding conversation thinking we need to spend extra time getting buying, when managers would get better results with a balanced and intentional approach to the conversations we use with reports.

Reducing tardiness on projects comes from using all four types of conversation effectively. Closure conversations heal wounds. Interrogating excuses through performance discussions can reveal whether individuals did everything they could. Altering the rate of progress toward a goal is as simple as increasing the frequency and the magnitude of what you ask for.

“Of course.” is what I kept thinking as I read the book. The Four Conversations is a good book for new managers and even better book for long time managers, as they’ll easily recognize the power of the conversations prescribed.

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