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The usual error is assuming people are just like you.
Pace and Kyeli, The Usual Error, Chapter I

This is my first ever book review. The brilliant Pace and Kyeli were awesome enough to give me a copy of the book to read and review, and I’ll do my very best to give them open and honest feedback in return.

This review will be chunked into sections:

The Book, where I try to describe the contents and the premises as objectively as a subjective reader can;

My Views, where I describe my own reactions to the book;

and Related Insightings, where I describe a few situations where I found myself putting these principles into practice.

The Book

The Usual Error: Why We Don’t Understand Each Other and 34 Ways to Make It Better is a title that promises a lot. The book does cover a lot of ground in its 180-odd pages, though.

The contents are divided into five parts: Communication Dynamics, Boundaries, Turning Conflict into Communication, Conflict Resolution, and Positivity. Each part has chapters addressing the issue from different perspectives, all the while keeping in mind the premise: by assuming that others are like us, we constantly make the usual error, and that often leads into miscommunication.

One of the key principles behind every approach the book is honesty. Because we can only ever see things from our own perspective, we need others to help us see what their perspective might look like. If we are being honest about our feelings and thoughts – to ourselves as well as to the other participant of the interaction – we’re better equipped to avoid conflict and miscommunication.

Getting to the root of communicational problems requires awareness and knowledge of what, exactly, is going on in my head at the moment. Fortunately, there are ways of honing these awareness skills introduced in the book as well.

The chapters are peppered with examples of successful or less-than-successful communication situations that  illustrate the concept or point of view under discussion. And while we’re on the topic of illustrations, each chapter has several cartoon illustrations by Martin Whitmore. In other words, the book caters for both the visual and the narrative personality types.

My Views

First of all, I think it took me three days to read the book. Had I had the chance, I would’ve taken a day off to just relish and enjoy the book all in one go. 🙂

Having dabbled in learning about communication for the better part of ten years, most of the phenomena in the book were familiar to me. What I loved about the book, though, was that it gives names, illustrations and explanations to previously fuzzy and/or complicated phenomena.

When it has a name, it’s easier to recognize and maybe, eventually, deal with.

I was especially delighted by the visualizations in the book. I remember several occasions where I was thinking about a complicated communication issue, when a picture from the pages of The Usual Error flashed in my eyes, and I realized this was the issue all along. Or I’d remember a story from the book that curiously resembled the situation I was in.

The approach of the entire book is very practical. At the university, I’m used to reading texts about human interaction and behavior that’s littered with source citations, concept definitions, and  theoretical framing. This is not one of those texts.

At first, I have to admit, it bothered me a bit. Then again, the purpose of this book is radically different from that of scientific articles or books. The aim is not to be a comprehensive representation of the usual error, or projection bias, although it does serve as a comprehensive introduction to different aspects of this phenomenon.

The aim is, as far as I’ve understood, to draw attention to the different kinds of problems that the usual error causes in human communication and to offer tools with which to go about addressing those problems. It’s intended as a workbook, and as such it serves beautifully.

Related Insightings

My process of reviewing The Usual Error had three stages. First, as I already mentioned, I read the book through. Then I gave it a few weeks, let the information simmer on the back burner of my mind, and went about my business as usual. I then picked up the book again to read it through once more before writing the review.

This is when I noticed something interesting. I had started applying several of the principles in the book into my own communication, especially the more confrontational and conflict-ey situations, without realizing it. In other words, I had started to spot my usual errors and do something about them.

Situation one:

I’m upset about something my fiancé has done, I’ve told him what’s wrong, he has apologized. I then start pondering the exact reason why I got so upset, analyzing the behavior out loud. My fiancé hears this as me criticizing him, and gets defensive.

Instead of blaming him for not accommodating my feelings, I pause for a minute, and tell him I’m not talking at him, I’m just trying to clarify my own thoughts, and that his apology has been fully accepted and I’m well on my way to forgiving him. He can now lower his defenses and focus his energy on listening, because he knows I’m not attacking him.

That’s Chapter 2: different communication styles for ya.

Situation two:

I’ve spent the day with my mom, and we’re going to my house for a cup of coffee after a day of shopping. For some reason, everything she says is getting on my nerves. I mean everything. I try my best to keep calm, but my jaw is clenching from the tension of stopping myself from snapping at her.

We’re standing in the elevator, and suddenly I realize I haven’t eaten anything for the past five hours. I tell my mom that I’m sorry I’ve been so cranky, my blood sugar level is low and everything is getting on my nerves right now. When we get home, I make myself a sandwich to go with the coffee. Ta-dah! No more Ms. Crankypants!

Chapter 16: The power of veggie burgers.

Not to mention countless situations where I’ve gotten quite upset about something a friend, a loved one or a casual acquaintance said, until I’ve realized that I assumed something completely different and never communicated it. Ah well, they don’t have a mind reading helmet, either.

Did I mention Pace and Kyeli are publishing this book as an e-book on their website for free, chapter by chapter? That’s how awesome they are. I love my paperback version, though –  they’ve actually written “Kiitos“, Finnish for Thank You, along with their autographs, even though they probably don’t speak a word of the language. That’s how awesome they are. 🙂

Thank you for reading, hope this helps you make up your mind as to whether or not it’s your kind of book! And, as always, until next time – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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