Better Conversations Book Review

Jim Knight’s Better Conversations: Coaching ourselves and each other to be more credible, caring, and connected (Corwin, 2016) is an insightful and engaging study of the art of communication. Jim draws on ideas from two of his previous books, Instructional Coaching (2007) and Unmistakeable Impact (2011), in addition to those of some of his favourite authors who have written about communication. Those familiar with Jim’s work will notice how the ideas he presents are closely aligned with his Partnership Principles of equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, praxis and reciprocity.

The first chapter of the book addresses the need to focus on improving our conversation skills. Jim says that we are facing a ‘radical brokenness’ in communication in that we are finding it harder to communicate and connect even though we have so many different ways of communicating in a digital age. There is a polarisation of views where divided camps are shouting each other down. Think climate change, Brexit or politics in general. People are not showing respect for others’ views and are quick to interrupt when others are speaking

The book makes the argument that improved communication skills are central to school improvement. For example, when teachers actively listen to students, work on developing trust, when they ask better questions and foster dialogue with their students, then students feel safer and are more open to learning. Furthermore, better conversations improve teacher collaboration, encourage more sharing of ideas and lead to improved team meetings where colleagues listen to each other and engage in meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual trust, support and respect.

While Jim acknowledges there is a place for ‘top-down’ communication at times (for example if someone needs to be taught a specific task), a better conversation is one “where I position the person I’m speaking to as a full partner rather than an ’audience’.”

The book is based on the premise that, to be an authentic communicator, we have to know what we believe about communication and have to act in a way that is consistent with those beliefs. Jim introduces us to six beliefs and ten habits for holding better conversations and recommends strategies to help us adopt these habits in our interactions with others. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading from authors mentioned in the chapter. For those interested in more guided reflection on the ideas from the book, Jim has another publication, written with Jennifer Ryschon Knight and Clinton Carlson, The Reflection Guide to Better Conversations (Corwin, 2015).

The Better Conversations book is essential reading for anyone who is interested in improving their communication skills, no matter what their level of experience, from graduate teacher to experienced master coach. As Jim Knight says, effective communication is an essential skill for a fulfilled life. So if we can improve our communication skills just a little bit, we can improve our quality of life, both professionally and personally.