"I spoke in absolutes, only pointed out facts that supported my view,..." explains a participant in a failed conversation in an example in the beginning of chapter 4. He was saying what he did wrong--why the conversation failed (though he explains that this happened because his boss provoked him first).
If you consider a book a conversation, it is one-sided. The author(s) speak to you and, with the exception of the reviews we give it, we don't get to speak back. I read this book, like many (as I noticed reading other's reviews) because it was given to me as an assignment. There's a power imbalance right there to begin with which reminds me of the earlier example about buying this book for another, saying "You'll love this, especially the parts that I've underlined for you." This is meant to be an obvious bad example and yet it is a common way we are introduced to this book, minus, perhaps the underlining. It is a book that speaks in absolutes and only points out arguments supporting its point of view.
Here, I imagine the author(s) following the system they propose. Like the example of the CEO trying to get employees to sign on to cost cutting when challenged with what looked like hypocrisy, admitting that the issue needs to be addressed, (this book is made up mainly of examples) the author(s) admit they were giving the program the hard sell. They apologize and explain that in addition to me there are many other readers who respond well to that approach, that their book is in fact a best seller. (More than 500,000 copies sold, boasts the blurb on the cover.) They can say that their editor(s) assure them that this aggressive self-promoting style (the first sentence is "This is a breakthrough book.") that this is one of the reasons why it was so successful. That, perhaps they lost track of what is really important--giving their readers the tools for talking when stakes are high--and instead trying to make the maximum impact on the book reading public--which, they will admit might undercut their message but, had they not done so, their important lessons would never have had the wide audience it needs to make a difference in the world. In fact, had they not done so, I probably would never have heard of it, much less be reviewing it. In the end, these proven marketing techniques, though not my personal cup of tea, are why their ideas are part of the public conversation.
After starting off like this, I was surprised to find that the rest of the book (I wrote the above only a third of the way in) was actually quite good. They really did give the tools they promised and though some were, at least to me, obvious, not all of them were. I'm glad I continued instead of abandoning this book but it could easily turned out differently. I advise you therefore to skim the first four chapters. Read their titles and enough to understand the main points. Better still, I will summarize them right here.
A crucial conversation is one in which an important decision or outcome is under discussion. Important means important to the participants. Though a large percentage of the examples are from the corporate sphere, this emphasis ultimately misleading. It probably reflects the authors' desire to sell training courses to those with deep pockets.
You have such a conversation because, either the information and expertise is distributed among several (possibly only 2) people, or because all the parties must sign on with the conclusions. That is, you want to preserve the relationships among the group in addition to coming up with results. Assuming that you can't achieve both of these goals is called the fallacy of the suckers choice (in the first edition--in the second edition, this is changed to the fool's choice. The second edition is superior in other ways as well.)
Chapter three, with the cutesy name ("Start with heart") basically says that the general plan is to start out clearly understanding your motivations and not get derailed when it becomes emotional.
Chapter four explains that in order for the conversation to stay on track, both (or all) parties need to feel safe to be able to maintain the necessary dialogue. Chapter five (I'm throwing in a bonus) explains that you need to stay aware of the emotional atmosphere at all times to assure the condition of safety and to reassert it if and when it is lost.
The rest of the book gives you techniques to do what is outlined in the initial chapters in sufficient detail that the reader feels they may actually be able to improve their ability to communicate with those who may have different agendas. Wait--I should use 'I' statements. I found the rest of the book to be mostly insightful and I say "improve" because even the book admits you're not going to be perfect even after reading it. It also lets slip that some of those with whom you speak are not going to hear you no matter what you say.
In the end, technique will only take you so far. If you don't really believe the premises of the book--e.g. that others may have better ideas than you do--and your goal is really to learn to better manipulate others to do things your way, you will probably even learn to be a better manipulator.
So, let's take as an example, those reviewing the book on goodreads. Opinions vary widely. A few reviewers frankly state they don't get why people can't just "get over it already." They have no patience for people who need to be coddled this way. They don't see their lack of patience as a problem. It's the problem of those with whom they are impatient. What could I, now that I've read the book say to these people?
"Maybe you're right and people should get over it--thing is, they're not doing it. If the conversation is actually crucial, you will need them to and dismissing them as wrong is unlikely to achieve that. Maybe the book has some suggestions for how to reach them? I mean if giving up on them is not an option?"
I'm feeling like giving up now--how can you talk to people who feel superior? They're so sure they're just right about everything. "Fix me first" says the book--It's true that I have a problem with know-it-alls. There's a part of me that's know-it-allish that feels beleaguered--afraid it's no use talking to these "others." Maybe it will help if I see them as afraid like me--threatened that there are people so different from how they are. How can I make the conversation feel safe?
"I agree that the book could be better written and that some of what they offer is obvious." (Do they feel safer that we have common ground?)
Once you're through with chapter four, I found the book readable and even useful. See what you think.