Monday, November 25, 2013

The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems

By Stephen R. Covey with Breck England

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

There is no doubt that Stephen Covey is a fine writer. The book flows smoothly and comfortably, and readers will have no difficulty understanding any of the concepts or ideas here.

Any book designed to help people solve problems, no matter what the context (work, home, school, law, society, or the world) makes a valuable contribution to our society. Too bad the Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t read this book, learn the basic concepts and truths, then apply them in thier work with each other. The idea that "I’m right, and you’re wrong" never got anyone anywhere when it comes to solving problems and resolving conflicts. Yes, of course, there is a third alternative (a win-win strategy) that will work, and the explanation (through page 85) is clear, useful, practical, and desperately needed.

The value of the application chapters (3-9) is simple. Many readers will only read the application most relevant to themselves, whether it be work, home, school, law, society, or the world, and they are unlikely to read others. What this means is that there must be redundancy and repetition. It can’t be otherwise. Readers really only need to read through page 85 and then select that chapter that fittingly applies to them or to their situation. That, for most readers, becomes a complete offering and all that’s needed.

I have been writing about empathy, listening, group participation and leadership, as well as conflict management for most of my professional life. My book, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), contains my most recent thinking and writing on these topics. I don’t think that Covey offers anything new or startling with respect to synergistic thinking, but what he does is effectively underscore its importance as well as the specific steps necessary for achieving it. This is worthwhile and makes an important contribution to human-relations effectiveness — and success.

What makes this book truly outstanding is the selection of examples. Now, you may get tired of reading them, however, note what I said previously. You don’t need to read every chapter in the book. After reading up to page 85, then read only that one or those that apply to you or to your situation, and you won’t become overwhelmed by the sheer number of examples. They are certainly one of the strengths of the book.

In your life, you will not and cannot avoid conflict. Conflicts are inevitable. Since that is true, the best recourse you have is to learn how to deal with them effectively. Covey provides a useful set of tools, and the more tools we have in our toolbox, the more likely it is that we can resolve the conflicts we face and move on with our life.

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