I picked up this book on NetGalley because I’m interested in improving my communication skills. Corrigan’s book is exactly what it says it is: a book about twelve things that are important to learn but hard to say.
I was particularly interested in the title, Tell Me More, because listening is a skill I’m working on. I interrupt a lot, have trouble remembering details about conversations, and my mind often races towards the next thing I want to say rather than taking the time to think about what the other person is saying. I recently took a 360 assessment which said, to my surprise, that a lot of my friends and co-workers think I’m a good listener. Still, being a quiet person doesn’t mean one is a good listener. Are they wrong or am I? As I’m learning, I’m frequently wrong about how others perceive me, so that’s an open question.
Corrigan relates her own personal journey in using these twelve expressions. This is not a book that will give you strategies to communicate better, and it’s not based on any scientific evidence. It’s personal, anecdotal, sometimes humorous and sometimes tragic. Corrigan uses memorable stories to illustrate, rather than lecture – and I’m willing to bet that when it comes time to use some of these phrases, those stories will come to mind.
The title chapter, for example, relates the simple power of saying “tell me more” to a person who’s struggling – when what you really want to do is advise or jump in with your own story. The idea is that most of us don’t talk about what’s really bothering us at first. We need to be prompted, we need space to talk and to think as we talk. Saying “tell me more” is a way to really get at the truth of a person’s problem, and also a way to make them feel better, without offering advice or solutions.
I was more struck by two other chapters: “I was wrong” and “good enough”. “I was wrong” is (again, what you’d expect) about the importance of admitting you made a mistake and giving meaningful apologies. Corrigan notes that we have apologies thrown at us all the time. Many of us (myself included) say “sorry” way too often. But knowing when to apologize, and how, doesn’t come easy. She points out that saying sorry doesn’t at all mean the same thing as “I was wrong”. The first can mean “excuse me” or “I feel bad for you” or “I wish this had gone differently” but it isn’t an admission of specific personal wrongness.
“Good enough” turns out to be something I may make my mantra in the coming year. Corrigan writes about the courage of a crisis counselor who doesn’t know what she’s doing and doesn’t feel she has anything to offer. As she grows into the job, she learns she doesn’t have to be perfect, or to have experienced exactly what her clients have, in order to help. As another example, Corrigan writes about all the terrible things she did as a young adult (including being arrested for shoplifting) and the importance of having her father say “you’re good enough.”
“That’s how it works: someone important believes in us, loudly and with conviction and against all substantiation, and over time, we begin to believe too – not in our shot at perfection, mind you, but in the good enough version of us that they have reflected.” — Kelly Corrigan, Tell Me More
Why is “good enough” one of the hardest things for us to tell ourselves? I’ve said before that I like being in my 40s, because I feel a sense of self-acceptance that I never felt in my younger years. And yet, I still began this year with a lengthy self-improvement list. I’m in a leadership development program, and as I mentioned already, I had to take a 360 assessment where my closest friends, family and colleagues evaluated my emotional intelligence. I love a good self-evaluation but this was really scary for me. Turns out, the people who completed the assessment saw me in a much more positive way than I saw myself.
I’m going to think about that every time I feel devastated about a meeting that goes horribly wrong or the stupid things that often come out of my mouth. Or when I don’t exercise enough, or find the perfect gift that shows how much I care. And as my new year’s resolutions begin to pile up, as they so often do, I wonder: is it lazy to feel I’m good enough, to not strive to improve? Is the need to constantly improve myself a good thing or a bad thing?
Some of the later chapters in the book are less well developed than the earlier chapters, but in general this is a short read with useful insights. There is a good amount of contradiction, but I chalk that up to communications being confusing and contradictory. For example, in the “good enough” chapter, Corrigan is heartened by her father’s constant attitude that she is just fine and will come out okay in the end, and yet it’s a very specific compliment from her mother that seems to have more meaning. (That is something I’ve read research on regarding children: general compliments don’t improve self-esteem, but specific ones about real accomplishments do.)
In short, context always matters. For those of us who aren’t as good at “reading the room” we already know that sometimes it’s helpful to say you understand, and sometimes saying you understand is the worst thing you can say. Sometimes it’s helpful to say nothing, and other times it’s helpful to get involved. Knowing which applies is the challenge.
Corrigan isn’t trying to tell us things we don’t (at some level) already know. But by using her own life, and the lives of her friends, as examples, she brings these ideas vividly to life.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Random House. The book published January 9, 2018. This book counts towards the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by Doing Dewey.