August 21, 2014
(+++) THE ADVICE EXPERTS
Parenting on the Go: Birth to Six, A to Z. By David Elkind, Ph.D. Da Capo. $14.99.
The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and in Life. By Barbara Pachter with Susan Magee. Da Capo. $16.99.
It is said that free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it. But the advice in books can easily be worth significantly more than their cost if you happen to be in the target group being addressed and can extract enough specificity from the suggestions to apply them to yourself and your everyday life. This is no small task: there is so much information out there – and obviously not only in books – that finding the relevant and useful information can be extraordinarily difficult. A big plus of child psychologist David Elkind’s Parenting on the Go is that it makes it comparatively simple to find what you are looking for – which then makes it easy to decide whether Elkind’s views and recommendations will work for you. The book is arranged from A to Z, so a quick glance at the Table of Contents makes it simple to locate the material you want to find. This is not 100% effective, because some of Elkind’s characterizations may be counterintuitive: “Divorce” and “Emergencies” are under D and E, respectively, but “Preschool” is under E (as “Education, Preschool”), and some categories may be ones you do not know whether you want to check out (“Bad Theories, Bad Effects”). Still, the contents listing is easy to skim, and so is much of the book itself, so if you are not sure what a particular section is about, you can simply turn to it and do a quick read. It will have to be quick: Elkind’s basic point here, an entirely valid one, is that life is so complex and fast-paced nowadays that parents do not have enough time to read through parenting books at a leisurely pace – they need to find information speedily so they can use it as soon as possible. The information itself is given here in easy-to-digest form, although it sometimes is a trifle over-simplified, such as this in regard to “Fantasy, The Uses Of”: “Young children think differently than we do. It is not a wrong way of thinking, just different and age-appropriate.” Yet Elkind does not hesitate to tackle difficult and complex issues, such as “Gender Identity”: “A child does not wish to be born with a cross-sex preference. Indeed [the child] may, initially at least, consider it a curse. And it is certainly not the fault of parents. …For parents, the real challenge is to mourn for the child they had hoped to have and to accept, love, and support the child that they were given.” This last comment shows a strength of the book in Elkind’s plain-spokenness on difficult subjects – and a weakness in that his style can make him seem blasé about difficult, even wrenching parental matters. Parenting on the Go also offers little of the how information that parents may be seeking – as in how to learn to accept a child with a cross-sex preference. Of course, giving that sort of information on all the subjects here would be impossible; but Elkind does not even provide a list of further resources, which could have been a helpful starting point. Still, within the confines of a book designed to be fast and easy to consult, and not to be read through cover-to-cover at all, he offers a great deal of helpful thinking on subjects from Acid Reflux to Zoos, with such stops along the way as Chores for Tots, Food Strikes, Military Children, Security Blankets and a great deal more.
The Power of Positive Confrontation takes a different stylistic approach to a more-adult subject. Instead of alphabetizing, Barbara Pachter and Susan Magee “cuticize,” trying to pull readers in with chapter titles such as “The Confrontational Road Less Traveled Is Paved by Bullies and Wimps,” “The Jerk Test,” and “When You Get WAC’ed.” As you might expect, WAC is an acronym – they are inordinately popular in self-help books. It stands for “three key steps in gathering your words for a difficult conversation,” those being What is really bothering you, Asking the other person to do or change something, and Checking In to find out what the other person thinks about what you want. This is a more-tortured, less-clear acronym than most, but because it sounds out as “whack,” it allows Pachter and Magee to “cuticize” around it in many ways. Not that the cuteness is the point here: The Power of Positive Confrontation contains a number of useful ideas, if you do not mind getting to them through the sometimes-annoying style. The authors point out, for example, that “the W is not accusatory” – a very useful thing to know. “You have a right to comment on another person’s behavior if it affects you. You don’t have a right to verbally attack the other person.” Similarly, “you must be specific about your A,” and “if you don’t know what to ask for, don’t confront yet.” As for C, the point is that “just as it takes at least two people to have a confrontation, it takes at least two to resolve a confrontation” – which means you must connect (which would have been a better C than “check in”) with the other person to be sure he or she has heard you and will do what you ask. Pachter, a communications speaker and coach, and Magee, an assistant professor of communications, provide a list of what they call “the twelve most annoying behaviors,” and show how their WAC acronym can apply to them. Readers may have their own list, which will probably not be as alliterative as the one here – it includes “Space Spongers,” “Interjecting Interrupters,” “Work Welchers,” “Annoying Askers” and so forth. Again, the “cuticizing” tends to undermine the seriousness and effectiveness of the authors’ recommendations, but if you can get through the presentation, the ideas can be genuinely helpful. The core of what Pachter and Magee show is in the book’s second section, “Making Positive Confrontation Work for You,” which – although, again, infected by “cuticizing” – shows how to take techniques that the authors repeatedly describe as “Polite and Powerful” and use them in many different situations, both personal and professional. Read past the list-making tendencies here and elsewhere in the book (“Eleven Simple Things You Can Do to Have a Positive Confrontation,” “Twelve Simple Ways to Establish Rapport”), bypass the overly cutesy chapter and section titles (“WAC’ing in Writing,” “WAC’ing by Phone,” “Don’t WAC Behind Someone’s Back”), and you will find some genuinely thoughtful approaches to managing confrontation effectively. A lot of the ideas here are scarcely new: choose conflicts wisely, practice before confronting, pick the right time and place, keep things short and simple, etc. But conceptually easy is not the same as easy to implement, and the real value of The Power of Positive Confrontation lies less in telling you what to do than in telling you how to do it. That value helps overcome a writing style that tends to be too flippant for its own, and readers’, good.