Talk is (Not!) Cheap: A book review by Bob Morris

Talk Is (Not!) CheapTalk is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership
Jim McCann
New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014)

A personal and practical discussion of basic communication objectives, strategies, and tactics

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of an observation by Dale Carnegie many years ago: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Obviously, Jim McCann agrees with Carnegie. He shares his thoughts about “the art of conversation leadership” and could have just easily replaced the word “conversation” with “interaction.” The same guidelines he recommends apply, whichever term is used. In fact, he recommends ten key principles, each of which is best revealed within the narrative, in context.

However, I feel comfortable when suggesting now that all great conversationalists share these characteristics:

o They are keen, attentive listeners
o Their interest in others is sincere rather than determined by self-serving motives
o They enjoy exchanging information, insights, and experience
o They possess genuine curiosity, always eager to learn
o They welcome opportunities to be helpful

Actually, as McCann suggests, there are conversations with others and there are conversations with ourselves. His ten key principles are relevant to both. Those who fall victim to self-deception and self-delusion probably have very few (if any) among those who interact with them who trust them.

To lead a conversation does not mean to dominate a conversation. On the contrary, it is possible to learn valuable lessons from great conversationalists and then develop their skills, if not to the extent they have. Continuous improvement of those skills must necessarily occur over time as one engages in a series of conversations with colleagues at work, family members and personal friends, and all others with whom one interacts.

With regard to this book’s title, it can be interpreted several different ways. My own take is that having highly-developed conversational skills can be of substantial benefit to all of one’s relationships. However, as Susan Cain explains so brilliantly in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there are some people who can — but prefer not to — develop those skills in ways and to the extent that extroverts do.

Of course, Jim McCann understands all this and, in fact, cites a number of examples from his experiences as founder and CEO of, Inc. when conversation leadership required more listening and less talking, more empathy and less assertiveness, more humility and less pride, more candor and less evasion.

In essence, conversation at its best is a successful exchange of humanity (in one form or another) between and among those involved. In some respects, it is an art; in other respects, it is a science. In all respects, it is a privilege to be cherished.

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