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Book Review: How to Work with (Almost) Anyone

HOW TO WORK WITH (ALMOST) ANYONE: Five Questions for Building the Best Possible Relationships. Michael Bungay Stanier (2023, Kindle Edition)

Workplace relationships are at the heart of individual and organizational success, yet are often left to chance. Indeed, even good working relationship can be better. To build the best possible relationships requires commitment and continuous work. How to Work With (Almost) Anyone, is written by Michael Bungay Stanier (who goes by his initials, “MBS”), bestselling author of the Coaching Habit. In this book, MBS addresses how to work better with one’s team, bosses, clients, and partners in building Best Possible Relationships (BPR), which he describes as relationships that are grounded in the principles of being safe (absent of fear), vital (engaging in work that matters), and repairable (resilient).

The foundation of How to Work With (Almost) Anyone rests on one’s willingness to subscribe to the concept and use of what MBS refers to as “Keystone Conversations” that are shaped by the following five (5) essential questions:

  1. The Amplify Question: What’s your best (qualities)? 

  2. The Steady Question: What are your practices and preferences? 

  3. The Good Date Question: What can you learn from successful past relationships? 

  4. The Bad Date Question: What can you learn from frustrating past relationships? 

  5. The Repair Question: How will you fix it when things go wrong?

The intent of having Keystone Conversations is to establish three critical tenets for building a relationship: shared responsibility for the relationship, permission to work at maintaining the BPR, and a deeper understanding of each other. In this book, MBS provides step-by-step guidance on how to use Keystone Conversations to improve work relationships using practical, everyday tools.

The format of the book is akin to that of a workbook, as it includes guiding questions and practical exercises to aid in self-reflection and then in taking action. More specifically, the content and flow of the book is as follows:

  • Following an introduction to the concept of Keystone Conversations, the first section of the book focuses on the process of self-reflection in preparation for having one. MBS takes a deep dive into each of the aforementioned five essential questions and offers core exercises to prompt one’s thinking, along with worksheets for recording answers. He also provides access to companion worksheets and resources available online that are intended to supplement and deepen the reading experience.

  • The second section lays out a structure for having a Keystone Conversation. Specifically, MBS presents a planful approach that addresses such questions as: “How do I make the invite? How do I start? What’s the middle like? How do we finish?” Step-by-step instructions are offered on what to do (under the subheading “Do This”) and on what to say (under the subheading “Say This”) at each step along the way.

  • The third section focuses on establishing a BPR maintenance schedule, and includes suggestions on small actions to do often, the necessary things to do when a situation calls for it, and how to do the bigger, more difficult things when it comes to that. Six (6) guiding principles are presented that MBS suggests should underpin all acts of maintenance, and include: Stay Curious, Stay Vulnerable, Stay Kind, Adjust Always, Repair Often, Reset as Needed. Then, he offers an instructive approach and guiding questions based on these principles for mapping the situational context in order to better understand the landscape shaping the relationship, and for navigating towards any necessary maintenance and/or repair.

  • The book concludes with a “bonus” section that includes additional questions and exercises to stretch one’s own thinking and self-awareness pertaining to each of the five essential questions. In addition, he includes a list of research and resources that were used to inform the strategies and tactics presented throughout the book.

A few takeaways of particular value from the perspective of this reviewer include:

  • The overall concept of hosting Keystone Conversations as a strategy and the associated toolkit in both establishing and maintaining BPR.

  • The 6 Principles of BPR Maintenance: Stay Curious, Stay Vulnerable, Stay Kind, Adjust Always, Repair Often, Reset as Needed.

  • The utility of hosting “different-from-usual” conversations utilizing provocative questions that are sent in advance of a meeting to encourage revelation and to gauge the status of existing relationships. 

  • Cross-references to his book, The Coaching Habit, that emphasize the importance of “listening with intent and seeking to understand”; along with parallels MBS draws to the works of other notable experts/scholars such as Brené Brown, Amy Edmondson, Seth Godin, among others.

MBS acknowledges upfront in the book that having Keystone Conversations may meet with some resistance in the workplace and/or can disrupt prevailing expectations of how hierarchy, power and leadership work. Therefore, he advises that when creating a new way of working with people, expect it to be hard at first. That said, from this reviewer’s perspective, more attention could have been given in how to effectively engage people who may be resisters to the idea and use of Keystone Conversations. 

Overall, How to Work With (Almost) Anyone is a short book that is designed to be of practical value, and includes many useful tips and tools for establishing new relationships and for improving existing ones. The strategies are well-researched, practical, and actionable. This is definitely a book to add to your leadership library and would be a valuable book to gift or share with others.


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