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How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation

39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0787963781
ISBN-10: 078796378X
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Language is the primary tool by which we communicate. Kegan and Lahey argue, though, that the words we use do more than represent feelings and attitudes. The very choice itself of one word or expression over another can determine feelings and attitudes and--most importantly--actions. Kegan is a Harvard professor of education; Lahey is a psychologist specializing in adult development. In order to demonstrate their complex concept of the role of language in transformational learning, they offer this book, in part, as an instruction manual for collaborative exercises in self-assessment. They identify seven languages that one should adopt to overcome both internal and organization resistance to change. Four of the languages are internal or personal. For example, one should use the "language of personal responsibility" to replace the "language of blame." The other three languages are social. Here, for instance, the "language of public agreement" supplants the "language of rules and policies." The authors conclude with examples of ways "to deepen [the] practice of all seven languages." David Rouse
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A genuinely 21st century book! Kegan and Lahey create a dynamic alternative to mere coasting on the momentum of the information age. Why do we know so much and yet so little lasting change actually occurs-in ourselves and in our organizations? This book doesn't just answer the question. It shows us a way out of the problem." (Michael Murphy, founder, Esalen Institute and author of The Future of the Body)

"Lucid, accessible, and immensely satisfying, this provocative book is plainly the product of a very deep understanding of why people behave the way they do. . . . an approach to change that is at once systematic and humane. . . . breakthrough thinking. . . compelling and inspiring." (Tony Schwartz, contribution editor, Fast Company, and author, What Really Matters)

"A minor masterpiece. . . .In this simple brilliant book, Kegan and Lahey not only deal with the how of transformation. . . . they deal with the most central issue of all: how and why people (and organizations) are committed to not changing. . . . a must-read for all individuals and organizations that truly wish to grow into their own greater possibilities." (Ken Wilber, author, Integral Psychology)

"By providing extraordinary practical wisdom, this book enables us to move from organizational frustration to collective achievement. An invaluable gem." (Ronald Heifetz, author, Leadership Without Easy Answers)

"Maps both a personal transformative experience for the reader and the social arrangements that support this significant mode of adult learning. A unique and invaluable resource for adult educators, leaders in organizations, and every adult learner." (Jack Mezirow, emeritus professor of adult and continuing education, Teachers College, Columbia University)

"Leaders trying to 'drive change' miss the deeper forces that might naturally enable it, forces which Kegan and Lahey reveal powerfully and practically." (Peter Senge, author, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)

"This is a how-to-do-it book for reflective practitioners. Step by step, it teaches educators and leaders how to build highly collaborative, creative, and caring communities." (Mary Field Belenky, coauthor, Women's Ways of Knowing)

"New, practical, and effective strategies for today's core leadership challenge: how to transform behavior in ourselves and others—without the debilitating crisis that is usually needed-by seeing and transcending the forces that hold us back." (Michael Jung, director, McKinsey & Company)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass (December 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078796378X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787963781
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

151 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Kegan and Lahey explain that their book "is about the possibility of extraordinary change in individuals and organizations. It locates an unexpected source of boundless energy to bring these changes into being" and then assert that "if we want deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we must pay closer attention to our own powerful inclinations not [italics] to change. This attention may help us discover within ourselves the force and beauty of a hidden immune system, the dynamic process by which we tend to prevent change, by which we manufacture continuously the antigens of change." I am convinced that most human limits are self-imposed...that in Pogo's words, "We have met the enemy and he is us." The authors do indeed focus on what they call "an unexpected source of boundless energy" which significant change requires.
Throughout the book, they examine what they call "Seven Languages for Transformation" and suggest how to gain fluency in each. Four are Internal Languages: Commitment, Personal Responsibility, Competing Commitments ("Diagnosing the Immunity to Change"), and Assumptions We Hold ("Disturbing the Immunity to Change"). Fluency in these four enables us to build "The New Machine." There are also three Social Languages: Ongoing Regard, Public Agreement, and Deconstructive Criticism. Fluency in these three enables us to maintain and upgrade "The New Machine."
It is important to keep in mind that we communicate with others as well as with ourselves in three primary ways: body language, tone of voice, and content (ie what we verbalize). Decades of scientific research reveals that, in face-to-face contact, body language has the greatest impact, followed (at a significant distance) by tone of voice and then content.
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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Manny Hernandez HALL OF FAME on June 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book does for business leaders and their teams what the 7 Habits (Covey) did for individuals back in the 90s, but it goes a step forward: it's packed with case studies. I won't add to the discussion about the Seven Languages for Transformation, since my fellow reviewers have already gone into extensive detail about them. The key concept that the book left me was the idea of diving into conflicts to have them "solve" you, as opposed to running away from them or trying to solve them. The basis for this idea has to do with the learning opportunities that a conflict has to offer, and the opportunities of self-discovery to dig out blatant inconsistencies between what we say we care about and what our language and actions actually shows.
Overall, the book is a very easy read, whether you do it in order to seriously implement its suggested methodology (and it is one serious set of ideas it carries) or just as a mirror to help you laugh at your so-called professional commitments.
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66 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Karl on June 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Did you ever hear of something called "secondary gain"?
"Secondary gain" is the "hidden", possibly unconscious, reason why a person acts in a way that may, to an external observer, appear to be self-defeating. For example, Joe Bloggs frequently, and apparently sincerely, expresses a desire to lose weight - but he never does.
Because Joe has an unspoken belief that he will be safe from mugging so long as he looks big enough to wrestle a bull.
This isn't exactly rocket science. The genius of this book is that Kegan and Lahey have taken the "secondary gain" principle and repackaged it (without the usual psycho-babble) in a way that, hopefully, will appeal to the business community at large.
To this end they have developed a means by which people can quickly and easily - if they are willing - uncover what the authors call the "competing commitment" that undermines a person's declared commitment in a given situation.
For example, manager Fred Katz has the declared commitment of empowering his subordinates. Yet he briefs his people on a strictly "need to know" basis (and of course only Fred knows what his people "need" to know).
Using Kegan and Lahey's approach, described in detail in this book, Fred might discover that he has a competing commitment to gain promotion by demonstrating his indispensability. This he can only achieve, as he sees it, by keeping his people dependent on him as the one person in the department who has access to the "big picture".
Will this self-knowledge guarantee that Fred changes his behaviour?
Not necessarily. But at least he has a better understanding of his situation and is in a position to look for ways of achieving *both* commitments (empowerment AND promotion) in a constructive and non-conflicting manner.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As author of the book "The evolving Self", Kegan is amongst the select few that have written about life's transformations. He really figured out how and why people are "committed" to resist change. Now Kegan offers tools to "transform" from one level to the next. Most of the time, when confronted to change, a little voice inside us will tell us why not the change. According to Kegan & Lahey, this voice speaks with 7 tongues. One could even say that these "voices" make us immune to change. Luckily, for each of the 7 languages, this book offers a powerful antidote.
What I like about the book is that it's practical. It includes exercises and models that you can apply in your day to day practice. As such I recommend it to people who want to get through a transformational stage themselves (as a how-to book) or who want to help others.
What I regretted is that there in no reference section nor any footnotes (contrary to Kegan's other excellent books). In other words, this book makes it seem that the authors "invented" all this, while there are several other books (including my own) that offer solutions to several of the roadblocks mentioned here. To make the reader aware that there are other books helping to get through roadblocks, I especially want to mention Donald Mitchell's "The 2,000 percent solution", which is more practical for a business context. But to be fair, this book also includes some new material I haven't seen elsewhere.
Patrick E.C. Merlevede - author of "7 Steps to Emotional intelligence"
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