Book Review – “REAL” Value in “Overcoming Fake Talk” …

John E. Smith
John E. Smith is a board certified leadership and life coach, who helps individuals and groups engage in transformational change through learning and strategic planning. He blogs at The Strategic Learner on Wordpress and for Weaving Influence, Lead Change Group, and other sources of leadership and personal development.
John E. Smith


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John E. Smith

“REAL” Value in “Overcoming Fake Talk”

Overcoming Fake Talk by John R. Stoker is a well-organized and comprehensive collection of the most proven best practices and solid research of the past several decades about how humans should talk to each other for positive results.

However, we already have many books about fierce, crucial, difficult, and other variations of communication.  We know that effective communication is more art than science, but also critical for personal and professional success.  The number of existing titles in many fields about the quest for effective communication skills reflects the popularity of this topic.

So Why Another Book on All This?  

Maybe because we still do not practice what we preach.  Maybe because we need to remember that communication is not just telling others what you want them to do.  Maybe because we need regular reminders of what we should already know.   Maybe because hearing something in a new and engaging way makes it stick.

Stoker covers human communication from “classic” human interaction terms and concepts to first discussed decades ago up through the most current thinking in social psychology and effective coaching circles, all in clear and useful language.

I found myself bouncing back and forth between thoughts such as “I remember this from grad school”, to “I have used this and it works” from my own experiences, to “Wow … I can’t wait to try this”.   Each chapter and section is written in a down-to-earth style and loaded with real-life examples, handy illustrative tips, and calls for action to solidify or expand your learning of each point.

The Model and Some Main Elements:

The main part of the book involves an in-depth discussion of Stoker’s Interaction Style Model, which includes eight principles for effective communication:  Awareness, Knowledge, Reflection, Perception, Preparation, Expression, Discovery, and Connection.   His model is well thought out, comprehensive, and presented clearly for maximum understanding.

In the process of describing the eight principles, he demonstrates his knowledge of current thinking in social psychology and adult learning theory around such concepts as the role of the ego, faulty perceptions and assumptions, defense mechanisms, and other barriers to communication.

In Stoker’s world, “real” conversation “is the process of creating dialogue” and includes the following key elements of “REAL” conversation:

1) Recognizing and Suspending to Uncover

2) Expressing Your Intention

3) Asking to Reveal

4) Listening and Attending to Connect

His model identifies four primary behavioral types:  Builders, Initiators, Discoverers, and Connectors.    Those familiar with the DiSC model of behavioral preferences will feel right at home.  Stoker goes beyond how we think and behave to discuss what motivates us to do so, along with what happens when we work with other people whose preferences, behaviors, and motivations often differ from ours.

Stoker refers to these four types throughout to show us how the various styles appear and sound to each other and some positives and negatives about how they interact in the workplace, which is possibly the single most valuable grouping of information in the book.

Things I Liked About This Book:

1)  Visual Learning . . . 

Stoker is visual and provides us with clear graphics to support his ideas.  A good example of this appears on page 59, with later expansion on page 79.  Using the well-known 2×2 grid tool, Stoker shows us the relationships between people and task orientations and between aggressive and passive behavior.  While not new material, the presentation is clear and understandable.

2)  Dialogue Learning . . .

Stoker is verbal and starts each major section with an illustration from his river raft guide experience.  Frequent examples make the concepts come alive and show us how they create value for us.

Stoker has an ear for dialogue and the book is full of verbal illustrations through short vignettes and realistic scripts to illustrate his points.  He ends each section with key point summaries and “gentle reminders” which support learning.

3)  Brain Learning . . .

Stoker is smart and incorporates current neuroscience to explain the importance of how and why our brains work, and how this knowledge helps us become leaders who can engage in “real” conversations.

In earlier times, we did not always know how to explain why communication worked better in some ways than others.  Stoker has given us specific and compelling reasons why organizations should support effective practices.

Who Should Read and Use This Book and Why:

Leaders and Managers:  

If you work with others in a business environment, you will experience more pleasant workdays, growth in productivity, and more effectively functioning organizations.

Parents and Family Members:

While not specifically aimed at parents and families, the usefulness is clear through many examples Stoker includes using his own or other families to show how we can talk more effectively with those we love most.


If you have to help others learn and use effective communication techniques, you have just learned about The Source for the best current thinking about what works and how to use it.

The Bottom Line:  THIS “fake” book is the real deal …

Overcoming Fake Talk is one very well-written and thorough book about making our conversations “REAL”.  If you read, then reflect on, and finally use these concepts and practices, you may find that working with others to carry out your mutual goals is easier and more rewarding than you thought possible.

This standout title in the crowded field of leadership communication should be part of any serious leader’s professional education and development.


For over 20 years, John R. Stoker has been facilitating and speaking to audiences, helping them to improve their thinking and communicating skills. He is an expert in communications who believes the human capacity to achieve astonishing results depends on the individual’s ability to interact with others.

John holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Behavior as well as a J.D. Degree. His landmark book, Overcoming Fake Talk, is both entertaining and engaging, and it presents skills that help readers talk about what matters most.

In the past, John worked as a practicing criminal defense attorney, spent summers as a Grand Canyon white-water guide, and taught on the university level for 13 years. John has been happily married since 1994 and he and his wife Stephanie are the proud parents of five children.


I received a review copy of this book in conjunction with its republication.

A much shorter modified version of this review was published on The Strategic Learner on September 9, 2014.