Ten experts explain how to communicate clearly and persuasively, especially in stressful situations
This is one in a series of volumes that anthologizes what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be the “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance communication. I have no quarrel with any of their selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. Were all of these article purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be $60 and the value of any one of them exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon now sells this one for only $14.71, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as “Harvard Business Review on….” and “Harvard Business Essentials.” I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having essential, basic information as well as a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume.
In all of the volumes in the “10 Must Read” series that I have read thus far, the authors and HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources, and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later of key points later.
Those who read this volume will gain valuable information, insights, and counsel that will help them to pitch their brilliant idea with high-impact, connect with their audience, establish their credibility, inspire others to embrace and pursue their vision, adapt to stakeholders concerns and decision-making styles, frame goals that are supported by common interests, and build a consensus and then increase it with additional support.
Here are three brief passages that are representative of the quality of the articles from which they are excerpted as well as quality of the other seven articles in this volume.
From “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion,” Robert B. Cialdini (Pages 25-42): “In the pages that follow, I describe six fundamental principles of persuasion and suggest a few ways that executives can apply them in their own organizations.
The Principle of Liking: People like those who like them.
Application: Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise.
The Principle of Reciprocity: People Repay in kind.
Application: Give what you want to receive.
The Principle of Social Proof: People follow the lead of similar others.
Application: Use peer power whenever it’s available.
The Principle of Consistency: People align with their clear commitments.
Application: Make their commitments active, public, and voluntary.
The Principle of Authority: People defer to experts.
Application: Expose your expertise; don’t assume it’s self-evident.
The Principle of Scarcity: People want more of that they can have less of.
Application: Highlight unique benefits and exclusive information.
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From “Telling Tales,” Stephen Denning (115-130): Denning provides within his article what he characterizes as “A Storytelling Catalog” of seven approaches: sparking action, communicating who you are, transmitting values, fostering collaboration, taming the grapevine, sharing knowledge, and leading people into the future. The format begins with purpose (“If your objective is…”), proceeds to the appropriate type (You will need a story that…”), indicates what is required (“In telling it, you will need…”), and suggests a probable impact (“Your story will inspire responses such as…”) Decades ago while teaching English at a boarding school in New England, I formulated an acronym that may also be helpful: EDNA. That is, Exposition explains with information, Description makes vivid with compelling details e.g. “My foot’s asleep and it feels like ginger ale”), Narration tells a story (plot) or explains a sequence, and Argumentation convinces with logic and/or evidence. It is certainly not a coincidence that each of the greatest leaders throughout history was a great storyteller.
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From “Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations,” Holly Weeks” (165-180): At work, stressful conversations take various forms. Here’s how to prepare for them:
“1. Be aware of your weaknesses to particular people and situations. You’ll thus avoid succumbing to your feelings and ignoring your needs during a stressful conversation.
“2. Know how you tend to react when feeling vulnerable. Do you bare your teeth when facing an overbearing competitor? Shut down when feeling excluded? Knowing your danger zones, you can anticipate your vulnerabilities and improve your responses.
“3. With an honest, non-judgmental friend, rehearse clear, neutral, and temperate responses to whatever comments you find most irritating. Get out everything you’re thinking [begin italics] and feeling [end italics], then refine your phrasing until it best expresses your message — in an honest, non-threatening way. Eliminate emotionally charged behaviors [e.g. tone of voice and body language]. Write down your most effective phrasings for future use.”
If you read nothing else on effective communication, read these ten classic articles from Harvard Business Review.