HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication Paperback – 2 Apr 2013
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About the Author
Harvard Business Review is the leading destination for smart management thinking. Through its flagship magazine, 11 international licensed editions, books from Harvard Business Review Press, and digital content and tools published on HBR.org, Harvard Business Review provides professionals around the world with rigorous insights and best practices to lead themselves and their organizations more effectively and to make a positive impact.
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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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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 [begin italics] how [end italics] 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.
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Four of the selected articles focus primarily on the art of communicating persuasively. These articles include Gary Williams and Robert Miller’s Change the Way You Persuade, Robert Cialdini’s Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, Jay Conger’s The Necessary Art of Persuasion, and Kimberly Elsbach’s How to Pitch A Brilliant Idea. Williams and Miller argue that “executives tend to make important decisions in predictable ways…and knowing their preferences for hearing or seeing certain types of information at specific stages in their decision-making process can substantially improve your ability to tip the outcome your way.” In essence, the takeaway is that what matters most is having the right information at the right time for the right person. As inferred by his article’s title, Cialdini writes from the perspective of psychological research which suggests that “there are six basic laws of winning friends and influencing people.” In highlighting the data, Cialdini is quick to note that psychological manipulation through communication techniques is not only inappropriate but ineffective in the long-term. “…the rules of ethics apply to the science of social influence just as they do to any other technology.” Conger’s central thesis is that times have changed and the new corporate reality is that “work today gets done in an environment where people don't just ask ‘What should I do?’ but ‘Why should I do it?’” Thus, the communication of leadership must appeal to a compelling motivator within their subordinates’ culture. Finally, Elsbach identifies three creative stereotypes—coined as artists, showrunners, and neophytes—in which “catchers” traditionally place those who are making a pitch. Elsbach highlights the reality that “Research suggests that humans can categorize others in less than 150 milliseconds. Within 30 minutes, they've made lasting judgments about your character.” As a result, persuading the adoption of one’s idea takes forethought into how to leverage the most effective stereotype for the circumstance in order to get the desired outcome. The “pitcher’s” art of communication can make or break any given proposal.
In an intriguing article highlighting the dangers of intra-organizational silence, authors Perlow and Williams espouse the need for business cultures to be marked by a high valuation of open dialogue. As the article unfolds, we read about the high cost of silence in organizations and that “behind failed products, broken processes, and mistaken decisions are people who chose to hold their tongues rather than to speak up.”
In The Power of Talk author Deborah Tannen holds that “any way of speaking could be perfect for communicating with one person in one situation and disastrous with someone else in another.” As a result, Tannen outlines various circumstances and what methods of communication might prove most effective in each.
Morgan’s How to Become an Authentic Speaker and Denning’s Telling Tales share some common ground in that they both highlight the value of appealing to people’s hearts through communication that echoes sentiments of a more personal nature. Morgan, a multi-decade communications coach, encourages readers to “Focus not on what you want to say but on why you’re giving the speech and how you feel about that.” Similarly, Denning warns communicators about the dangers of a boring message. “Analysis might excite the mind, but it hardly offers a route to the heart-and that's where we must go to motivate people.
Rounding out the collection are Weeks’ article on Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations and Hamm’s The Five Messages Leaders Must Manage. In the former, Weeks points to—among many other things—the danger found in the gap between communication and intent. Oftentimes the message gets lost, on either end, when intentions fail to match up with expectations. As a result, good communicators find the right tools to address conversations with heightened tension. Finally, The Five Messages Leaders Must Manage as outlined by John Hamm are 1) organizational structure and hierarchy, 2) financial results, 3) the leader’s sense of his or her job, 4) time management, and 5) corporate culture. Hamm’s premise centers around the idea that “By recognizing the impact of clear and direct communication and seeking feedback from their teams, leaders leverage, rather than abuse, their positional power.”
All in all, HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication is a compelling read with enough substance to engage any communicator with tools to more effectively lead and manage the delivery of key messaging to their audience. Each article, on its own, delivers substantive commentary on the art of communication. However, the real value in this collection is not only finding what works in your particular circumstance but also curating elements from within each of the articles to craft a composite that’s tailored for maximum results in your leadership context.
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