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HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication (Harvard Business Review Must Reads) 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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The compilation of articles in this book spends about half of its entirety on the topic of persuasion. Williams and Miller in Change the Way You Persuade, challenge presenters to understand the decision-making styles of their audience and plan accordingly. “Knowing the general characteristics of the different styles can help you better tailor your presentations and arguments to your audience” (Williams & Miller, 2002, p. 4). The five decision-making styles they propose are charismatic, thinker, skeptic, follower and controller. Curbing each presentation to these styles will promote better success for leaders who are trying to persuade others. Cialdini adds in his article Harnessing the Science of Persuasion that the ability to persuade is one of a leaders most critical tools. He gives explains six principles that when mastered can “bring scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals and winning concessions” (Cialdini, 2001, p.26). The six principles are liking, reciprocity, social proof, consistency, authority, and scarcity. By engaging in these principles leaders can begin understanding how others analyze information and make their decisions. Tannen takes a linguistic perspective on the idea of persuasion in her article, The Power of Talk. She states, “Everthying that is said must be said in a certain way – in a certiaiin tone of voice, at a certain rate of speed, and with a certain degree of loudness” (1995, p. 44). This article show how powerful the way an individual speaks can impact not just an audience but individual relationship in association with persuasive communication. Finally, Conger’s article, The Necessary Art of Persuasion lays out four essential elements that helps a leader to prepare a strategy of persuasion. 1) Establish credibility, 2) Frame goals for common ground, 3)Provide evidence, 4) Connect emotionally. Conger is convincing in the way he explains persuasion as more of an art then how Cialdini views it, more scientific.
As the reader moves further into this book they come to Is Silence Killing Your Company?, an article by Perlow and Williams. The authors in this article clearly explain how silence can be detrimental to a company in many circumstances. If employees don’t feel empowered to speak up conflict can stay bottled up and creativity will be stifled. They speak to three ways an individual can break the silence; recognize your power, act deviantly, and build a coalition. Each of these are important steps to take but the author does not address the importance how the business culture effects whether these steps will be successful. Each step here can be stopped in its tracks if the culture of your company doesn’t encourage communication or doesn’t have an intentional process for it. However, if the company culture does encourage speaking up these steps can help an individual thrive.
The next two articles, How to Become an Authentic Speaker by Nick Morgan and Telling Tales by Stephen Denning encourage speakers to be intentionally authentic in their speaking and utilize storytelling strategically in a message or presentation. Morgan’s focus is to help the reader see how “your intent” is crucial when you plan to be open with your audience, connect with your audience, passionate about your topic, and how you listen to your audience. These ‘intentions’ assist a communicator and will help them come across as authentic. Denning’s article helps to guide a leader to use the ‘power of narrative’ in a business setting. He cautions an individual to avoid using lengthy details that will make executives eye glaze over. The author takes an approach that storytelling can help bring alive certain situations and bring a creative flare to what might be otherwise boring data. Denning states, “Storytelling can translate those dryad n abstract numbers into compelling picture of a leaders goals” (2004, p. 118).
Elsbach’s article, How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea tends to focus more on the “catcher” than the “pitcher.” She suggests the catcher, those receiving the presentation, categorizes pitchers into showrunners (smooth and professional), artists (quirky and unpolished), and neophytes (inexperienced and naïve). The author suggests that each pitcher show encompass one of these three categories when the pitch something to their executives. It is hard to imagine that an executive would want, as this author titles, a neophyte pitching an idea. Inexperienced, naïve and ignorant are not necessarily the best quality traits for someone pitching a brilliant idea.
In The Five Messages Leaders Must Manage, Hamm challenges leaders with five messages that leaders should portray in order to avoid miscommunication. Hamm articulates how important a clear, focused vision can be. It will be communicated from a leader to those he/she manages will be impacted by; the organizational hierarchy, financial results, the leader’s understanding of his or her job, time management, and the corporate culture. When these messages can be communicated throughout the organization it forces top to bottom employees to unify and communicate the same thing together.
In the final article of the book, Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations, Weeks persuasively boils down stressful conversations to taking on three different forms; “I have bad news for you”, “What’s going on here”, “Your attacking me”. Weeks article acknowledges there are times, especially in conflict or stressful times, that how we react, what and how we speak, and our preparation will determine successful communication.
Overall, HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Communication is very beneficial in helping leaders to communication with more clarity and passion. I would recommend this book to not just business leaders but for anyone that is looking to better communication in their specific area. The principles in this book can be used and achieved in many different environments. One critique on this book would be to limit the articles on persuasion. The topic of communication is extremely important and widely written on. I would like to see topics in the ten articles be different from the each other.
Weeks’ (2001) examines the types of stressful conversations one could have. She sums them up as the following introductions into a potential altercation: “I have bad news for you,” “What’s going on here?,” and “You are attacking me!” She suggests that these are three of the phrases that lead to individuals feeling offended, confused and frustrated. She goes on to give three examples, one for each of these scenarios, which help frame her position. I believe she does a great job at making her points in an easy to understand and intriguing way.
We all know how important communication is whether in a marriage, between friends and especially within the workplace. I’ve often heard the phrase uttered, “Communication is key,” to which I would have to agree. In order to effectively communicate Weeks’ suggests three ways in which we can prepare ourselves for a stressful conversation. “A good start is to become aware of your own weaknesses to people and situations” (Weeks, 2001). Understanding your vulnerabilities is an important way to know how you will react to a certain situation. “Once you know what your danger zones are, you can anticipate your vulnerability and improve your response” (Weeks, 2001, p. 173). The second suggestion to prepare would be to rehearse with a neutral friend, someone who is not going to judge you and someone who does not have the same communication style, this way it ensures impartiality (Weeks, 2001, p. 173). One quote that I really appreciated that brought the point home was “when your friend says ‘Tell me how you want to say this,’ an interesting thing happens: your phrasing is often much better, much more temperate, usable” (Weeks, 2001, p. 174). Then thirdly, be aware of body language. Nearly half of what is said can be interpreted through what you aren’t saying.
After preparations for the conversation have been established Weeks’ proposes three additional ways to manage the actual conversation. She recommends honoring thy partner, disarming by restating intent and fighting the tactics not the people (Weeks, 2001). Observing these theories while having a conversation can keep the stress to a minimum. “People think stressful conversations are inevitable. And they are. But that doesn’t mean they have to have bad resolutions” (Weeks, 2001, p. 179).
Weeks’ (2001) article is comprehendible in terms of taking away easy, tangible points that can be implemented immediately. I really valued her statement that “We need to learn communication skills, in the same way that we learn CPR: well in advance, knowing that when we need to use them, the situation will be critical and tense” (Weeks, 2001, p. 176). In order to implement these new skills within my life I have come up with a heuristic approach that I could incorporate whenever I face a stressful conversation. Always remember to alleviate stress by:
Speaking honorably to your partner
Tuning the phrasing
Rehearsing with a friend
Evaluating how you would react
Stating your intentions
Separating tactics from people
With these ideas in mind and developing a greater self-awareness of vulnerabilities anyone can walk away from a stressful conversation feeling confident that they didn’t explode and kept it professional. “The advice and tools described in this article can be helpful in unilaterality reducing the strain in stressful conversations” (Weeks, 2001, p. 180). If you want an easy to grasp read on how to manage a stressful conversation I would highly recommend giving this your attention.
Weeks, H., (2001). Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations. In
Harvard Business Review Press (Eds.), HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Communication (pp. 165-180). Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
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