In Give and Take, Anthony Grant’s new book (see last week’s newsletter), an entire chapter discusses powerless communication. At first the two words powerless and communication suggested to me that this would be a discussion of communication failure. Aren’t effective speakers and writers supposed to be assertive, exuding confidence, captivating and dynamic? These words don’t suggest anything powerless.
Grant cites research to suggest that there are two especially effective paths to having an influence. The first is dominance where we impress audiences and others with our strong, assertive mannerisms and words. This is powerful communication. Speakers emphasize their competence and expertise so others are impressed. Sometimes that works well. The second route to influence is to earn prestige so others respect and like those who speak. This comes best from powerless communication. It’s a term most associated with Susan Cain’s best selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Powerless communication works best with speakers or writers who demonstrate or are known to be capable. There is no need or attempt to wow others, impress or overwhelm them. Instead the powerless approach is more relaxed and engaging.
In a TED talk that is worth watching, Grant gives three marks of effective powerless communication:
- Instead of emphasizing your strengths, be open about your vulnerabilities and shortcomings. Be humble and authentic, able to laugh at yourself.
- Use less assertive speech and more tentative language. Frame your opinions as suggestions like this: “I am wondering if this might work…. What do you think?”
- Rather than giving answers, raise questions or ask others to give their input or their help. Then listen. In a paragraph that sounds a lot like what we do in coaching, Grant writes, “By asking questions about their plans and intentions, we increase the likelihood that they actually act on these plans and intentions.”
So let me try this below.
Would powerless communication be good for you? When have you used it? Many of us would like to read your observations. Please comment. Thanks.