Do you do the right thing but say the wrong thing? Or…err…vice versa?

porcupineOne of my favorite writers Gretchen Rubin comes up with distinctions that help us understand ourselves, as well as understand others. For instance, she says people can be divided into over-buyers and under-buyers, tiggers and eeyores, and marathoners and sprinters to name a few. While human beings are too complex to be neatly bundled into a category, seeing the world through the lens of distinctions can certainly help us navigate ourselves, and those around us, more successfully.

Inspired by this way of viewing the world, I feel a thrill when I identify what seems like a promising distinction. Recently, a distinction struck me that relates to the “Say-Do gap.” The “say-do” gap essentially means that there is a gap between what people say, and what people do. We all know that. What struck me though is people can be divided into two categories based on which way their their say-do gap swings.

  • Say the right thing and do the wrong thing; this reminds me of “all that glitters is not gold.”
  • Do the right thing but say the wrong thing; this reminds me of Adam Grant’s concept of a “porcupine giver;” people who may look gruff on the outside but are generous at heart.

I’ve just stumbled upon this distinction and I want to spend some time understanding this more deeply.

  • What can be the drivers behind “say the right thing, do the wrong thing?” One obvious one seems malintent. Can there be any other driver? Are there any positive drivers that lead people to say one thing and do another.
  • Similarly, why do some people do all the right things, but say all the wrong things? Is fear one of the reasons that cause people to say the wrong thing? Is it that they don’t understand the importance of saying the right thing? Is it that they don’t know how to say the right thing?
  • Does this distinction  at all relate to the other distinction that I came up with – around being harder on yourself, or harder on others? Or not?

What do you think of this distinction? Where would you type yourself? And how would you answer my questions above? Would love to learn more. Drop in your comments.

Did you enjoy this? Follow the blog as I make sense of myself, others around me, and my life in general. Based on whom I’ve been hanging out with, what I’ve been reading, and how I’m feeling, you may get very different blog posts landing in your inbox. Like you, I’m more than just one thing.

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About to Criticize? Praise Instead…

I just finished reading Maria Chaudhuri’s memoir “Beloved Strangers,” an accountcriticism of her growing up as a child in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and then as a woman in New York, in the United States. I picked up this book after hearing Maria speak at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year and sensing a sensitive soul in her.

In the passage below, Maria describes how she was humiliated by her Math teacher as a six-year old for failing to “get” numbers, their addition and subtraction, their multiplication and division.

Invariably, Mrs. Bashir would fling my lesson book across the classroom, grab me by both ears to pick me up and place me, red-faced and burning on the “shame bench” outside the classroom. There I remained until the noonday sun baked my skin dry. As the energy seeped out of me in streams of sweat, it took me all my strength not to faint.

The shaming continued until it became clear that I would not make the same mistakes again. I stopped making mistakes because I stopped being able to add or subtract at all. On one occasion, Mrs. Bashir was perplexed when she opened my lesson book to see that I’d neatly copied the assignment but left it entirely undone. Concluding that the shaming had been inadequate, she dragged the red bench, which had stood just outside the classroom window, inside, and placed it next to the teacher’s desk so the victim could squarely face the gleeful spectators of her torture. Saved from the tropical sun, my skin began to recover its natural tone again but my six-year-old heart was broken. As my classmates looked on mockingly, I hung my head and wished I would faint after all.

How did this criticism affect Maria? Did she start to “get” Math?

Unsurprisingly, all that Maria was able to take away from this experience was a fear of Math, and worse, a sense of shame. Whenever punished, Maria escaped the classroom by running away in her mind.

This was when I invented the odd game with numbers. I ran up and down the shapes of their horrid bodies, hid in their nooks and crannies and refused to hear anything they might have to say to me. I fantasized chopping them into edible bits and gobbling them up, once and for all, so they’d leave me alone. No matter what I tried though, they stayed with me. They greeted me every morning from the pages of my books, cooing incessantly in my hand, “Shame-shame, shame-shame, shame-shame…”

Has harsh criticism ever helped you do better at anything in your life?  Either as a child or an adult? Personally, I cannot think of a single time when such destructive criticism has helped me “improve” my performance. Like Maria, I have wanted to escape and run away to somewhere safe when faced with harsh criticism. Such criticism has made it harder for me to do something that I’m finding difficult to do in the first place.

Destructive criticism breaks our spirit, makes us fearful, makes us freeze. It clips our wings, making us do worse, instead of  better. Praise, on the other hand, gives us wings and helps us fly.

This was true for Maria at school, this is true at work.

In a recent study, researchers found that some managers consistently rated all their employees higher, and others consistently lower, than the average. They wondered if this was a result of bias and wanted to understand the effect the ratings had on people who worked with these managers. The authors say:

Are the positive-rating managers indulging in grade inflation? Do the lower ratings actually represent a more objective and deserved analysis of a subordinate’s performance?…Or perhaps the ratings are in some way self-fulfilling, and the leaders who see the best in their people actually make them better, while those who look more critically make their subordinates worse.

We favor that second interpretation, since whether deserved or not, the psychological effect of these ratings was dramatic. Anyone who joined us in the discussions with the subordinates of these two sets of managers would have instantly seen the impact. The people who’d received more positive ratings felt lifted up and supported. And that vote of confidence made them more optimistic about future improvement.  Conversely, subordinates rated by the consistently tougher managers were confused or discouraged—often both. They felt they were not valued or trusted, and that it was impossible to succeed.

Praise and confidence in employees sets them up for success. Holding them to meet impossible standards brings them down.

So, the message is clear. If you’re faced with a choice between praising and criticizing, choose praise. If you’re struggling through harsh criticism you’ve received, praise yourself for your efforts instead of beating yourself up.  From the wise and wonderful Louise L Hay comes this wonderful affirmation:

I praise myself for big and little things.

I am a wonderful being. I used to scold and criticize myself because I believed it would help me improve my life, and yet, criticism has not improved me over the years. In fact, criticism seems to make it much harder to change and progress. So, as I listen to my inner dialogue and find that I am being critical, telling myself that I’m not good enough or that I’m doing something wrong, I recognize the old patterns of childhood, and I immediately begin to speak lovingly to my inner child. Instead of tearing myself apart, I choose to nourish myself with praise and approval. I know I am on the way to becoming consistently loving.

What are some strategies YOU use to deal with harsh criticism? How do you take the learning from the criticism without letting it get you down? Do share your experience in the comments.

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The Many Layers of “The Giving Tree”

In the last few years, I’ve been better trying to understand myself. One of the things that I’ve been trying to untangle is the difference between being generous and being people pleasing, balancing my responsibilities to others and respecting my own needs, of knowing what is mine and what is someone else’s to bear.

One of the best books that has helped me learn more about healthy and unhealthy giving is Adam Grant’s wonderful book, Give and Take. (In fact, the book has helped me so much that my blog reads like Adam Grant fan non-fiction. 🙂 )

Another book I read recently, the noted children’s book The Giving Tree by Shel SilverStein, gave me more food for thought. The book is a story about the relationship between a tree and a little boy, and how the the tree gives all she can to the boy to make him happy.

When the boy is little, he loves the tree:

He would climb up her trunk
And swing from her branches
And eat apples
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
He would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree…very much.
And the tree was happy.

New Doc_1

As the boy grows up, their relationship changes. The boy doesn’t want to swing by the branches any more or play hide-and-go- seek. He wants to buy things and have fun.

“I’m sorry,” said the tree,
but I have no money.
I have only apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them
In the city. Then you will have money
And you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered
Her apples and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.

Later, as the little boy grows older, he wants a wife and kids, and wants a house. Could the tree give him a house? The tree offers her branches to the boy so he can build his house. After a long absence, the boy, as he continues to be called throughout the book, comes back. Now, he wants a boat that will take him far, far away. And the tree continues to give, asking the boy to take her trunk to build his boat. All that’s left of the tree is her stump.

When the boy, now an old man, comes back, the tree apologizes, for now she really has nothing to give him. But now, the boy doesn’t need apples or branches or wood. All he needs is some rest.

“Well an old stump is good for sitting and resting.
Come, Boy, sit down.
Sit down and rest.”

And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.

This is how the story ends. I will go on the record on this one. I bawled like a baby when I read this book. The story is emotional; the writing, elegant; the pictures exquisite.

I was left with a bunch of entangled feelings though. I was happy that the tree wasn’t alone in the end, that he had the little boy; I felt a little angry at the boy for being selfish; I wondered if the boy was wrong for asking too much or the tree was wrong for giving so much?

As I moved through the rest of the day, this book stayed with me, more as questions than answers.

One of the lens with which I interpreted this book was that of a parent-child relationship. Was this “normal” for a parent-child relationship, the constant taking? Or was this story about a parent who didn’t want her child to grow up, who considered the child a “boy” even when he was a grown man? Was sentimentally waiting for the boy to come back to her the right thing to do?

Another lens with which I viewed the relationship was a general codependent relationship, where one person is often the giver, and another, a taker. Is giving to this extent healthy? It seemed sentimental for the tree to “give her all” to the little boy, but was it right? As for the little boy, did he really love the tree, if all he did was take and take?

I’m verbalizing these questions now, but then, all I had was a huge mangled mess in my head and heart. Why did I cry? Was it sentimentality? Was it relief that the tree wouldn’t die alone? Was it a kinship with the tree? Or frustration about the lack of reciprocity from the little boy?

Later, when I went to dutifully clock in my reading on Goodreads, I stopped to read some of the reviews. The Giving Tree turned out to be one of those books that splits people into camps and like one reviewer put it, kills Goodreads friendships.

Some of the reviews were brutal.

Sava Hecht rated it 1 of 5 stars
Co-dependent tree needs to set some fucking boundaries.
flag 223 likes

Jan Bednarczuk rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: nobody
Shelves: childrens
…What’s the message here? Is it “When someone loves you, it’s okay to just take advantage of them endlessly because they will always be there for you anyway”? Or perhaps “If you love someone, just give them everything you have and expect nothing in return, ever.”
flag 26 likes

Though people assigned different metaphoric meanings to the book—such as being an allegory for Christ’s sacrifice, unconditional parental love, selfish exploitation of the environment, men’s subjugation of women—most interpretations were painful, cautionary tales of too much giving.

And while people who had rated the book poorly often thought that the book’s lesson was selflessness, others were able to separate the story from the lesson, and appreciated this book for the mirror it provided, and treated it as a warning against selfless giving.

Skylar Burris rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: childrens

Many Christians (including myself initially) have thought of this as an allegory for Christ’s sacrifice. I can certainly see why people think this is a Christian allegory: the tree, like Christ, gives itself entirely for the boy, even to the point of abject humiliation. If it is a Christian allegory, however, it is the disturbing tale of Christ’s terrible, painful, continuous rejection by man, and _not_ the heart-warming tale of unconditional love and forgiveness many Christians take it to be.There is no repentance in “The Giving Tree,” and therefore no real forgiveness.

Some take it as a tale of unconditional parental love, but if it is, it is again a painful tale: a tale of the child who never, his entire life, truly learns to appreciate his parents. Environmentalist read it as a tale of man’s selfish exploitation of nature. Feminists regard it as a story of man’s subjugation and abuse of woman and woman’s failure to stand up for herself (the tree is a “she”). The fact that the book can speak to so many people on so many different levels is, I think, evidence of its subtlety and irony. It really can work on more than one level, if you _want_ it to.

As one reviewer beautifully observes:

Benjermin rated it 5 of 5 stars

Recommends it for: all human beings

My only thought is that many readers allow their hatred for the boy to be confused with hatred for the book. Does the book condone the boy’s behavior, or simply seek to tell a narrative? Does the quality of a book suffer when the moral quality of its characters flags?

It is the job of narrative to relate a story. It is the job of a classic to relate a timeless story, to which countless readers of any age can relate. So whence the hatred? Is it because so many readers have known people who have taken and taken with such unrelenting fervor that they then displace this hatred onto a book that merely tells a story so fundamental it can’t help but arouse feelings in any human who reads it?

The Giving Tree is a book that disturbed me, that shook me up, that made me wonder about the dangers of giving too much, especially for the tree, but also the little boy. For instance, did the boy learn he could “take” in all other relationships too? While givers can feel burned by selfless giving, it’s also worth remembering that too much giving harms the other person too.

Givers, who often find it hard to draw boundaries for themselves, could benefit from the giving tree by thinking about it this way then: “I will not give to you selflessly, not because it’s bad for me (though it is), but it’s bad for you too.”

How do YOU feel about the Giving Tree? Do leave your thoughts in the comments below. And if this post helped you in any way, don’t hesitate to share with others who may also find it helpful.

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“I Don’t Know” Are Wise and Wonderful Words

One of my heroes, Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” and the co-founder of the Quiet Revolution recently shared this piece of wisdom from Cass Sunstein’s new book on overcoming groupthink, “Wiser”:

When people lack confidence, they tend to be tentative and, therefore, moderate, knowing that their own views may be wrong. The great American judge Learned Hand once said that ‘the spirit of liberty is that spirit which is not too sure that it is right.’ Tentative people respect the spirit of liberty. But as people gain confidence, they usually become more extreme in their beliefs. The reason is that a significant moderating factor — their own uncertainty about whether they are right — has been eliminated.

Yet, expressing this spirit which “is not too sure that is is right,” which acknowledges that problems are complex and things are connected and messy in ways that take time and depth to unravel is often looked down upon, especially in domains such as business or politics.

Though questions and doubts are the raw ingredients from which insights, solutions, and ultimately, value emerges, “I don’t know” are still difficult words for people to speak in business.

As Stephen Levitt, coauthor of “Think Like a Freak,” a manual which teaches the  approach Levitt and Stephen Dubner used to write the bestselling Freaknomics says:

It’s absolutely been my experience in business that nobody ever wants to admit that they don’t know the answer to questions, even when it’s patently obvious that they can’t know the answers because of the (limited) information they have. Businesspeople, especially in front of their bosses, have an almost unlimited ability to sit back and mint answers they don’t know. To me, that’s exactly the opposite of the “Freakonomics” approach.

Although projecting certainty can provide the air of knowing the answers, it does not ensure that that those answers are correct. But the incentives of the business world, and other domains such as politics, seem to call for this all-knowing stance, instead of one of curiosity, of uncertainty, of a desire for true knowledge. Here’s how Dubner explains it:

I understand the way the incentives work. I understand that reputation works. Nobody wants to be the ignoramus or the dummy. If I’m a politician and someone says, “Governor Blah Blah, Senator Blah Blah, we just had this terrible mass shooting at a school. If you could do anything — if all options were available to you — what would you do to prevent that in the future?”

The way the world works is, [the politician will respond], “I’m gonna tell you. I’m gonna do these three things, and that’s what will do it.” [But if you follow up with the question:] “Do you have any evidence? Is there any empirical reason to think that that actually would work?” Often, I hate to say it, [the answer is] no. You see that in certain realms — politics and in business where the incentives are different. There’s a big incentive to get it right in business, but there’s also a lot of, for lack of a more sophisticated term, peer pressure to be the gal or guy who knows, who has the plan.

And while the peer pressure and personal value is a force in the present, the outcome of the solution proposed so emphatically can only be seen in the distant future, by when the decision makers have likely moved on to different things, unlikely to be judged on their “plan.”

Faced with this reality, only the few who genuinely care about finding the right answer, about helping the cause, not just helping their own careers, risk saying “I don’t know.”

Yet, over the long-term, businesses do want decision makers to take decisions that are in the long-term interest of the business, not just themselves. So, it might make sense for companies to build an atmosphere which values thoughtful enquiry, not bravado, which respects healthy confidence and judgment, but questions a surety which comes too easy and slick.

Of course, most routine questions don’t require a deep investigation. But every once in a while questions and puzzles come up which are better answered by saying “I don’t know,” and then trying to find the answers.

How do you feel about saying or hearing “I don’t know?” What strategies can make it easier to say or hear these words?

Magic Words

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How Extroverts Could Unknowingly Harm Their Introverted Colleagues

I recently came across the lemonprovocatively titled article, “How Introverts Secretly Hold Back Their Extroverted Colleagues.” My first reaction to the title was skepticism. I should probably clarify here that I am an introvert per MBTI, an ambivert per Daniel Pink’s assessment, and a social introvert per the STAR method. Skeptical, yet curious, I read on:

Introverted employees may have it out for their more outgoing peers, according to researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Florida, and University of Notre Dame. Not only are introverts more likely to rate extroverted colleagues as worse performers at work, they’re less likely to give them credit.

Introverts, especially those living in more extroverted cultures, may find this allegation hard to believe. In her revolutionary book “Quiet“, Susan Cain talks about the challenges introverts face living under the “Extrovert Ideal,” and the biases they face from the extroverts around them. But this article suggests the opposite.

Here’s one of the studies the article quotes:

…178 students were each assigned to a four- or five-person project team for the semester, then asked to complete questionnaires about their team members midway through the term. Additionally, they were asked to share thoughts on how they got along as a team, as well as their own personalities.

To the researchers’ surprise, introverted team members rated other introverts higher than extroverts, while the extroverts didn’t seem to be influenced by the personalities of their teammates at all.

What might be the reason behind this apparent bias? Do introverts really “have it out for their more outgoing peers?”

Well, this could be one of the contributing factors. For introverts who’re quiet-shamed under the Extrovert Ideal, some might indeed feel resentful enough to lose their sense of fairness and rate extroverts poorly. But is this really true for most of the people, most of the time? I don’t think so.

I don’t have access to this particular study, but I do have a hunch about why this might have happened. The answer lies in the lemon experiment.

The lemon experiment shows that introverts salivate more than extroverts when tasting lemon juice. This sensitivity to stimuli occurs not just when tasting lemon juice, but also in every other sphere of life, including social interactions. Since introverts are more easily stimulated, they prefer working in a calm and peaceful environment, i.e., they are looking to lower their  level of stimulation. On the other hand, extroverts don’t do as well in the same calm and peaceful environment which they might find dull, i.e., they are looking to increase their level of stimulation.

The acclaimed psychologist and professor, Brian Little demonstrates this concept of optimal stimulation in his charming Ted Talk: Confessions of a Passionate Introvert. (Time: 3:14 – 7:22)

So, in light of this new understanding of extroverts and introverts, let’s re-examine the study we discussed above.

When working on the project together, it’s possible that the working style and work environment preferences for introverts and extroverts differed. And since the work environment is often geared for the Extrovert Ideal (think open plan offices and group brainstorming), it’s likely that introverts in the group find themselves working in a situation that is not conducive for them to do their best (i.e., in which they are over stimulated). Since the work environment and methods work well for extroverts, they may be unaware of how these practices don’t work for introverts. Since they find these interactions energizing and stimulating,  they struggle to understand that the same interactions may be draining for introverts. So, an extrovert may judge introverts “objectively” on their performance, without considering that the introvert is working in a inhospitable environment, if you will. Introverts on the other hand are very conscious of the effect that their extroverted colleagues and extroverted working methods have on them and their introverted peers. So, the lower rating they may give extroverts is likely to be because of the negative externality of highly extroverted behavior on the more introverted folks.

One of the  researchers of the study concludes:

The issue might be that extroverts just need to hit a “dimmer switch” when interacting with their taciturn peers.

While this is no doubt good, sensible advice, what is really important is educating extroverts of the effect they can have on introverts and their need to be more mindful of the needs of people different from them.

It would also be helpful to learn more about the wonderful, rich, and complex tapestry that is the introverted mind, instead of labeling them taciturn or using diminutive terms like “that introvert.” Like the wise Susan Cain says, just like feminism is not anti-men, the power of introverts is not against extroverts. Just like women need their voice heard to overcome oppression, so do introverts need their voice heard and their needs met to blossom and grow.

How can YOU make the world a better place for the introverts in your life? If you’re an introvert, what have you done to share your needs at college, work, or at home? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you think this piece could help an introvert or an extrovert you know, don’t hesitate to share this with them.

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The really powerful communication is “power-less” communication—A lesson by Benjamin Franklin and Adam Grant

Shake-the-world-gandhi-quoteAs I was reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, I was struck by the passage below where he talks about the art of persuading people. For context, Franklin is talking about how he came to adopt the Socratic method of debate, which he took to great lengths, often entangling people with his questions in a web of their own making. He gradually let go of this practice, but retained the habit of speaking with doubt and inquiry, instead of certainty, and found this manner of speech helpful in persuading people. He writes:

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may be possibly disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so and so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please, or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.”

Wait a second. Is Franklin really recommending talking with “modest diffidence” and avoiding “giving the air of positiveness to an opinion?” This seems opposite to the rules for success in today’s world where a forceful, emphatic communication style is valued, and “modest diffidence” is seen as a sign of under-confidence. Would Franklin have succeeded in today’s world? Or would he have been told that he didn’t inspire confidence and needed to work on developing a more forceful communication style?

Adam Grant provides some answers in Give and Take, the book that influenced me the most this year. Adam’s research indicates that there are three common reciprocity styles: “givers” give generously without doing the math on what they’re getting in return, “takers” take as much as they can, and “matchers” are as generous as the person they’re dealing with. These reciprocity styles are in turn closely related to how each of these categories of people try to achieve influence and how they communicate with others. Adam says:

Takers are attracted to, and excel in gaining dominance. In an effort to claim as much value as possible, they strive to be superior to others. To establish dominance, takers specialize in powerful communication: they speak forcefully, raise their voices to assert their authority, express certainty to project confidence, promote their accomplishments and sell with conviction and pride. They display strength by spreading their arms in dominant poses, raising their eyebrows in challenge, commanding as much physical space as possible, and conveying anger and issuing threats when necessary.”

Well, if career self-help is anything to go by, it looks like takers are adopting the all the right tactics to get ahead.

Except, they won’t.

It turns out that dominance is not really a sustainable path to influence. A forceful communication style can backfire, especially when communicating with a skeptical audience, and the more takers try to dominate, the more the audience resists. As Franklin onserved, “…I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us…” In fact, even when the audience is receptive, dominance is not a sustainable strategy, advises Adam. Dominance is a zero sum game, and the more one person has dominance, the less  others do. And so when a more dominant person comes into the picture, the taker is likely to lose his or her dominance.

So, what is the sustainable path to influence? Building prestige, a path that givers naturally gravitate towards. Unlike dominance, prestige is not a zero sum game. We can all enjoy prestige by virtue of our thoughts and action. Prestige is not a limited commodity like dominance, and this makes it more sustainable. Adam found that givers influence those around them by virtue of the prestige they have gained,  but the manner in which they do so looks very different from the way takers try to influence.

The way givers influence and persuade remind me of Gandhi. In a gentle way, they believe they can shake the world. As Adam puts it, givers adopt a “power-less” communication style, instead of adopting a powerful communication style:

Because they value the perspectives and interests of others, givers are more inclined toward asking questions than offering answers, talking tentatively than talking boldly, admitting their weaknesses than displaying their strengths, and seeking advice than imposing their views on others.”

While a powerful communication style is considered the de facto style for success, Adam found that the powerless communication style has many benefits when presenting, selling, persuading, or negotiating. While a powerful communication style may be great for some purposes (e.g., getting a foot in the door in a job interview), a powerless communication style is actually more effective when collaborating with others and persuading them. This is something the wise Franklin knew when he said: “…never using, when I advanced any thing that may be possibly disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; bur rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so and so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.”

As I see it, underneath the power-less communication style lies the intent to listen, to learn, and do what is best for the greater good, and people respond to this energy. While a powerful communication style certainly has its merits, at its worst, it steamrolls people into consent, and we all know the result of that is never pretty. The person who confidently, certainly, loudly asserts there are no holes in their thinking and steamrolls ahead crushes the knowledge that lies with others. As Franklin warned: “If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.”

So, if you really want to be a powerful communicator, leave space in the room for people to assimilate your opinion, instead of forcing it on them. Listen more, talk less. Don’t hesitate to say you don’t know, and then go find out. See the value that others bring. Win with prestige, not dominance.

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