Communication Revisited

by Vicki on August 1, 2014

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.   George Bernard Shaw

Trudy and I have blogged many times throughout the years on the art and science of communicating effectively – in person, through print and online. In fact, a quick look back into our blogging archives suggests that communication might be one of our most blogged about topics.

Why so much attention on communication? It is a critical skill that colors all aspects of our relationships with others. Not having the ability to clearly and accurately convey thoughts, intentions and objectives to others has direct negative impacts on all facets of our life.

In the spirit of always trying to strengthen communication skills, I wanted to share this article by Douglas Van Praet  in Psychology Today.

This article focuses specifically on email and has some easy and practical tips on how we can all strengthen our text-based communication.

Here are some highlights from the article:

  • We communicate most effectively in real-life, real-time conversation
  • 7% of a message is derived from the words, 38% from the intonation, 55% from facial expression or body language
  • The brain cells of speakers and listeners actually synchronize (neural coupling) during successful communication
  • More extensive speaker-listener neural couplings result in more successful communication
  • The deeper the conversation, the more deeply our minds synchronize
  • In the absence of traditional trust indicators (e.g., voice intonation, emotional expression, body language) we default to speed of response as a key marker of trustworthiness
  • Our minds hate open loops or unresolved patterns (e.g., an email that receives no response). Open loops can cause significant psychological unrest.

The article ends with some practical tips on how to best manage communication based on these findings:

  • Be clear (not clever) and simple (not simpleton) in communication
  • Close the loop of conversation – Not closing the loop violates the highly valued norm of reciprocity
  • Respond quickly – Trust is key in relationships. Remember that speed is a proxy for trust in online communications. It matters.

And their last suggestion deserves extra emphasis – when in doubt, move the conversation offline. The phone is an OK option, video-conference is even better.

The richness afforded by an “in person” conversation is still the best option when what you are communicating really matters.


I had a delightfully unexpected brand experience a week ago that I must share. I experienced a beautifully designed and executed experience and I liked it. A lot. This company has done the work that we ask each of our clients to do. To look at each customer contact point and infuse their brand into it, create a unique brand experience. They did it well. Very well. Considering that I am not impressed easily, I have significant category dissatisfaction, and yet still entered the experience with some anticipation, this company exceeded my expectations.

Who has earned this impressed brand review? Virgin America Airlines. Virgin is a legendary brand known for its style, fun, irreverence and commitment to its customers. Virgin’s business entry strategy is to set up shop in markets where customers are being neglected. (Lordy, if the airline business is not one of these markets I do not know what would be! Air travel has become downright unpleasant, more a dreaded necessity to maneuver through than the start of a potentially exciting journey.) Virgin Atlantic has flown internationally for 30 years, and started flying within North American abut 7 years ago. My only disappointment is that it took me 7 years to find a way to travel them.

Some background, I view all North American airlines with such a high level of disdain that I truly resent that I have to give them my hard earned money. This negativity stems from the universally normalized complete lack of regard (at best) to the contemptibility they hold for us pesky customers (all too often). They get away with it because they can (everyone does it), and they hide behind profitability (yes it is important) as an excuse for making the traveller more and more uncomfortable and inconvenienced. The bar is truly buried for this industry.

And with this cynical attitude, mixed with some hope that Virgin will be different, I begin my journey. Booking – no crashing site, simple process and SURPRISE the best price option! (Don’t tell Virgin, but the truth is I would have paid a bit extra to try them out.). 24 hour check in, seamless and the boarding pass is identified as pre-cleared (a Virgin negotiated benefit for their traveller). Pre-cleared means jumping to the short que at security, manned by capable and prompt TSA personnel, nothing needs to be taken out of your bags, a swift transaction, almost like the good old days. Arrive at the gate: plane is on time. Gate personnel: friendly and efficient. Seems like they may even like their job! Enter the plane and it is a mélange of funky pink and purple lighting, white leather seats in business class, and even my coach seat is comfy. Leg room AND storage space. And the seat back pocket has dedicated spots for my cell phone and a bottle of water, and room behind for iPads/reading (why hasn’t anyone done that before!?). And I still am not done. There is an entertainment system that is actually entertaining. In addition to the usual TV/movies, there is seat to seat chatting, onscreen ordering of drinks and snacks, brought to you when you want (you can even send someone a drink), power outlets at each seat, inflight internet, and the dang seat is comfortable. Virgin calls this “feature rich” cabins, and yes indeedy, they are. But I am not done….still. When the safety briefing comes on, that we all tune out (I know you do), it is done in a captivatingly cheeky sung/rapped/choreographed visual video extravaganza. The safety briefing! I looked around and everyone was watching it with a smirk on their face. It is the first time I have paid attention to it in years. And finally, there was a lack of incessant chattering by the in flight crew on the PA. We took off on time, we landed early. It was a 10/10 plus a bonus point for no less than 4 delightful surprises. I repeatedly experienced the brand values of style, fun, irreverence and concern for customer. Thank you.

I realize I seem giddy about seemingly silly things, but all travelers know how annoying the little things can become, so it makes a difference. And Virgin planned for me to experience this and I immensely value this. Their goal with Virgin America is prove “it is possible to fly low-cost luxury” and to “give travelers more for their money” in order “to make flying fun again.”

Well done. I am gleeful over a brand experience so well managed. May it serve as inspiration for all of us.

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Powerful Persuasion

by Vicki on July 4, 2014

For the past few months, I’ve blogged about related phenomenon –

  • The tendency for groups of people in complementary fields who “should” be able to appreciate alternative points of view but who do not, and
  • How professionals’ inability to see complementary points of view can partially be explained by the groups to which they subscribe and group biases.

By the time I was done writing my last post, I was convinced that the process of persuasion was also central to understanding how people can be drawn in to see alternative points of view.

To recap, persuasion is:

the process by which a person’s attitudes or behaviour are, without duress, influenced by communications from other people.
persuasion. (2014).

According to Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation, persuasion works by appealing to a limited set of basic human drives and needs and it does so in very predictable ways. Research has shown that because persuasion is governed by basic principles, these can be taught, learned and applied.

The 6 principles of persuasion and their associated applications to influence attitudes and behaviours include:
Liking – People like those who like them, and we are more likely to agree with those we like.
Application: Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise

Reciprocity – People repay in kind. People are more likely to say yes to people they owe.
Application: Give what you want to receive

Social proof (or consensus) – People follow the lead of similar others
Application: Use peer power whenever it is available

Consistency – People align with their clear commitments
Application: Start with small initial commitments and make commitments active, public and voluntary

Authority – People defer to experts. Subtle signs such as displayed diplomas or white lab coats leverage this principle.
Application: Expose your expertise, don’t assume it is self evident

Scarcity – People want more of what they can have less of. It is not enough to tell people about the benefits of they will reap from your service or product, highlight what they will lose by not partaking in the service/product.
Application: Highlight unique benefits and exclusive information

[source: Cialdini, R.B., (2001). Harnessing the Science of Persuasion. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from]

Although the principles and their applications tend to be discussed separately for clarity, Cialdini suggests applying these principles in combination to compound their impact.

If your interest has been piqued and you want to know a bit more about how you can leverage the art and science of persuasion, here is a short video:

Do I still think persuasion is a relevant piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping others see alternative points of view? You bet. When done genuinely and ethically I think it is one of the most powerful tools we have to open people to new ideas and behaviors.


Our Greatest Leadership Imprint

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Many years ago I was asked to prepare a point of view and present a perspective on leadership. The point of the presentation was to suggest ways all of us could step up to be better leaders. As part of my preparation process I interviewed a number of people to determine who their most influential […]

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The Almighty Group Revisited

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A couple months ago, I blogged about the tendency for groups of people in complementary fields who “should” be able to appreciate alternative points of view but for whatever reason, emphatically do not. In my post, I suggested that group dynamics might be at play in hindering people’s abilities to see alternative ideas including: Groupthink […]

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