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.


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.


The Almighty Group Revisited

by Vicki on May 30, 2014

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
  • Group polarization
  • Discontinuity effect of inter-group conflict
  • Realistic group conflict theory
  • In-group favoritism

At the end of my initial post, I indicated I would blog at a later time on how social psychologists have managed to get people to see and move beyond the mighty hold of the group.

Based on a cursory survey of the literature of group dynamics, here is a list of things researchers suggest to avoid group biases:

  • Anticipate groupthink when working in groups. Monitor for it and have processes in place to mitigate it.
  • The role of a devil’s advocate is critical to any group. Assign one or more group members to this role and actively think through alternative points of view expressed from this perspective.
  • The composition and size of groups matter. Groups led by strong persuasive leaders, groups that are highly cohesive and groups that are large in size are especially at risk.
  • Avoid pressure to make a “good” or “right” decision. Intense pressure can push group members to censor themselves, not look at information objectively and not seek out alternatives (e.g., high stress and low hope of finding a solution).
  • Seek information from experts outside the group. It is in our nature to “buy” what our own group is “selling”. An external point of view is critical to good decision-making.
  • Actively invite criticisms and minority positions
  • Foster healthy communication and trust. Groups that enjoy these elements are less likely to fall prey to group biases.
  • Have group decisions evaluated by an external independent resource

After sifting through this literature, I still believe that professionals’ inability to see complementary points of view can partially be explained by the groups to which they subscribe and group biases.

But as it often happens when reading and writing about phenomena, new ideas have emerged that might help shed further light on this tendency. Specifically that process is persuasion, or:

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

My next blog post will explore the art and science of persuasion and how it may be used to help people see alternative points of view.

6 Steps for Avoiding Groupthink on Your Team
Avoiding Groupthink
Board Bias: Setting Acquisition Premiums
Mitigating the Negative Decision Making Consequences of Groupthink and Other Social Pressures


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