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  • Dan Connors

Supercommunicators- healing the world one conversation at a time.




Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection Charles Duhigg 2024


“The most effective communicators pause before they speak and ask themselves: Why am I opening my mouth? Unless we know what kind of discussion we’re hoping for—and what type of discussion our companions want—we’re at a disadvantage....Sometimes people don't know how to listen…They think listening means debating, and if you let someone else make a good point, you're doing something wrong. But listening means letting someone else tell their story, and then, even if you don't agree with them, trying to understand why they feel that way.” Charles Duhigg


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


We live in an age of hyper-communication. Technology has allowed us to talk to others across the globe, and perhaps reach millions at any one time. We can call, text, video chat, and use social media to communicate, yet so many of us feel like no one is truly listening. What are the secrets to good communication? Why do most of us suck at it? (I count myself in that group.) It's so easy to put content out there these days. There are an estimated 500 million messages posted on X, (formerly Twitter) every day, 34 million Tik Tok videos uploaded every day, and a blizzard of content on Facebook, podcasts, and blog entries like this one. (Thank you by the way for reading this blog).


The problem with most of these methods of communication is that they are one-way. Though some have message boards, there is little back and forth between messengers and those who consume their messages. This dynamic carries over into real life, where workplaces, schools, politics and even families are places where communication only goes in one direction and more and more people feel unheard and unappreciated. This has contributed to what the surgeon general calls a "loneliness epidemic", where people with hundreds of friends on social media can't find anyone to confide in during crises.


The new book, Supercommunicators, by Charles Duhigg tries to look at the basics of good communication and how to do it right. Duhigg is a reporter and author of two other best-selling books - The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, both of which I've read and reviewed highly.


What is the goal of a conversation? In Duhigg's telling, it is to communicate back and forth and gain new knowledge and understanding. He calls these learning conversations, which leave both participants satisfied and feeling heard. The book is divided into the three types of conversations that the author sees from the data. Recognizing which type of conversation one is having is key to being able to communicate, and sometimes all three can get covered in the same conversation. They are:


  1. The what is this really about conversation. Examples of this are job negotiations, vacation planning, or problem-solving. These conversations are about decisions that need to be made and information that needs to be exchanged. When all parties are on the same page, these conversations should go fairly smoothly. But when there is emotional energy that prevents something from getting addressed, then the next option comes into play.

  2. The how do we feel conversation. Talking about emotional topics can be very tricky. Before diving into one, a level of trust needs to be established. When people start with safer, open-ended questions, they invite others to start opening up. This only works if the questioner is willing to open up and be vulnerable too. Asking open ended questions about how someone feels about something, what's their favorite thing, or if they could change anything, what would they change invites some deeper discussions that can uncover the uncomfortable emotions at the heart of the discussion. But sometimes those feelings are so entrenched into an identity and status that discussions can get bogged down, which is where the last type of conversation comes in.

  3. The who are we conversation. How can someone confront racism, sexism, politics, religion, or other identity-related barriers to communication? This is a dilemma for our time, as increasing polarization has prevented meaningful conversations on all of these issues. The key here is to realize that none of us has only one identity. We have dozens- parent, sibling, worker, Game of Thrones fan, Yankees fan, gardener, and many more. Studies have shown that prompting people to think of all their identities lessens any stereotype effects from the more dominant identity. If people can see something in common, they are less likely to turn the other into an enemy.


Duhigg includes several interesting stories here to illustrate his points, including how the Big Bang Theory overcame audience's resistance to the social ineptitude of its characters, how Netflix handles communication in a unique way, the way a gun control advocate and a gun supporter came to communicate with each other, and how a spy was recruited against her initial hesitation with super-communication techniques.


Life is not a debate. There are no winners and losers in a learning conversation. There are losers only when both people only interested in being right. In addition to asking open-ended questions to gain understanding, it's most effective to repeat the other party's answers in your own words and make sure that the message was received correctly. That's the only for them to feel heard. Changing the subject is disrespectful and cowardly.


Anti-vaxxers, for instance, have a legitimate fear of vaccines and medicine in general. Fear is a powerful emotion and cannot be conquered with reason alone. That's why the who are we and how do we feel conversations are the most effective at breaking through. But they have to be done in good faith and with empathy. Fear causes us to raise our defenses and discount any new information, which is dangerous in an age where having the correct information is critical.


In all, Supercommunicators is a welcome addition to the field of getting your message across. We all like to think we know more than we do, and hesitate to invite other opinions. But we live in a complicated and interconnected world, and communication skills, especially dealing with emotional intelligence, are what gets us closer to reality than anything on social media.

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