Give and Take by Adam Grant Part 5 – the power of powerless communication

Part 5 The power of powerless communications

IPart 1 I Part 2 I Part 3 I Part 4 I Part 5 I

Why are people who stammer as successful as they are? Jack Welch, Joe Biden, Carly Simon, James Earl Jones…. The opposite of a takers powerful communication is powerless communication.

1. Presenting the value of vulnerability is sometimes worth considering.

Adam tells the story of a 26 year old presenting to 23 colonels in the US Air Force.  He did the presentations on two sessions to different people.  The first one was not a successful because he spoke with confidence and presenting his credentials – the reviews very poor.  In the second session he changed his approach: he started with “ I know how you are feeling…what I can possibly learn from a professor who is 12 years old?”

But there is a twist.  Expressing vulnerability is only effective if the audience receives other signals establishing the speaker’s competence.

2. Selling: Separating the swindlers  from the Samaritans

He tells stories about eye care workers.  Powerless communication is generated by  asking questions.  For example if you are asked “Are you planning  to vote in the next Presidential elections?” the odds that you will vote increased by 41%. The art of advocacy is to lead you to my conclusions on your terms.

3. Persuading: the technique of tentative talk

Examples include hesitations well um… hedges – kinda sorta, disclaimers –  good idea but, tag questions – that’s interesting isn’t it and intensifiers – really.  The catch –  you cannot be tentative in a leadership position.

4. Negotiating: seeking advice in the shadow of a doubt

Annie was doing a night  time MBA in Los Angeles  the company moved from the west coast to eastcoast.  A taker would have handled it differently by being demanding.  Since she was a giver the CEO made the company jet available for her to fly back to the west coast for the MBA.  She got this by advice seeking – an effective way of exercising influence  when you lack authority.

There are four benefits of advice seeking: learning, perspective talking, commitment and flattery.


This was a really powerful chapter for me – I have read it several times.

I have observed a lot of people make use of powerless communication – I just wonder how many are conscious of this or it is just in their DNA?

For those who are conscious of the power of powerless communication I just wonder if it is like a form of manipulation – no different to takers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *