Powerless Communication?

Earlier this year I shared the thesis of a workshop I designed and facilitated for the Robert Toigo Foundation Groundbreakers Women in Leadership conference…Confident AND Collaborative Communication. I explored the challenge of balancing confident and collaborative styles that allow us to share our unique perspectives with confidence, while maintaining the ability to engage others through collaboration.

The session was very well received and the Robert Toigo Foundation has asked me to facilitate a similar session in 2015 for young professionals of color on their way to top MBA programs. As I continue to explore the topic in preparation for the upcoming session, I discovered the concept of powerless communication in Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Check out previous blog posts including Givers, Takers and Matchers and The Secret Sauce of Successful Giving for more information about this thought-provoking book.

Grant’s thesis on the subject of communication is that powerless communication is more effective than powerful communication, with a few exceptions detailed below. Powerless communication techniques include asking questions, talking tentatively, showing vulnerability, and seeking advice. Powerful communication includes offering answers, talking boldly, displaying strength and sharing one’s own point of view. Through powerless communication, he argues, we are able to make stronger connections, build trust, and persuade and negotiate more successfully. The positive outcomes of powerless communication include better collaboration, building stronger networks, and ultimately garnering greater influence.

So while I advocate for balancing confident (powerful) with collaborative (powerless) communication, Grant would argue that powerless communication is almost always more effective. The exceptions he suggests are (1) when you really are incompetent regarding a particular subject, in which case powerless communication will reinforce your lack of knowledge, whereas powerful speak will make you appear more competent, […]

Revisiting the “80/20 rule”

I had lunch recently with a friend who referenced the “80/20 rule” because someone had referenced it to her.  When we compared notes on what it means, we realized that neither of us was entirely sure. I realized in that moment that the term “80/20 rule” is part of my vocabulary but I have lost touch with it’s actual meaning. In the spirit of “Words Matter,” a blog I posted in September last year, I thought it was time to revisit the meaning of these words. In addition, I closed out 2014 by asking the question, “how are you spending the 24 hours you are given each day?” and this concept of “80/20 rule” is completely relevant, as I know that it relates to focus and leveraging time for the greatest impact and value.

What I re-discovered about the “80/20 rule” also known as the Pareto Principle, is that it means that 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. 80% of the sales comes from 20% of the customers. 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the clients. 80% of the sales come from 20% of the products. In other words, as it relates to time management and focus…focus on the 20% that matters. Focus on the 20% that will drive results.

I, in fact, had this wrong. I was operating under the belief that 80% matters, so don’t sweat the last 20%. My interpretation was that once you get to 80%, the effort to achieve that last 20% going from 80 to 100% was not a good return on investment of time. Based upon this incorrect interpretation or recollection of what the “80/20 rule” means, I was devoting my attention to 80% rather […]

The challenge of balancing confident AND collaborative communication

Last month I had the honor to facilitate a workshop at the Robert Toigo Foundation Groundbreakers Women in Leadership conference. What an inspiring day of female leaders sharing their wisdom and insights.

The topic that I chose to address was how women manage the age-old challenge of, on the one hand, being perceived as aggressive if they appear too confident, and indecisive if they are too collaborative. The session title became Confident AND Collaborative Communication, in part because of the alliteration, but in the end…it seemed to work.

The thesis that I explored was that communication is a form of energy, and that our job as leaders is to find the right balance of confident and collaborative energy so as to both have and share our unique perspective with confidence, while maintaining the ability to engage others through collaboration.  Both forms of energy are managed through “how” we communicate, or the delivery, as well the “what” we deliver, in terms of content and word choice.
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For more information on energy management and it’s relationship to communication check out the work of Ginny Whitelaw, listed among the expert resources on

Despite the fact that this is an age-old challenge, the topics appears to have legs for women. No fewer than four other conference speakers raised an aspect of my thesis in their remarks.  Furthermore, I know the topic still has legs for women because based upon the session description alone it was oversubscribed by the attendees at the conference and was standing room only.  So there is still work to be done.

Since energy is a manifestation of how we feel, think, and behave…it is a complicated matter.  My session at this conference focused mostly on the […]

What can you learn by simply switching lenses?

Last month I spoke at the CLO Exchange, held on Coronado Island off of San Diego in southern California. A beautiful venue for a thought-provoking gathering of Chief Learning Officers and other learning professionals from around the country.

One of my messages was the importance of expanding beyond our functional expertise as learning professionals, to integrate best practices from other disciplines. Every function or discipline approaches problem solving through a particular lens, and often the solution can be found by simply switching lenses.

The case study I shared was about integrating marketing principles as learning professionals. I find that many learning and development practitioners struggle with how to get buy-in or support from the business leaders with whom they work for the portfolio of learning and development programs and services they offer. What is the ROI? How can we measure the outcomes? In a resource constrained world, both financial and human, business leaders are appropriately challenging their learning organizations as to the value of a leadership development workshop, or the rotational program for high performing talent. The natural tendency is to respond by defending the proposed workshop, to justify the cost of the rotational program, and to attempt to quantify the value of work that is inherently qualitative and difficult to measure. As an aside, I advocate for measuring business outcomes not the learning program, and linking the business outcomes back to the learning. But this is a topic for another blog posting…

Rather than falling into a trap of defending and justifying each workshop and program, what can we learn by looking through the lens of the marketing professional. Marketing teaches us the power of a brand. A strong brand equals a strong reputation. If you […]

Who do you want to be in 2015?


Last week I reflected on the question of how we each spend the 24 hours we are given each day. I am going to continue this line of reflection as we move into 2015, with the annual opportunity to define new beginnings. What are we going to finally start or stop doing? What New Year’s Resolution can I put into place that is going to have a profound and significant impact on the quality of my life? The challenge that many of us share is that we live in overly-scheduled, overly-demanding worlds that make it difficult to pack in all that we desire. My life is no different. I don’t have time to do all that I desire to do? Or do I?

I found a compelling answer in a book called Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul authored by Bill Hybels. Last August I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference led by Bill about which I wrote two blog postings at the time (What kind of leader do you want to be? and Words Matter). I found the conference to be inspiring and engaging that challenged my thinking on a number of topics. In Simplify, Bill reframed the question that we often ask ourselves as we manage the exploding demands on our time. Rather than asking “what am I going to do today, this week, this month, or this year”…ask “who do I want to BE at the end of today, this week, this month or this year?” As I evaluate each opportunity regarding how I spend my time against the question of who I want to BE, what I choose to do becomes much more clear. The question of who I want to […]

Feedback is a Gift: There is No Such Thing as Negative Feedback!


Welcome to JoinDrPam.  One question I was recently asked, which I often get, and which I would like to eradicate, is “What is the best way to give negative feedback?”

In order for feedback to be valuable, we need to move away from the notion that feedback is “positive” or “negative.”  Feedback is either appreciative or constructive.  Appreciative feedback tells us what we are doing well and need to continue in order to be effective, and constructive feedback tells us what we need to change in order to be more effective.

Both forms of feedback are positive…meaning constructive and helpful.  Neither form is negative… meaning harmful, damaging or destructive.  Feedback should be none of those things.  Given this reframing that all feedback is positive, the question is how to deliver it, even the constructive feedback, in a manner that will be well received by the recipient.  Here are a few tips or best practices on how to deliver feedback.

Pair appreciative feedback with constructive feedback, in that order.  People are more willing to listen to the constructive feedback after hearing what they are doing well.

Deliver the constructive feedback using language like, “you could be even more effective if…” People are more willing to accept the constructive feedback if the language speaks to how they could be more effective, rather than how what they just did really sucked.

Give constructive feedback early.  If you give constructive feedback the first time you observe a less than desirable behavior, you have a better chance of helping to keep one incident from becoming a negative pattern of behavior.

Deliver feedback 1:1.  Providing feedback is a mini development conversation and developing and coaching employees is best done during 1:1 sessions rather than in team […]

To assess or not to assess (with assessments)

One of the things that makes human capital management so interesting is that on the one hand it is a behavioral science; yes, “science” meaning that there has been systematic study of human behavior through observation and experiment that has yielded a body of knowledge on the subject.  On the other hand, it is the science of how people behave, and we are all unique individuals who can be surprising.

An area where this tension between the science and art of behavior exists is with high potential talent identification.  One could argue that it is increasingly important to determine in whom to invest limited resources from a development standpoint, thus requiring differentiation of talent into buckets, like high potential.  The artistic approach would suggest that “we will know them when we see them,” however perhaps there is a way to benefit from the behavioral science platform to be more systematic about how we identify this talent.

There are many assessment tools and resources out there.  So why is such a small percentage of the talent management world taking advantage of them?  In a recent AMA Enterprise survey, only 9% of HR and talent management professionals indicated that they have a systematic process for high potential identification.  Furthermore, of this relatively small percentage that have a process,  many use assessment processes that are subjective, including manager appraisal or a consensus approach in which leaders meet to discuss and assess whether someone should be considered high potential.  The most sophisticated and scientific approach of using assessment tools is rarely used.

Is it because leaders prefer the more artistic approaches?  Or is there some other root cause?

What do you think?
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Dr. Pam


Is successor and high potential development a luxury?

I think most would agree that doing succession planning and development and retention of high potentials is important for any business.  More advanced organizations also connect their high potential and succession processes to their learning and development processes so these populations can identify and develop in the required areas for future success. 

Those development planning programs can be quite elaborate and include a multitude of options including, but not limited to task forces, mentoring, coaching, action learning, various forms of assessment and feedback, experience management, and job rotations.  All of these options can generally be done while someone is in-role.  In addition, development can include changing roles specifically for the purpose of development.  

Kevin Wilde from General Mills has put together a nice presentation, “Temptations of a High Potential” that discusses these various development options and organizes them into four types of assignment.  The first three are all positive and allow people to develop exposure, competency or wisdom.  The fourth is called “stuck” and is an assignment that extends beyond that which was intended for any number of reasons.

This is just one of many well thought through and developed approaches to successor and high potential development.  My question is, if you are not in a large company with the luxury of thousands and thousands of roles to rotate people through, and/or are resource constrained such that it is difficult to provide stretch opportunities to people who are already overwhelmed with work…how do you execute these programs?

What do you think?

Dr. Pam