Power of Powerless Communication


Tries to get 50-year old air force wing-commanders to change their behavior

Second session he starts differently (not with his credentials) but …

Which is: “that I am a twelve-year old professor trying to teach you experienced guys something”

  • Silence
  • Laughter
  • No, you’re at least 13!

And he did the exact same presentation.

And this was now the feedback:

Everything I was taught to do in Western Culture:

  • To be confident
  • Assertive
  • Display my expertise


Making fun of myself, calling out the elephant in the room, turned out to be a really positive experience.

Important for building trust and connection with the people we interact with.

  1. Reveal your shortcomings
    only works if you are an expert and have previously given all the right answers
    humanizes them -> is a real person; I can relate to that person
    pratfall mistake, small mistake in an area of competency led people to warm up to the otherwise competent person

    < being open about your vulnerabilities and weaknesses & not only your strengths

  2. Assertiveness – MEETINGS:
    1. Come with an opinion
    1. Back it up with evidence
    1. Make sure that everybody believes me


If you are working with other people,
            collaborating on a team,
            serving a client on a project ->
=> Those people will care more (at first flush) with:
– whether you are concerned about their interests
– whether you are warm
– whether you are caring
than they will about your competence.

This is what we need to do gets less trust than
should we maybe do this?

Speaking powerlessly -> willing to defer to the interests of others -> gains their trust

< showing openness to the opinions of others – powerful,
although appearing powerless >

  • Ask questions,
    joy of talking paradox: the more you talk, the more you feel you learned

Ask someone for advice:

  1. You flatter them
    we all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice
    ‘cause they have really good taste!

  2. To give advice you have to have looked at the situation from their perspective
    – you tend to identify a little bit more
    – you’ll empathize a little bit more

  3. If there is any way you can help them, you’ll step up.
    -> if they were an adversary, they could become an advocate.

Incredibly powerful, despite the fact that

  • You don’t have all the answers
  • You don’t know what to do
  • You need and depend on the recommendations and wisdom of other people

Power in powerless communication:

  • When we reveal our shortcomings
    • -> people can relate to us
  • Step a little back from our ideas and show that
    • we are interested in what other people have to say and
    • we are willing to make a genuine connection with them and work with them as equals as opposed to in a steep hierarchy
  • When we start asking people questions
    • We learn things about them and we
    • We let them experience the great joy when we get to talk about our favorite topic on earth: ourselves

So consider – even if not in every conversation – when you feel the need to dominate

  • Power talk and
    • Power words
    • And being as dominant / confident / authoritative as you feel like you need to be

In order to command respect

That actually there is a power in

  • Speaking a little bit more softly
  • And tentatively
  • And quietly

To the point where other people can actually relate to you as a human being


His does not work with people who have low self-esteem

They’ll identify and run for the hills.

And it doesn’t work with people with high self-esteem

They’ll think you are an idiot But

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