A Pulitzer Prize-winning Writer Reveals How the Best Communicators ‘Click’

Charles Duhigg, a New York Times best-selling author and writer for the New Yorker, talks about his new book, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection (Random House, February 2024).

What distinguishes someone as a ‘supercommunicator’ if we are all hardwired to communicate?

CD: The easiest way to explain a supercommunicator is to describe one. You probably know who to call if you’re having a bad day and need someone to raise your spirits or make you laugh. That person that you know to call is a supercommunicator to you. Conversely, you’re probably a supercommunicator for them.

There are even some people who can be supercommunicators for almost everyone—and can do it consistently. They tend to think about conversation and communication deeper than everyone else. They consider everything before they open their mouths, and they’ve developed listening habits that enable them to find out what’s going on.

Supercommunicators ask ten to 20 times more questions than the average person. Those questions can include something like, “That’s interesting. What did you think of that?” or “What did you say next?” They pose questions that invite us into the conversation.

Some of their questions are “deep questions.” These questions ask people about their values, beliefs, or experiences. An example of this could be as easy as saying, “You’re a lawyer. What made you decide to go to law school?” They ask questions that dig into learning who people are. They aren’t overly intimate questions but an opportunity to share who we are. People love the opportunities to share those things, which could feel amazing.

How do supercommunicators approach important conversations?
CD: Most conversations fall into one of three buckets: emotional, practical, and social. In emotional conversations, we want to talk about our feelings. In practical conversations, we want to solve a problem or create a plan together, and in social, we want to talk about how we relate to each other and how society relates to us.

Researchers have found that consistent supercommunicators tend to pay more attention to the type of conversation that’s occurring. If I ask a coworker, “How was your weekend?” and that person responds with something that touches the emotions, such as “Oh, it was amazing! I saw my kid graduate from college!” It’s easy to glance over that moment by hopping into a work discussion after saying, “congratulations.”

What a supercommunicator hears in that situation is a coworker who wants to have an emotional conversation—not a hugely emotional one, but a little bit of one. Instead, the person might ask, “What did that feel like when you watched your kid walk across the stage?”

Supercommunicators offer an opportunity for people to have the type of conversation they’re seeking and match the type of discussions others are having. They’re clear about what kind of conversation they want and need. When this happens, we become neurally entrained. We begin to think alike, which allows us to connect. Studies show that this occurrence enables us to understand what the other person is saying very clearly. More here.

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