Supercommunicators Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Supercommunicators is a guide to connecting more genuinely and efficiently with other people thanks to identifying 3 kinds of recurring conversations, and then aligning with others to help everyone feel heard, validated, and get what they want. 

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Supercommunicators Summary

What was a conversation that changed your entire life? Try to remember one. Perhaps it was an emotional breakup over FaceTime? An offhand comment that ended up burning an important bridge? Maybe it was a heated family discussion that ultimately helped you find clarity and make an important decision.

In Charles Duhigg‘s case, he was once asked to manage multiple people as part of a complex project. With a Harvard MBA and years of communication experience as a journalist, what could go wrong? A lot, it turns out. At one point, a colleague told him they felt unheard. Duhigg yet again only rattled off a list of suggestions — until he heard it point blank: “You’re not listening to me.”

Thankfully, Duhigg reflected on his own failure and started calling scientists and experts. Three years later, he can now present his learnings in book-form: Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection explains that great, successful conversations follow from a concrete set of skills — a set of skills anyone, even you, can learn.

Here are 3 lessons from the book to help you communicate better than you ever have before:

  1. Good communication always goes back to matching one another in conversation.
  2. There are 3 kinds of conversations we have again and again. Learn to identify them.
  3. To successfully align with others in any conversation, follow 4 simple rules.

Let’s see what it takes to become a supercommunicator!

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Lesson 1: The root of all great communication is alignment with other human beings.

When he was 18, Alex Hormozi worked for a fur coat dealer. One day, a lady made a scene about a button coming off. Instead of defending his product, John, the store owner, got worked up on the lady’s behalf. “Mrs. Johnson! This is outrageous! Who sold this coat to you? We’ll fire them immediately!”

Ironically, this quickly calmed the lady down. “Oh, it’s not so bad, this happens. If you just repair my coat, I’ll be happy!” The lesson for Alex? “There can only be one person in the angry-boat.” As soon as she saw John getting angry for her, the customer changed her mood and tone to resolve the situation smoothly instead of escalating it.

In the book, Duhigg calls this “the matching principle.” It’s the most important aspect of being a great communicator. “Effective communication requires recognizing what kind of conversation is occurring, and then matching each other,” he writes.

Aligning with others is about more than just mimicking them. “To become a supercommunicator, we need to listen closely to what’s said and unsaid, ask the right questions, recognize and match others’ moods, and make our own feelings easy for others to perceive.” These are not easy tasks, let alone when you must perform them habitually and at the same time. But they are all learnable skills — and that’s what we’ll get into next!

Lesson 2: Most of our conversations fall into 1 of 3 important-to-recognize categories.

To align with people, you must quickly identify what kind of conversation is taking place. That requires a framework to place conversations in, and said framework marks the core of Duhigg’s book. These 3 conversations are our most common:

  1. The “What’s this really about?” conversation, which is logical and analytical in nature and requires a decision-making mindset
  2. The “How do we feel?” conversation, which is dominated by our emotions, beliefs, and memories. It requires an emotional mindset.
  3. The “Who are we?” conversation, which touches on “our relationships, how we are seen by others and see ourselves, and our social identities.” This one asks us to be in a social mindset.

When we’re in “What’s this really about?” mode, we must determine what to talk about and how we’ll arrive at conclusions together. That means understanding we are negotiating, figuring out what everyone wants, and then using either data and reasoning or stories and compassion to achieve consensus.

In “How do we feel?” conversations, “we need to listen for vulnerabilities, hear what is unsaid—and, just as important, we must show we are listening,” Duhigg writes. That takes matching people’s mood and energy, asking deep questions, ensuring you’ve understood, and showing vulnerability.

“Who are we?” conversations are tough. They’re about our role in larger groups. To navigate the tricky waters of race, politics, and co, we must remind everyone they have multiple identities, get people “on equal footing,” and then leverage our existing roles into a new, shared group.

Many conversations go through all 3 of these stages. So let’s see how we can become fluent in identifying and moving through them!

Lesson 3: Use 4 rules to turn any discussion into “a learning conversation” and thus find alignment with others.

The most important takeaway from Duhigg’s book might be this: When you try to turn every conversation into a learning conversation, you’ll quickly get better at identifying types of discussions — and thus also at matching and connecting with other people.

Duhigg suggests 4 rules you can follow to do so:

  1. Pay attention to what kind of conversation is happening.
  2. Share your goals, and ask others for theirs.
  3. Ask others about their feelings, and share your own.
  4. Consider if identities might be important to this discussion.

This is an extremely practical 4-step framework you can follow in any exchange. If a close colleague tells you she is struggling with finishing a big report, does she seem like she wants to be helped, hugged, or simply heard? Depending on your answer, you can settle into a decision-making, emotional, or social mindset.

“Is there something I can do to help?” and “Do you remember why you applied for this job?” are questions you can then use to dig deeper. Also notice clues, like whether she’s changing the subject or her body language.

Let’s say she tells you she is stressed by her non-work life as a single-parent. Summarize and repeat what you’ve understood so far to ensure it’s right. Also, match her mood! Don’t be all hyper if she’s quiet and reserved.

Finally, test the water on social identities. “Are you proud to be a successful single-mom?” If her frustration seems to go back to that identity, perhaps reminding her that she is also a valued member of your company is a good place to start!

There’s no one right way to use these rules, but if you keep practicing them, you’ll quickly become a better, perhaps even a supercommunicator!

Supercommunicators Review

Whether it’s The Power of Habit, Smarter Faster Better, or his research as a journalist, Charles Duhigg does not half-ass things — and Supercommunicators is no exception. It’s an excellent, well-compiled book full of interesting stories and practical tips. Be it in the workplace or at home, I’m sure you’ll find more than a few insights here that’ll help you communicate better!

Who would I recommend our Supercommunicators summary to?

The 13-year-old pubescent boy, who suddenly seems to fall out with his parents a lot, the 32-year-old university teacher who’s struggling to connect with her students, and anyone who regularly runs meetings at work.

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!