Rethinking how we communicate


“Powerless communication”

The term leaves you satisfied in never needing to know more. Who wants to learn about something that is powerless? It’s the opposite of what the Western culture strives for. And yet, as I left a meeting with a Washington State Representative, I was convinced that it is the key to successfully conveying ideas.

In his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, author Adam Grant proposes a new way of gaining influence by means of respect and admiration. This approach involves conveying vulnerability, asking questions and providing suggestions rather than ultimatums. All of these directly target my assumptions for making a point, but as demonstrated in my meeting, these components help transform the meeting from a debate to a dialogue. I could tell in the first couple minutes, the representative was waiting for me to unload my prepared argument on her. I explained my experience with the issue and admitted that although I thought the referenced bill was a step in the right direction, I was not absolutely certain that it was the best approach. We spent the next half hour talking about how we are both connected to the topic and what both of us would like to see happen in policy and implementation. She acknowledged my experience and asked for more information and continued interaction regarding the subject. I’m not sure that I accomplished the traditional goal of “lobbying” a bill, but I do feel that both of us felt heard and open-minded to different experiences and approaches. For a first meeting, it set a positive groundwork for continuing the conversation down the line.

So thank you Adam Grant for introducing powerless communication, but can we think about changing the term we use? For such a helpful tool, it has an underwhelming title.


Adam Grant has a great Ted Talk on powerless communication, which you can find here.

Also, “7 Ways to Use the Power of Powerless Communication.”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by miriamhacker. Bookmark the permalink.

About miriamhacker

A native to the Pacific Northwest, Miriam completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. Her current research interests focus on the relationships between cultural understanding and access to sanitation technology as well as social sustainability in international development. Prior to her doctoral studies, Miriam worked in stormwater regulation for a local municipality. Outside of research, Miriam enjoys volunteering with a local non-profit organization, exploring local coffee shops and watching professional basketball.

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