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Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg - Review and Discussion

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I recently finished reading Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg. It's a practical read with skills applicable in all aspects of life. While you can get a lot of the book by listening to this podcast, the book is more structured.

Here's the blurb:

Who and what are supercommunicators? They're the people who can steer a conversation to a successful conclusion. They are able to talk about difficult topics without giving offence. They know how to make others feel at ease and share what they think. They're brilliant facilitators and decision-guiders. How do they do it?

In this groundbreaking new book, Charles Duhigg unravels the secrets of the supercommunicators to reveal the art – and the science – of successful communication. He unpicks the different types of everyday conversation and pinpoints why some go smoothly while others swiftly fall apart. He reveals the conversational questions and gambits that bring people together. And he shows how even the most tricky of encounters can be turned around. In the process, he shows why a CIA operative was able to win over a reluctant spy, how a member of a jury got his fellow jurors to view an open-and-shut case differently, and what a doctor found they needed to do to engage with a vaccine sceptic.

Above all, he reveals the techniques we can all master to successfully connect with others, however tricky the circumstances. Packed with fascinating case studies and drawing on cutting-edge research, this book will change the way you think about what you say, and how you say it.

Here are my notes from the book with my most important personal takeaways, along with some thoughts:

The Importance of Questions

High centrality participants tended to ask ten to twenty times as many questions as other participants.

One of the main points of the book is that asking lots of deep questions is one of the keys to successful communication. Questions engage your interlocutor, create a bond, help avoid misunderstandings, and make others like you more since you're involved in getting to know them on a much deeper level than a regular person.

This was later stated this way:

Dozens of other studies from the University of Utah, the University of Pennsylvania, Emory, and elsewhere have found that people who ask lots of questions during conversations—particularly questions that invite vulnerable responses—are more popular among their peers and more often seen as leaders. They have more social influence and are sought out more frequently for friendship and advice. Any of us can do this in nearly any setting or conversation, be it with a roommate, a coworker, or someone we just met. We simply need to ask people how they feel and reciprocate the vulnerability they share with us.

Note that this also applies when you're looking for a business idea, looking for investors, talking with your customers, or managing your employees. Through questions, you can get a deep understanding of another person while also strengthening your relationship with them.

Having the Right Conversation, Matching, and Awareness

Duhigg also emphasizes the importance of knowing what kind of a conversation you're having and adapting to that:

Miscommunication occurs when people are having different kinds of conversations. If you are speaking emotionally, while I’m talking practically, we are, in essence, using different cognitive languages.

The author covers three types of conversations people have: decision-making, emotional, and social. If you don't understand what conversation you're having, you'll probably create conflict, as in a typical "practical man + empathy-seeking woman" scenario. As he writes:

(This explains why, when you complain about your boss—“Jim is driving me crazy!”—and your spouse responds with a practical suggestion—“What if you just invited him to lunch?”—it’s more apt to create conflict than connection: “I’m not asking you to solve this! I just want some empathy.”)

A supercommunicator is always making sure that they have the same kind of a conversation as the person they're speaking with. And then, they match the tone:

Effective communication requires recognizing what kind of conversation is occurring, and then matching each other. On a very basic level, if someone seems emotional, allow yourself to become emotional as well. If someone is intent on decision making, match that focus. If they are preoccupied by social implications, reflect their fixation back to them.

A large part of the book focuses on that awareness and seeking to be on the same wavelength. It's very important to be aware of all the little comments that may go unnoticed:

Perhaps you’re discussing plans for the weekend with a friend and, during a lull, they say, “There’s some stuff going on I might need to deal with.” Maybe you’re catching up with a coworker and you hear a sigh hinting at sadness and troubles. Perhaps it’s a reference to a family emergency, or a mention of how proud someone is of their kids. At these moments, you face a choice: Are you going to let that comment go by without asking for elaboration? Or are you going to acknowledge the feelings that were expressed, and respond emotionally yourself?

How to Ask Deep Questions

One of the parts I liked the most was about how to ask deep questions. Here's a good explanation of the difference between shallow and deep questions:

In 2016, a group of scientists from Harvard began wondering the same thing. They scrutinized hundreds of conversations that had been recorded during events such as speed-dating meetups, and gauged which conversations were successful (as measured by people saying they wanted to go on a real date), and which weren’t (people indicated they didn’t want to follow up). They found that during successful conversations, people tended to ask each other the kinds of questions that drew out replies where people expressed their “needs, goals, beliefs [and] emotions,” as the researchers later wrote. In unsuccessful conversations, people talked mostly about themselves, or they asked shallow questions, the kinds of inquiries that didn’t reveal anything about how their partners felt.

Put another way, if you want to have a successful conversation with someone, you don’t have to ask them about their worst memories or how they prepare for telephone calls. You just have to ask them to describe how they feel about their life—rather than the facts of their life—and then ask lots of follow-ups.

Questions about facts (“Where do you live?” “What college did you attend?”) are often conversational dead-ends. They don’t draw out values or experiences. They don’t invite vulnerability. However, those same inquiries, recast slightly (“What do you like about where you live?” “What was your favorite part of college?”), invite others to share their preferences, beliefs, and values, and to describe experiences that caused them to grow or change. Those questions make emotional replies easier, and they practically beg the questioner to reciprocate—to divulge, in return, why they live in this neighborhood, what they enjoyed about college—until everyone is drawn in, asking and answering back and forth.

Deep questions have three key features:

1. A deep question asks about someone’s values, beliefs, judgments, or experiences—rather than just facts. Don’t ask “Where do you work?” Instead, draw out feelings or experiences: “What’s the best part of your job?” (One 2021 study found a simple approach to generating deep questions: Before speaking, imagine you’re talking to a close friend. What question would you ask?)

2. A deep question asks people to talk about how they feel. Sometimes this is easy: “How do you feel about …?” Or, we can prompt people to describe specific emotions: “Did it make you happy when …?” Or ask someone to analyze a situation’s emotions: “Why do you think he got angry?” Or empathize: “How would you feel if that happened to you?”

3. Asking a deep question should feel like sharing. It should feel, a bit, like we’re revealing something about ourselves when we ask a deep question. This feeling might give us pause. But studies show people are nearly always happy to have been asked, and to have answered, a deep question.

Here's a useful example:

SHALLOW QUESTIONS...
...CAN BECOME DEEP


Where do you live?
What do you like about your neighborhood?

Where do you work?
What was your favorite job?

Where did you go to college?
What was the best part of college?

Are you married?
Tell me about your family.

How long have you lived here?
What’s the best place you’ve ever lived?

Do you have any hobbies?
If you could learn anything, what would it be?

Where did you go to high school?
What advice would you give a high schooler?

Where are you from?
What’s the best thing about where you grew up?

Looping for Understanding

To show that you're paying attention, avoid miscommunication and better understand your interlocutor, Duhigg provides one of the key techniques from the book: looping for understanding. Here's how he explains it:

So if a listener wants to prove they’re listening, they need to demonstrate it after the speaker finishes talking. If we want to show someone we’re paying attention, we need to prove, once that person has stopped speaking, that we have absorbed what they said.

And the best way to do that is by repeating, in our own words, what we just heard them say—and then asking if we got it right.

It’s a fairly simple technique—prove you are listening by asking the speaker questions, reflecting back what you just heard, and then seeking confirmation you understand—but studies show it is the single most effective technique for proving to someone that we want to hear them. It’s a formula sometimes called looping for understanding. The goal is not to repeat what someone has said verbatim, but rather to distill the other person’s thoughts in your own words, prove you are working hard to understand and see their perspective—and then repeat the process, again and again, until everyone is satisfied.

Why Bother With Communication Skills?

The quality of our relationships is the strongest predictor for mental and physical health:

The most important variable in determining whether someone ended up happy and healthy, or miserable and sick, was “how satisfied they were in their relationships,” one researcher wrote. “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest (mentally and physically) at age 80.”

Our communication skills have a huge impact on how many friends we have, what kind of friends they are, whether we're satisfied with our family life, etc.

Across the decades and surveys, similar findings emerged again and again: The happiest participants called others regularly, made lunch and dinner dates, sent notes to friends saying they were proud of them, or wanted to help them shoulder sad news. Most of all, happy participants engaged in many, many conversations over the years that brought them closer to others. “Through all the years of studying these lives, one crucial factor stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity,” reads a 2023 summary of the Harvard data. “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier.” And, in many instances, those relationships were established, and kept alive, via long and intimate discussions.

Ever since I started reading this book, I started working on asking people more questions and probing deeper, going into feelings. That's my main takeaway, the extreme 80/20 of the book. I think that formulating questions powers curiosity, and curiosity transforms into engagement and a deep desire to be a satisfying conversational partner.

Again, I don't think you need to read the entire book as my summary covers most of it. And in some ways, the mentioned podcast is better because it shows in practice how the author uses it (and how the host responds and uses it, too - it's a very beautiful conversation). So here's that video again:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWamRVY9ZKg
 
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I recently finished reading Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg. It's a practical read with skills applicable in all aspects of life. While you can get a lot of the book by listening to this podcast, the book is more structured.

Here's the blurb:



Here are my notes from the book with my most important personal takeaways, along with some thoughts:

The Importance of Questions



One of the main points of the book is that asking lots of deep questions is one of the keys to successful communication. Questions engage your interlocutor, create a bond, help avoid misunderstandings, and make others like you more since you're involved in getting to know them on a much deeper level than a regular person.

This was later stated this way:



Note that this also applies when you're looking for a business idea, looking for investors, talking with your customers, or managing your employees. Through questions, you can get a deep understanding of another person while also strengthening your relationship with them.

Having the Right Conversation, Matching, and Awareness

Duhigg also emphasizes the importance of knowing what kind of a conversation you're having and adapting to that:



The author covers three types of conversations people have: decision-making, emotional, and social. If you don't understand what conversation you're having, you'll probably create conflict, as in a typical "practical man + empathy-seeking woman" scenario. As he writes:



A supercommunicator is always making sure that they have the same kind of a conversation as the person they're speaking with. And then, they match the tone:



A large part of the book focuses on that awareness and seeking to be on the same wavelength. It's very important to be aware of all the little comments that may go unnoticed:



How to Ask Deep Questions

One of the parts I liked the most was about how to ask deep questions. Here's a good explanation of the difference between shallow and deep questions:



Deep questions have three key features:



Here's a useful example:



Looping for Understanding

To show that you're paying attention, avoid miscommunication and better understand your interlocutor, Duhigg provides one of the key techniques from the book: looping for understanding. Here's how he explains it:



Why Bother With Communication Skills?

The quality of our relationships is the strongest predictor for mental and physical health:



Our communication skills have a huge impact on how many friends we have, what kind of friends they are, whether we're satisfied with our family life, etc.



Ever since I started reading this book, I started working on asking people more questions and probing deeper, going into feelings. That's my main takeaway, the extreme 80/20 of the book. I think that formulating questions powers curiosity, and curiosity transforms into engagement and a deep desire to be a satisfying conversational partner.

Again, I don't think you need to read the entire book as my summary covers most of it. And in some ways, the mentioned podcast is better because it shows in practice how the author uses it (and how the host responds and uses it, too - it's a very beautiful conversation). So here's that video again:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWamRVY9ZKg
Hmm. Interesting. I like asking questions in the forum to get people to think or to gently guide. I think questions are underrated.
 

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I recently finished reading Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg. It's a practical read with skills applicable in all aspects of life. While you can get a lot of the book by listening to this podcast, the book is more structured.

Here's the blurb:



Here are my notes from the book with my most important personal takeaways, along with some thoughts:

The Importance of Questions



One of the main points of the book is that asking lots of deep questions is one of the keys to successful communication. Questions engage your interlocutor, create a bond, help avoid misunderstandings, and make others like you more since you're involved in getting to know them on a much deeper level than a regular person.

This was later stated this way:



Note that this also applies when you're looking for a business idea, looking for investors, talking with your customers, or managing your employees. Through questions, you can get a deep understanding of another person while also strengthening your relationship with them.

Having the Right Conversation, Matching, and Awareness

Duhigg also emphasizes the importance of knowing what kind of a conversation you're having and adapting to that:



The author covers three types of conversations people have: decision-making, emotional, and social. If you don't understand what conversation you're having, you'll probably create conflict, as in a typical "practical man + empathy-seeking woman" scenario. As he writes:



A supercommunicator is always making sure that they have the same kind of a conversation as the person they're speaking with. And then, they match the tone:



A large part of the book focuses on that awareness and seeking to be on the same wavelength. It's very important to be aware of all the little comments that may go unnoticed:



How to Ask Deep Questions

One of the parts I liked the most was about how to ask deep questions. Here's a good explanation of the difference between shallow and deep questions:



Deep questions have three key features:



Here's a useful example:



Looping for Understanding

To show that you're paying attention, avoid miscommunication and better understand your interlocutor, Duhigg provides one of the key techniques from the book: looping for understanding. Here's how he explains it:



Why Bother With Communication Skills?

The quality of our relationships is the strongest predictor for mental and physical health:



Our communication skills have a huge impact on how many friends we have, what kind of friends they are, whether we're satisfied with our family life, etc.



Ever since I started reading this book, I started working on asking people more questions and probing deeper, going into feelings. That's my main takeaway, the extreme 80/20 of the book. I think that formulating questions powers curiosity, and curiosity transforms into engagement and a deep desire to be a satisfying conversational partner.

Again, I don't think you need to read the entire book as my summary covers most of it. And in some ways, the mentioned podcast is better because it shows in practice how the author uses it (and how the host responds and uses it, too - it's a very beautiful conversation). So here's that video again:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWamRVY9ZKg
Most of it seems to overlap with a professional sales / customer service process.

The purpose of asking questions is to show that we care, gather information, and evaluate the response towards our questions.

But the challenge is, good communication requires effort. Imagine you have to behave like working when you are at home.
 

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