The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day message

44. What we remember from a conversation

[...] we make an assessment based only on two parts of the experience:

1. The peak -- i.e. the part of the experience that was most extreme (either pleasant or unpleasant).

2. The end -- i.e. whether it got better or worse at the end. (This is important: even a small improvement can make the date seem like an OK experience, whereas a poor ending will ruin an otherwise great evening.)

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43. What opinion has to do with power

[...] It is not a question of who has something legitimate or important to say, but always of who has sufficient resources and influence in a society to define their opinion as legitimate or important. [...]

[...] Bottom line: if you believe that you hold an objective opinion, ask yourself what other points of view were excluded so that yours could prevail.

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42. How the media corroborates our opinions

One of the most frequently cited communication theories is George Gerbner's Cultivation Theory from 1976, which claims that people who watch a lot of television are more likely to 'cultivate' the belief that reality corresponds with what they are seeing on TV. He argued that watching a lot of television changes our perception of reality and causes anxiety.

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41. How you can explain practically anything with spurious correlations


- Good reasoning aims to convince, but it also lets itself be convinced. Simply put, it is the search for truth.

- Bad reasoning has no interest in the truth; it is simply about wanting to be right.

Plato called bad reasoning 'sophistic'. The Sophists claimed to be able to justify any position through reasoning and logic. [...]

A well-known example is that of Euathlus, who was educated in sophistry by Protagoras. They made an agreement that Euathlus would only have to pay for his instruction after he won his first lawsuit. But after his education Euathlus took up a different profession. Therefore he did not conduct any lawsuits, could not win any, and argued that he did not have to pay for his instruction. Subsequently, Protagoras sued him and argued sophistically: 'Euathlus will pay: if the wins the case, he will have to pay according to the original agreement, and if he loses, the court will order him to pay.' Euathlus, Protagoras' best-trained Sophist, replied: 'I will not have to pay on any account: because if I lose the case I do not have to pay according to the original agreement, and if I win, I will owe you nothing according to the verdict.' It is an ingenious, logical argument, but also a deliberately induced fallacy -- a sophism.


'Most of you will have heard the maxim "Correlation does not imply causation." Just because two variables have a statistical relationship with each other does not mean that one is responsible for the other. [...]'

Nate Silver

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40. How we obfuscate with language

Euphemisms are the mother tongue of manipulation. As a rule of thumb, if someone doesn't use straight language, don't act straight away -- pause before acting.

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39. How we interpret signs

Most people understand complicated matter better through images than in words.

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38. How messages can be understood differently

[...] We interpret, or 'decode', the same message differently, depending on our social class, our level of knowledge and our cultural background. But, above all, the way we understand a message also depends on how we want to understand it. [...]

[...] if you are a leader, always make your team repeat to you how they have understood your message.

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36. How to recognize fake news

[...] fake or not, all news is influencing [...]


If you want to analyse (fake) news, a good starting point is the light-hearted model developed by the American sociologist Harold D. Lasswell in 1948, which still works astonishingly well today: for example, to separate fakes from facts. The formula is: 'Who says what in which channel to whom with what effect':

- WHO?: by answering 'who' said it, we divert our attention to the sender. Lasswell called this 'control analysis': who is talking? What is their aim? Who are their allies?

- WHAT?: by looking at 'what' is being said, we give attention to the actual message (the 'control analysis') -- to identify the aim behind the message we can, for example, ask: how are women or people of colour represented? What does the phrasing imply?

- WHICH?: by answering the 'which channel' question we make a 'media-analysis': why are they using this channel? How can they afford it? Who paid for it?

- TO WHOM?: the 'audience analysis' can, for example, reveal something about the aim of the sender: why are they talking specifically to these people?

- WITH WHAT EFFECT?: with the 'effect analysis' we ask: how did the audience react? What does this tell us about the sender?

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35. What happens if you don't look at your smartphone

[...] Scientists call the 'uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that we're missing out -- that our peers are doing or in possession of more or something better than we are' -- 'Fear of Missing Out', or FoMO. A team of psychologists at the University of Essex, led by Andy Przybylski, came up with this name.

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34. Why the medium is the message


If we use the word medium, we are usually only referring to the channel via which information is transmitted. McLuhan believed that this channel is more formative for our culture than the message it carries. If the message changes, we simply change our minds. But when the medium changes, we change our behaviour.

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33. What kind of image we have of the world

[...] In this seminal work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman uses the imagery of the theatre and acting to describe human social interaction. He believes that we each adapt our behaviour to each frame and are therefore a different person in each situation. This means that there is no such thing as authenticity. We are one person when we are at work, another when we talk to our parents and quite another when we are lost in a foreign city and have to communicate with strangers.

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32. When we think of the best arguments


'Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.'

Daniel Kahneman

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31. How to talk to children (even if you don't have any of your own)


- Be consistent: 'no' means 'no' -- even when the child is having a tantrum at the supermarket check-out. Loophole: only make threats that you can go back on without losing face. So don't say: 'If you don't stop right away we won't go away on holiday.'

- Implement threats immediately: children learn more quickly and effectively if you carry out your threats straight away. Instead of taking away a toy once for a whole week (long duration, small effect), it is better to take away the toy ten times for two minutes (small duration, big effect).


- Ignore bad behaviour: when a child does not behave according to your expectations, but isn't putting himself or others in danger, it is better to ignore him than to rebuke him ('selective attention').

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30. Which 'I' do you use to communicate?


1. The parent ego state: we all are a little like our parents. This is evident when we patronize others or tell them what they should or should not do. But also when we act thoughtfully, empathically or helpfully.

2. The adult ego state: we act like adults when we communicate in a considered, controlled and relaxed way. In other words, when we treat the other party respectfully and respond to criticism factually and constructively.

3. The child ego state: we also carry in us the child that we once were. We are unrepentant, defiant, silly or anxious. But positive qualities such as imagination, curiosity and learning are also evident in our childlike communication.

[...] Let's suppose that a proposal we put forward in a discussion is rejected by the group. If we react in an offended way or respond defiantly, we are in child mode. If we weight things up rationally and realize that our proposal was no good, we are in the adult mode. But if we argue morally that the others are wrong because we are right, we are in parent mode.

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29. How your therapist talks to you

[...] Important: we cannot observe ourselves observing (which is also why therapists can't treat themselves). This is often referred to as the 'blind spot'. In other words, we are unaware of the way in which we observe; we cannot see that we cannot see.

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28. Why it's worth talking to each other

[...] Game Theory is based on the observation that people in conflicts behave in the same way as they would when playing a board game: they want to win, but do so by sticking to the rules of the game, otherwise it won't work. How do you win but still follow the rules? The solution: by approaching and talking to each other. Or, in the words of game theorists, by cooperating.

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27. Why we should talk to each other about how we talk to each other

[...] How can we solve misunderstandings? By talking to each other about how to talk to each other; in other words, by practising 'meta-communication'. Because good communication occurs when intention and understanding are in harmony.

'What is thought is not always said; what is said is not always heard; what is heard is not always understood; what is understood is not always agreed; what is agreed is not always done; what is done is not always done again.'

Konrad Lorenz

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26. How much distance we keep from other people


When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

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25. How we should express ourselves in order to be understood


1. Maxim of quantity: say enough for your counterpart to understand, but don't say too much, or you will cause confusion.
2. Maxim of quality: tell the truth, don't speculate, don't dupe the person into believing something different.
3. Maxim of relevance: don't say anything irrelevant, don't change the subject.
4. Maxim of manner: avoid ambiguity, vagueness, verbosity and volatility, and stick to a logical argument.


Only say what is true and important, and express it clearly and simply.

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24. Why we find it difficult to be friendly

[...] The American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg (1934-2015) developed the idea of nonviolent communication based on the premise that it's not what you say, but how you say it. [...]

But why is it so difficult to be friendly? Often, we ourselves are the problem. Take the so-called 'attribution error': if we arrive late, there was a lot of traffic. If others arrive late, they set off too late (or for people with a negative frame of mind, the other way around). We are by nature prone to pass judgement, and what's more, it is easier to blame someone else than to think about why something happened.

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23. How to ask good questions

[...] the ideal neighbour at a dinner party was the one who had mastered the fine art of asking questions. The explanation for this is simple, and truthful, and can be summed up with this rule: we do not appreciate those who are brilliant, but those who make us feel brilliant.


1. They are open questions that you cannot answer with yes or no.
2. The questions require no prior knowledge; in other words, there are no right or wrong answers, only honest ones.
3. They are questions that centre on your counter-part rather than on you.

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22. How relationships fail

An axiom is a valid truth that needs no proof. [...]

You cannot not communicate

[...] Even if you say nothing, you are saying something.

All communication has a relationship aspect and a content aspect

The content aspect is what we say. The relationship aspect includes how we say things, but also who says something. Who says something and how it is said always weigh heavier than what is said. [...] keep in mind Albert Mehrabian's 7%-38%-55% Rule. If we are talking to someone about our feelings, this is the impact our words, tone of voice and body language have: our words are 7 per cent, our tone of voice 38 per cent and our body language 55 per cent responsible for whether that person likes us.

Communication is always about cause and effect


Human communication makes use of analogue and digital modalities

In Watzlawick's terms, 'digital' means verbally and 'analogue' means non-verbally -- in other words, eye-rolling, a smug smile, ambiguous intonation. If the two levels do not correlate, then we're not on the same page.

Communication is symmetric or complementary

Relationships between partners are either symmetrical (equal) or complementary (unequal). Symmetric means that we talk at eye level (in the relationship); complementary means that there is a kind of hierarchy (for example, between teacher and pupil). If we do not agree whether the communication is complementary or symmetrical, it becomes problematic.

Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don't say.

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21. How to sum up a whole life in six words

If it's important, keep it short.

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20. How to answer the question: 'How do I look?'

The truth is, all people lie. In certain situations -- such as when we are under pressure, have to justify ourselves, or want to make a good impression -- we tend more towards fibbing and telling tales than when we feel relaxed and self-secure. [...]

1. White lie -- only the person lied to benefits: this is a fine, selfless lie in which you risk potential loss to help someone out. [...]

2. Grey lie -- both the liar and the person lied to benefit: 'You've lost weight!' Grey lies are often part of cultural norms. [...]

3. Black lie -- only the liar benefits: although you are guilty, you reject all accusations [...]

4. Red lie -- no one benefits: this is the lowest form of lying. Saying something with complete awareness that the other person knows the statement to be false, even if you sometimes end up also inflicting damage on yourself [...]

'If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.'

Mark Twain

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19. How to apologize properly so that the other person forgives and forgets

[...] Say it like it is: 'I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings.' According to the research, a person is most likely to forgive and forget if you admit full responsibility for what you did.


It is a natural reflex to try to justify your own actions. But also an idiotic one. Because a justification is in effect a denial of the apology. [...] The injured person will be more inclined to forgive if you come up with a reason rather than a justification: try to explain your action without being defensive.

[...] An apology in which the word 'but' crops up is almost never understood as an apology but as an excuse. [...]


Asking for forgiveness is rarely effective. According to the research, you can spare yourself the bother. Nobody likes to grant absolution.


Even the most honest apology is worthless if you repeat the same mistake three times. Making an apology is above all a commitment to making a change and an offer to make amends.

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18. Which of our opinions never change


The anchor point: this is our basic preferred attitude. This attitude is hard to budge, and we are unlikely to change it, regardless of what information we are given. [...]

Room for manoeuvre: here it is about which alternative attitudes we find acceptable, regardless of our own. These are attitudes that we can accept without having to hoist our anchor. This approach can lead to a change of opinion in the long term.

Ego involvement: the most complicated part: what does our ego have to say? Take the death penalty, for example, which clearly contradicts the anchor point 'human rights', leaving little room for manoeuvre. But it is conceivable that if we were personally affected by a murder, we might feel vengeful towards the perpetrator and change our mind, at least briefly.

The stronger our anchor, i.e. our firm position on an issue, the harder it is to be persuaded by a different opinion. The stronger you pull at another person's anchor, the stronger their resistance. [...]

If you can't change your mind, then you're not using it.

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17. How words can trigger actions

[...] in day-to-day life we distinguish between 'doing' and 'talking' but that there is in fact no difference. [...] sentences have a 'propositional' meaning (this is the information contained in the sentence), which can be 'true' or 'false'. But sentences also have an 'illocutionary' meaning. This means that we are doing something when we speak, including something essential ('doing something in saying something'). [...] there is a third dimension, the perlocution. Here it is about the extent to which whatever was said has consequences -- so whether the person being addressed acts on what is said or has a change of mind because of it ('doing something by saying something').

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16. Why we don't dare state our opinion


Fear of isolation and a pressure to conform occur unconsciously. [...]

We tend to conceal our opinion if we think that it will expose us to group pressure. [...]


The number of people who share an opinion is not necessarily significant. A minority opinion can appear to be a majority opinion if its proponents appear confident enough and represent their opinion in public forcefully.

We become quieter if we believe that we are in the minority.

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15. What happens below the surface

[...] we could say that the visible, conscious part of a discussion is the factual level (what we say or what we talked about), while the unconscious part is the interpersonal level (how we say it and what we really mean) [...] we can control the factual level, we can select our words consciously, but our gestures, facial expression and tone of voice will betray our unconscious secret hopes, repressed conflicts, traumatic experiences, base motives and animal instincts, and appeal to the other person's unconscious. The interpersonal level decides how we will be perceived and how we perceive others.

The more we know about another person's values, patterns of behaviour, motives -- in other words, the more we see of the iceberg -- the better we can understand the person's words and actions. The best way to 'lower the waterline' of your opponent or partner is to show more of yourself. If you, for example, want someone to admit something, start by talking honestly about your own mistakes.

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14. How to start a conversation with strangers

Small talk is actually something very big. Those who manage to start a conversation with strangers, break the ice and treat them like friends have the world at their feet (see 'Proust's Questionnaire', p. 94) [...]

Ask for advice

[...] The psychology behind this: if you ask for advice, you create intimacy: intimacy makes rejection difficult. [...]

Ask a second question

[...] If you just asked 'Where did you grow up?', then a good follow-up question might be: 'How has that place shaped you?'

Don't ask: 'What do you do for a living?'

[...] The author Gretchen Rubin suggests this simple but powerful tweak to the usual 'What do you do for a living?' job question: 'What's keeping you busy these days?' Now the other person can choose what to talk about.

Don't start a conversation about things that interest you

Most people like to talk about themselves. This leads to us not listening any more, but simply waiting for our turn to speak. [...] Don't pitch your topics. Rather be the one person in the group who is interested in the other person's topics. As Bill Nye put it: 'Everyone you'll ever meet knows something that you don't.'


The supreme rule when making small talk comes from the radio host Celeste Headlee: 'Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn.' People forget what they talked about with you, but now how they felt in your presence.

'We have two ears and only one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.'


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13. How we are (not always) all ears

[...] Genuine, real listening is a rare commodity and a great gift, because you are giving to the person you are listening to your most valuable asset: your attention.


Listen, don't talk

[...] as the radio host Celeste Headlee put it brilliantly in a TEDx speech: "If they're talking about having lost a family member, don't start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they're talking about the trouble they're having at work, don't tell them about how much you hate your job. It's not the same. It's never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it's not about you.

Don't finish the other person's ...

Some people have a tendency of impatiently finishing the sentence or thought of the person they are talking to. Although very slow thinking and talking can be irritating, don't interrupt, even if you think it might show empathy.

Your body language says a lot

Look the other person in the eye -- but don't stare. [...]

Notice the little things

Listen out for details in what they are saying and pick up on these later. [...]

Be a friend, not a judge

Resist the impulse of giving the other person advice -- unless of course they specifically ask for it. [...]

'The most romantic gift: to listen to another's anxieties for one hour, without judgement or "solutions", as an analyst might.'

Alain de Botton

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12. How to (de)motivate ourselves

[...] thinking aloud is an excellent method for ordering our thoughts and improving concentration.


Positive self-talk is about breaking through the above negative patterns of thought. It's not about convincing yourself that life is great, but rather about freeing yourself from a cycle of negative thinking.

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11. How to negotiate abroad


In order to get to grips with a culture it is not enough to master the language, as cultural idiosyncrasies are more apparent in the way we communicate than in what we communicate.

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10. When the force is with you


If you are unsure about something, try not to show it to others. Doubt and hesitation will only dilute your arguments. [...] So only speak up when you're sure you want to follow through your argument, and stand your ground -- even if your plan is flawed. We forgive bold people their mistakes, but have no confidence in doubters.


Counterintuitively, you should not try to convince the other person by talking a lot. The more you talk, the more interchangeable and ordinary your arguments seem.


Try the opposite: make your adversary feel clever. He or she will be flattered and become inattentive. When your opponent's guard drops, you can attack. Acting stupid is one of the oldest stratagems around. As they say in China: "Masquerade as a pig to kill the tiger."

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9. What happens when everyone has the same opinion


"Give a high priority to airing objections and doubts." In other words: encourage all group members to speak their mind. Even and especially if the opinion is unpopular.


"When all think alike, no one is thinking."

- Walter Lippmann

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8. How to criticize

[...] people learn better if they are offered constructive feedback. [...] Collaboration, it seems, dies when the response is negative and ideas are killed before they are explored.

Whenever you are about to give feedback, ask yourself: "How can I make this idea better?" rather than "Why is this idea bad?"

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7. How to reach an agreement

- [...] do not be distracted by whether you like the other person or not.
- [...] Ask yourself: What does the other person need from me? Do we have common interests?
- [...] you should not be aiming for the maximum possible. Because perfection is like the unicorn: it's rumoured to exits, but nobody has ever seen it.


Negotiating properly means that everyone gets more than they originally hoped for.

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6. How to make the most boring lecture exciting

[...] according to the sociolinguist William Labov, if we weave hard facts into narrative patterns, associations with well-known fairy tales are evoked in our memories which remind us of the pleasure of listening to them.


- Abstract: how does it begin? [...]
- Orientation: who/where/when? [...]
- Complicating action: the problem to be solved [...]
- Resolution: solution [...]
- Evaluation: what results from it? [...]
- Coda: what remains [...]

[...] in 1984 the communication researcher Walter Fisher came up with a radical thesis: people do not want logical arguments; they want good stories. [...] we do not evaluate a story on the basis of arguments, but on the basis of how much we trust or believe in the story (can I identify with the subject or the people?) and its coherence (does the story make sense?).

[...] 1. Don't talk about a concept, a deficiency or a product; talk about an idea. 2. Focus on just one idea. 3. Talk about the idea in such a way that people will want to tell others about it.

The next time you have to say something in front of other people, start your talk with this sentence: "Let me tell you a short story..." or "On the way here, something strange happened to me..."

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5. How to make a good speech

[...] Aristotle wrote that a good speaker has to have three things under control: the argument (logos), the presentation (ethos) and the audience (pathos).


Good preparation, in other words, is everything.


1. Anaphora: repetition of a word or phrase, [...]
2. Inversion: reversing the usual word order, [...]
3. Irony: saying one thing when you really mean the opposite, [...]
4. Rhetorical questions: questions that make a statement, [...]
5. Analogies (comparisons): [...]
6. Antithesis: a contrasting thought to produce tension, [...]

A good speech is one that induces the listeners to change their minds, while giving them the feeling that this change of opinion is their own decision.

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4. How to carry through every idea

[...] four personality types in meetings:

- The silent type
- The opportunist
- The "master of the obvious"
- The nay-sayer


Do not put your suggestion forward all in one go, but serve it in small, easily digestible slices instead.


And what do you do if someone tries to salami you? Simply ask: "Is that everything?"

Disassemble a truck into many small parts and a child can carry it.

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3. How to talk to your team

Good bosses get the best out of their employees every day, or at least give them the feeling they are achieving their full potential.


Keep using "we". Especially when your team has lost.


If you celebrate behaviour that you expect, you are lowering standards.


Practice what you preach


As a leader, get used to the idea that you are primarily responsible for the supply of energy.

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2. Why meetings take so long

[...] there are only three kinds of meetings:

Information: a meeting in which the participants are informed about something [...]

Discussion: a meeting which amis to give input or direction, or to receive feedback.

Permission: a meeting in which one side proposes something [...]

What often makes meetings frustrating is the fact that different people might think it's a different kind of meeting.


Parkinson's Law states that Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion [...]

There are three types of question that you can ask in a meeting: [...] All three types of question are legitimate, but they should not be mixed: first come comprehension questions, then questions about the process, then debate questions.


No smartphones during the meeting. Notes should be made by hand. Even the White House supposedly followed this rule under Barack Obama.

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1. How to influence people

Reciprocity: [...] offer something first. Then ask for what you want.

Authority: we tend to follow the advice of experts.

Consistency: [...] stick to one message. Don't follow every trend.

Consensus: [...] We do what others do. This is called "social proof".

Scarcity: [...] it might not be enough to talk about the benefits of your offer; you also need to point at what people will lose if they fail to act.

Liking: [...] people prefer to say yes to people they like. [...] we like people who compliment us; we like people who cooperate with us towards a common goal.

> Get in the habit of helping people out, and don't say, "No big deal." Say, "Of course; it what partners do for each other" -- label what happened an act of partnership.

Robert Cialdini

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