The other day we lost our Internet connection. At first my son thought it was a problem with his computer, so he ran out of his bedroom and tried the computer in my office. No connection working there either.

‘It’s not your computer. The Internet is down’, I shouted from the kitchen.

In a panic, my son rushed into the kitchen and said, ‘Who are you?’

‘I’m your father.’

My son looked puzzled and paused for a moment. ‘But you’re bald and gray,’ he replied.

‘You’ve been stuck in front of that computer for so long you don’t even recognize your own father. Time passes, you know. If you ever stopped watching YouTube you might know who I am.’

My son looked embarrassed. Our first conversation for years had not started well.
Just then the front door opened and my wife and daughter came in.

My son looked startled and glanced at me for confirmation. ‘Then I suppose that must be my mother.’

‘Good guess’, I said. ‘You always had a good eye for faces.’

‘Hi Mom! You look so…so…small.’

‘I’m not small, you’ve just grown, that’s all,’ my wife replied.

‘Who’s he?’ my daughter Sara asked.

‘This is your brother Bryan,’ I explained.

‘Oh,’ Sara said. ‘I knew there was someone in the bedroom next to mine. How do you do? I’ve heard lots of things about you.’

‘I have a sister?’ Bryan asked. ‘Wow! Amazing! There’s nothing like losing your Internet connection for getting to know your family.’

‘You can say that again,’ my wife said.

‘We’ve lost our Internet connection! Oh no, I can’t believe it!’ Sara shouted as she ran to her room to check her computer.

The conversation was not going well.

‘Look,’ said Bryan, ‘I know I’ve been a little distant…always stuck in front of the computer and everything. But now we’ve lost our Internet connection, I’d like to become a better son and talk to you more.’

‘That’s great, Bryan,’ I said. ‘What do you want to talk about?’

‘Hmmm, good question, I don’t know…’

The conversation was grinding to a halt.

At that moment Sara yelled from her room, ‘Emergency over! The Internet is working again!’

‘Mom…Dad…it sure was good to talk. I really enjoyed it. We should do this more often,’ my son said as he ran back to his room.

‘You’re the communication expert. You fix it!’ my wife said sarcastically as she stared at me.

‘OK…OK…you’re right…but just let me finish my e-mails first.’

Epilogue: Don’t let my story become your story. It’s good to talk. Here’s to better communication in all our houses this year!


Life is one long negotiation.

You are a highly experienced negotiator. You negotiate at home with your spouse, at work with your colleagues and in shops with sales assistants – and you do it every day.

The goal of most negotiations is to obtain something you want. But how you achieve this depends on the strategy you choose to employ. You could hold out for your best offer…or you could pretend to hold out, but be ready to compromise in the end…or maybe attack the other side and try to prove that they’re wrong and you’re right…or maybe you simply try to be as reasonable and fair as possible.

Finding the right strategy can be crucial to the success of the negotiation. And as the true story that follows shows, everyday situations can teach us a lot about simple negotiating techniques.

The Nibble

Columbia University professor Adam Galinsky was waiting to board a flight when he heard the following announcement: “We are overbooked and are looking for volunteers who can fly tomorrow instead of today.” Initially the airline offered a $200 voucher to anyone willing to postpone their flight to the next day. Adam was not tempted by this initial offer as it was not particularly convenient for him to change his travel plans. As no volunteers appeared, however, the airline increased the offer to $350 (tempting to Adam, but not tempting enough), and finally $500. As Adam did not have a lot of money, this was an offer that really got his attention – especially as he had only paid around $200 for his original ticket!

Most people in Adam’s shoes would simply have accepted the voucher and flown the next day, but as a professor of business Adam realized he was in a negotiation with the airline. So he went up to the counter and said: “If I take your offer, will you put me in first class tomorrow?” And the airline said, “sure, we can do that”. Adam now had a $500 voucher plus an upgrade to first class. Next, Adam asked for a hotel room for the night…“sure, we can manage that too”, said the airline. Now he had a voucher, a first class seat and a hotel. But Adam wasn’t finished yet. “OK, I’m going to need to eat tonight, will you pay for that too? And a friend was going to pick me up this evening but he’s not free tomorrow, so can you organize a car service to take me home?” The airline agreed to everything.

This technique is called ‘the nibble’. You reach a general agreement and then ask the other side to throw in something small. In this case, these were things the airline did not care that much about. The airline probably had spare first class seats and an agreement in place with hotels and limousine services. Ten passengers accepted the airline’s offer of a $500 voucher that day, but Adam was the only one to receive the extras. The moral of the story: Always be negotiating. Even if you think you‘ve got a deal, you can often get more.

Most politicians talk too much. But not the 30th president of the United States. Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929, was known as Silent Cal. Coolidge’s reputation for brevity was well-deserved.

A woman once came up to him and said:

‘Mr. President, I bet my husband that I could get you to say more than two words.’

‘You lose,’ Coolidge replied.

Silent Cal may have taken matters too far in his search for conciseness, but he was right about one thing: A great way to improve your impact as a communicator is to be brief. Less is more!

  1. Shorter is more digestible: Good communication has a lot in common with healthy eating. Both require you to find the right measure. You want your audience to leave the table feeling satisfied, but not bloated. Overly long interventions lead directly to communicative indigestion, a terminal condition that begins with incomprehension and ends with boredom and death. How long is long enough? Always remember to make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.
  2. Shorter is more decisive: Don’t be afraid to finish early. If you’re scheduled to speak for 20 minutes, but can say what you want to say in ten, finish in ten! Likewise, don’t write a four-page report if you can do it in one. It takes confidence and leadership qualities to do this. And if done appropriately, it will help you stand out from the crowd and look more incisive and decisive.
  3. Shorter is more memorable: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – the one about “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – is often cited as one of history’s great speeches. It’s also one of history’s shortest speeches. How short? It runs 272 words and took about three minutes to deliver. Lincoln’s address followed a two-hour peroration by Edward Everett, a well-known US orator of the time. No prizes for guessing which one is best remembered today!

And just to prove it, here’s a story Ronald Reagan used to tell about a very short sermon he witnessed as a boy in Dixon, Illinois. It was the hottest day of the year and sweat was dripping from everyone in the church. When it came time for the sermon, the preacher took his position at the pulpit and faced the congregation. He pointed downward and said: ‘It’s even hotter down there in Hell’. And without another word, he descended from the pulpit. That was his sermon!

Digestible, decisive and memorable. Amen! (418 words – the shortest In Form article ever! Amen again!)

When was the last time you actually listened to the flight safety announcement as your plane was waiting to take off? Why listen, right? You’ve heard it hundreds of times and it’s always the same. Not on Southwest Airline it isn’t! Check this out…

Southwest Airlines is a US carrier that specializes in humour. Its flight attendants are encouraged to put a smile on passengers’ faces. And as you can see in the video, some of them have taken the message to heart and turned their passenger announcements into comedy routines. More importantly, notice the reaction of the passengers. They listen to every word. They laugh. They even applaud!
The message should be clear: Humour and business can go together…and can do so very successfully. Southwest Airlines is a good example. From the moment the airline was set up in 1967, humour was identified as a key component of the company’s culture. Generating smiles is an official corporate goal; it’s even part of the selection process. “Have you ever used humour to solve a workplace problem?” is a question asked in job interviews. And the strategy is clearly working. The airline now has nearly 46,000 employees and operates more than 3,400 flights per day. In fact, Southwest carries more domestic passengers than any other US airline.
One of the things that has struck us over the years from observing participants on our courses is how lively, creative and humorous people are…until they start talking about business! At this point their smiles disappear and their language becomes heavy and dull. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Humour can be appropriate in the workplace. And it can contribute significantly to business success. Humour in the workplace can help you and your team in many ways. It can help you become:
1. More creative – Humour enables innovation. People tend to withhold their ideas when they find themselves in cheerless and judgemental environments. In contrast, a fun and jokey office culture encourages the sharing of ideas (however wacky), ideas that may turn out to be extremely valuable.
2. More relaxed – Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which are important for reducing the physical symptoms of stress. In addition, it’s an excellent way of increasing personal satisfaction, as laughter makes it easier to deal with difficult situations and connect with people. Managers with a good sense of humour are also seen as being more approachable. Laughter truly is the best medicine!
3. More memorable – The average person sends and receives a total of more than 50 emails per day – and spends more than 80% of the working day engaged in some form of inter-personal communication. In this scenario it’s all too easy for your message to get lost in the communication overload. Humour can help prevent this; it can make your message stand out from the crowd and stick.
4. Better paid – Really! A study by the Harvard Business Review reveals that executives with a sense of humour are paid more and promoted faster. The research shows that a good sense of humour correlates strongly with competency and adaptability, factors that distinguish the best leaders from the rest of the pack.
Still not convinced? OK, here’s one more. Humour can even help you:
5. Lose weight – Laughing for 10-15 minutes a day burns around 50 calories. And that’s enough to lose a couple of kilos if you keep it up for a whole year!
Before closing, a few words of caution are in order. Humour must always be appropriate to the situation and the people. Culture is a factor that you need to be aware of too. What works in one country may not go down so well in another. It goes without saying that there are limits and that you must always use humour tactfully.
Despite this caveat, we believe the rewards greatly outweigh the risks. Don’t assume you can’t use humour at work. You can. Book yourself a flight on Southwest Airlines and see for yourself!

Aristotle has all the answers.

Want to learn about logic, politics, ethics, philosophy or biology? Read Aristotle – he knows. But what about more mundane matters? Can he help us with our everyday problems at home and at work? Of course, Aristotle has all the answers! Take, for example, conflict resolution.

Aristotle tells us that the secret to resolving conflict is shifting tense – grammatical tense, that is.  Instead of letting our arguments take place in the past tense, we should shift them to the future. As we will see, the future focuses on choice and opportunity, while the past tends to be about assigning blame.

In his book Thank you for arguing, Jay Heinrichs explains exactly what Aristotle meant. Imagine you’re at home listening to music and your partner asks you to turn the music down. Depending on how you’re feeling, you could respond in one of two ways:

  1. Blame (past tense focus): It’s not my fault! You’re the one who set the volume last.
  2. Choice (future focus): But is the music too loud or do you want me to put something else on?

Notice how the past tense deals with issues of justice. It’s what Aristotle called ‘forensic’ rhetoric. Forensic arguments help us determine guilt and deliver punishment. Watch any TV courtroom drama and you’ll hear plenty of past tense dialogue. Although it works well for lawyers and detectives, it’s not a recipe for workplace or domestic harmony.

In contrast, the focus on the future avoids conflict. The future tense doesn’t get bogged down in petty arguments over who was right or wrong, it concentrates directly on finding a solution to the problem. Aristotle loved the future tense for just this reason: it argues about choices and helps us decide how to meet our mutual goals. Here’s another example:

My wife: Who drank all the beer?

Me: That’s not the question, is it? The question is: how are we going to keep it from happening again?

All joking aside, we do expect our arguments to achieve something. And if possible, we want everyone to walk away at the end in agreement. But this is impossible when so many arguments degenerate into accusation and counter-accusation. The reality is that most arguments take place in the wrong tense.

If you want more productive arguments, focus on the future! Avoid the negative accusatory tone of questions like ‘why did you send the report late?’ and adopt the more positive future-focused tone of ‘how can you deliver your reports in a more timely manner?’

In short: To unblock the argument, look forwards and not backwards. The past is for blame and the future is for conflict resolution…and Aristotle is forever!