3 counter-instinctive communication tips

Need to convince someone, explain something or win an argument? Try saying less.

by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler
Last Updated: 03 May 2019

Most people will tell you that good communication has to do with cooperation and clarity. And of course they’re right. However, in reality it’s sometimes a different story. History is full of examples of people using shrewd tatics, surprising channels or counterintutive behaviors in order to reach their goal. Here are some unusual communication strategies to get your message through.

How to pitch an idea (if nobody likes it) – The Salami Tactic

It is a situation most people have encountered: you suggest something, but the group is not amused. So how do you persuade them?

A particularly effective method seems to be the so-called Salami Tactic.

It works like this: do not put your suggestion forward all in one go, but serve it in small, easily digestible slices instead. Slice it like a salami.

This portioning method has two advantages: first, groups often reject ideas because they fear it is too huge a task – by slicing it, it will seem less bold; second, a measured presentation allows the other participants to explore the idea themselves and think it through further.

This is important: we often reject ideas because they weren’t our ideas. If you portion out your idea, people might pick up on it and turn it into their idea.

Also, this tactic does not allow the other participants to recognise your overarching intention, which makes it harder to fight against it.

And what do you do if someone tries to salami you? Simply ask after the presentation: ‘Is that everything?’ Keep on asking until everything is on the table. Only then start negotiating, setting one slice of salami off against a slice of your own.

(The origin of the term is by the way unclear. Some sources say that in Hungary Szalámitaktika was the name given to the gradual takeover of power by the Communist Party.)

How to win an argument – The Power Method

Counterintuitively, you should not try to convince other people with words.

The more you talk, the more interchangeable and ordinary your arguments will seem. If you don’t know what to say, then say nothing.

Moreover, every triumph that you achieve through words will in reality be a pyrrhic victory, because who likes to be argued into a corner? Who likes to be talked into buying stuff? Who is willing to sign off a long discussion in the comments section with 'Actually, you’re right'. No one.

So what can we do instead? Rather than trying to talk convincingly you should be convincing in your actions. Don’t tell people about what you are planning to do – just do it. Don’t pitch ideas – just start off the idea.

How to sum up a whole life in six words – The art of concision

No one knows whether the story’s true, but it is a good one anyway. Ernest Hemingway was having a drink with some writer friends at Lüchow’s restaurant in New York.

They were talking about this and that, and eventually moved on to what the ideal length of a good novel might be. Hemingway claimed that he could write a novel in six words: the others each bet ten dollars that he couldn’t. Whereupon Hemingway wrote: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’ on a napkin. Those who don’t gulp when they read this must have hearts of stone.

In 2006, Larry Smith, founder and editor of SMITH magazine, asked: 'Can you tell your life story in six words?’

A dumped 27 year-old guy wrote: ‘I still make coffee for two.’

The singer Moby confessed: ‘Dad died, mom crazy, me, too.’

And George Saunders summed his life up beautifully: ‘Started small, grew, peaked, shrunk, vanished.’

The Six-Word-Rule is not a rejection of long sentences; even Hemingway was of the opinion that not every idea can be pared down. But before writing (or speaking), you should ask yourself these questions: What do I really want to say and can I say it in fewer words?

Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler are the authors of the international bestseller, The Decision Book. Their new book, The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day, is published by Penguin (£9.99).

Main image credit: meunierd/Shutterstock


Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler recommends

Simon Sinek's executive communication guide

Read more

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime