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The Benefits of Powerless Communication

Updated on August 20, 2014

The Power of Quiet Communication

Critical, Yet Counter Intuitive Clues to Help You Influence Others

Research suggests that are two fundamental paths to influence: dominance and prestige. When we establish dominance, we gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful, and authoritative. When we earn prestige, we become influential because others respect and admire us.

Both paths to influence are closely tied to our reciprocity styles. Takers are attracted to, and excel in gaining dominance. In an effort to claim as much value as possible, they strive to be superior to others. To establish dominance, takers specialize in powerful communication: they speak forcefully, raise their voices to assert their authority, express certainty to project confidence, promote their accomplishments, and sell with conviction.

Takers display strength by spreading their arms in dominant poses, raising their eyebrows in challenge, commanding as much physical space as possible and conveying anger - issuing threats when necessary. Takers tend to be more effective than givers in gaining dominance.

But is that a sustainable path to influence?

The opposite of a taker's powerful communication style is called powerless communication. These people speak less assertively, expressing doubt and relying on heavily on the advice of others. They talk in ways that signal vulnerability, revealing their weaknesses and making use of disclaimers, hedges and hesitations.

Givers develop prestige in four domains of influence: presenting, selling, persuading and negotiating. Givers are more inclined to ask questions than to answer them, they tend to talk tentatively rather than boldly, and they admit weaknesses rather than bragging about strengths.

Is it possible that this powerless communication style can actually be the most powerful? The answer is yes!

Nonverbal, Listening, Speaking and Thinking: The Four Components of Communication

Presenting: The Value of Vulnerability

Powerless communication can make a huge difference. Instead of working to establish your credentials, you make yourself vulnerable which allows you to connect with skeptical, unsure audiences. Takers tend to worry that revealing their weaknesses will compromise their authority and make them look weak, while givers don't worry about such things; in fact they are fine with expressing their vulnerabilities because they feel that it keeps them on the same level as those they are communicating with - helping them build prestige.

Establishing vulnerability is crucial if you want to connect with someone without dominating the conversation, or making the other person feel small. A willingness to expose your own weaknesses sends a powerful message to others, helping you win them over by increasing your prestige and softening your dominance in a natural way.

Persuading: The Technique of Tentative Talk

Takers tend to use powerful speech that is assertive and direct. Givers tend to use more powerless speech, talking with tentative markers like these:

  • Hesitations - "Well", "Um", and "Uh"
  • Hedges - "Kinda", "Sorta", "Maybe" and "Probably"
  • Disclaimers - "This could be a good idea, but...."
  • Tag Questions - "That's interesting, isn't it?" and "That seems like a good idea, right?"
  • Intensifiers - "Really", "Very", and "Quite"

These markers send a clear message to the audience: the speaker lacks confidence and authority. When givers use powerless speech, they show us that they have others' best interests at heart. By speaking with greater speed, volume, assertiveness and certainty, takers distance themselves from their audience. By listening to others, givers end up benefiting from advice and input from others.

The Power of Powerless Communication

How Asking Questions and Listening to Others Increases Your Prestige and Power

Expressing vulnerability in ways that are unrelated to competence my help build prestige, but it is only a starting point for givers who want to exercise their influence. To effectively influence people, you need to convert the respect earned into a reason for your audience to change their attitude and behaviors.

By asking questioning and listening to answers, you can show others that you care about their interests. This builds up your reputation and increases admiration from others. It's the givers, not the takers, who enable others to experience the joy of learning and the feeling of importance.

Asking questions is a form of powerless communication that givers adopt naturally. Questions work especially well when the audience is already skeptical of your influence - times when you lack credibility or status. Asking questions allows givers to build up trust and get to know others through the act of listening.

Speaking Louder Doesn't Lead to Better Communication

Negotiating: Seeking Advice in the Shadow of Doubt

Entering negotiations, takers typically work to establish a dominant position. Givers, on the other hand, are more inclined to see negotiating as an opportunity for quid pro quo. New research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when you lack authority or status. Asking for advice encourages better cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal.

Takers assume the best path to negotiation is ingratiation. Alternatively, advice seeking combines expressing vulnerability, asking questions and talking tentatively. Instead of confidently projecting answers, givers admit that others have valuable knowledge to contribute. This makes givers more approachable than takers.

When we ask others for advice, we show them that we respect and admire their insights and expertise.

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The Power Behind Powerless Communication

Powerless communication is the natural language of givers, and one of the great engines behind their success. Expressing vulnerabilities, asking questions, talking tentatively, and seeking advice can open doors to gaining influence and will reverberate throughout both our work and home lives, building strong collaborative networks that encourage open communication.

Powerless communication can be far more powerful and effective than meets the ear.

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    • Kathleen Odenthal profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Odenthal 

      4 years ago from Bridgewater

      Hey Nancy, yes I definitely feel that there are appropriate times for both types of communication. Being able to know when to use which type is the key.

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is a very nice Hub. I like the way you present the information here. Do you think there are times when we should switch between the different methods? In some types of communication I do very well, but at other times I do not.

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