4 insights from Man’s Search For Meaning

Man’s Search For Meaning is a book I have heard recommended on many podcasts, blogs, and from other authors. In the book, Viktor Frankl, who was a psychiatrist, describes his time as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. He describes the suffering and horror that he and his fellow prisoners experienced and does so very objectively. The book also explains the theory of logotherapy which was developed by Frankl and was greatly influenced by his time in the prison camps. It is a fairly short read and worth reading in order to understand the psychology of someone under immense stress and suffering. It is helpful for me to understand how much the human mind is capable of withstanding without breaking. We must grasp what has happened in the past, even events as horrific as the holocaust, so that we can learn from them and contribute to a better future. Below are some of my main takeaways.

“The Last of Human Freedoms”

Frankl describes how there were prisoners in the concentration camps who reverted to self-preservation no matter the cost while there were others who were concerned with the wellbeing of other prisoners and gave up their own food for others. They were selfless even in the harshest of conditions and when there was nothing to be gained. His assessment is that although everything can be taken away from us, we still have the freedom to choose our attitude. We decide how we will act in any given circumstance. This was convicting because I often choose to have a bad attitude and yet the conditions of my life are far better than the conditions of the prisoners Frankl describes. This means I have no excuses. I often say “So and so made me have a bad day because they said such and such.” As Frankl shows, this is simply not true. I choose my attitude. I cannot control what is done or said to me, but I can control my response.

What does life expect of us?

Frankl writes “…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” His perspective is that we should stop asking about the meaning of life and instead think of ourselves as being questioned by life for our meaning. Each individual has to take the responsibility to answer the questions and solve the problems that life poses to us. I found this to be a helpful mindset. It forces me out of complacency and a victim mindset to be proactive in overcoming difficulties.

No single abstract meaning of life

Most people have thought about the meaning of their life at some point. Frankl makes the case that there is no single abstract meaning for all life. Each person has a particular mission and vocation that is specific to them and can only be carried out by them. You cannot be replaced by someone else. Each of us is responsible for our own life and meaning. This perspective helped remind me that I cannot compare my relationships, career, and situation in life to other people. My life and the things I do have a particular meaning for me and this meaning cannot be transferred to others nor can their meaning be transferred to me. This frees me from the comparison game.

Logotherapy

A blog post about Man’s Search For Meaning wouldn’t be any good without discussing logotherapy. Here is how Frankl describes it in his own words: “According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone, and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” These were the three ways that Frankl helped his patients discover the meaning in life. When I think about my own life, I definitely gravitate toward the first method which is discovering the meaning of life based on my work. I realize, however, this can be risky because jobs come and go. If I define my meaning based on what I do, what will I be left with if it is taken away? I don’t have all the answers but realize thinking about these things leads to better clarity in life.

I gained a number of good insights from this book. I would definitely recommend it to friends, however, the descriptions and stories of the Nazi prison camps may be difficult for some people to handle. Although difficult to handle, this does not make them any less important or true.

Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

How often have you read a book that you can apply the principles immediately, even while reading the book? I am talking about Inception style “dream within a dream.” That is exactly what happened to me while I read make it stick. The book is about how we learn and retain information effectively and I found myself applying the techniques to solidify the learning strategies in the book. When this happens, you know you found a real gem. You haven’t even put the book down and you are already finding ways to apply it.

One of the biggest takeaways was how important retrieval practice is for durable learning. Retrieval practice means self-quizzing on material you have previously learned. Rather than rereading a textbook or notes, you ask yourself questions which require you to retrieve the information from memory. This habit requires more effort but leads to deeper learning. The illustration given in the book is that learning anything new is like adding beads to a string for a necklace. You can add many beads to the string but unless you tie a knot at the end, the beads will slip off. The beads are compared to all the new things you learn. Retrieval practice is compared to tying the knot on the end of the string. The more you recall learned information, the better your knot and the more snug your beads will remain.

A real world application of retrieval practice is reflection. Since reading this book I have been trying to apply this by reflecting on my day at work. I think about the conversations I had, about the meetings I was a part of, the deliverables my team sent out, presentations I gave, and communication I had with my clients. I ask myself questions like:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What might I do differently next time?

I have a journal which I used to write down my thoughts. This practice helps me recall what works and what doesn’t so that I will be better prepared next time.

Another takeaway from the book was the authors perspective on failure. In the west we relate error to failure and achievement to ability. This is a fixed mindset (for more on this read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset). A fixed mindset means you see yourself as having a fixed intelligence that cannot really be changed. With this mindset if you fail or make an error it means you are not intelligent. The opposite of this mindset is the growth mindset. With the growth mindset you do not see your intelligence as fixed. Failure does not mean you are unintelligent, it just means you have work to do. We should see failure as a badge of effort. In order to learn new things we must focus on what is difficult not what is easy but this means we may fail. Mistakes can be good teachers as long as we are open to the feedback. We should look at mistakes and problems as good information not failure.

The two different mindsets also lead to different goals. When you have a fixed mindset you tend to set performance goals which will help validate your ability. This can cause you to shy away from challenges because you may worry you won’t succeed which will prove you aren’t as smart as you thought. On the other hand, a growth mindset tends to lead you to learning goals. With learning goals you are attempting to learn more and increase your skill. You pick challenges and see setbacks as useful information on where you should focus more effort to get better. I have been trying to apply this at work in the way I perceive difficult projects or tasks. When I get assigned a difficult project with many challenging aspects, rather than seeing it as a problem and complain, I want to train myself to see it as a learning opportunity. The challenges will help me become a better engineer as long as I learn from them.

The principles in this book have helped me understand how to obtain deeper learning through retrieval practice. A real world application of this is reflection. I reflect on my day, the challenges I faced, what I can learn from them, and how I can be better. I also learned that it is far more satisfying to have a growth mindset coupled with setting learning goals. With this mindset my intelligence is not fixed, I have room to reach my potential, and I can see failure and setbacks as useful information rather than a lid.

Atomic Habits

I heard about Atomic Habits from a podcast I frequently listen to. The idea that you can change your life by implementing a few new habits sounds very sexy. Everyone desires something whether it is money, power, status, praise, approval, to lose weight, or be less stressed. The book title may give the same impression, but the reality that James Clear presents is very different. Clear shows how it is the 1% improvements that are not noticeable in the short run that change you in the long run. Can one small habit change your life? No, but consistently applying the right habits over time and adding new ones can transform you through small changes. That is why I love the meaning “atomic” from the title of the book. In one sense it is the smallest unit of matter but in another sense it is something with extreme energy and power.

Identity

One of the points which Clear makes is that we focus too much on the results, goals, and outcome we want instead of focusing on our identity. Start with your identity and work backwards from the results that you want to the type of person who gets those results. First decide the type of person you want to be and then prove it to yourself through small wins. Clear states “Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.” Instead of blindly following the norms, face life head on, decide who you want to be, and implement habits to become that person.

The steps

The crux of the book is defining what a habit is. Clear defines a habit as having 4 parts:

  1. Cue – our brains are constantly looking for rewards
  2. Craving – the desire to change our internal state
  3. Response – the actual habit
  4. Reward – the reason for our habit, satisfaction

Clear also develops the 4 laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In order to break bad habit we must do the opposite:

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

My habit

As I read the book I came up with a number of new habits I wanted to implement and a few bad habits that I want to break. However, I realized if I try to accomplish all of them at once I will probably accomplish none. The single habit I landed on is my exercising. At the end of 2018 I trained for and ran a full marathon. Once I got into the habit of running it became “easy” for me to just look at my schedule and run the allotted miles for that day. Ever since I finished that race I have struggled to maintain an exercise rhythm since the goal I was training for is gone. I have a foggy notion of what I would like to do but until I make a concrete plan nothing will change. When Clear described how we must associate a time and location with our habit, things changed for me. I wrote down 5-6 workouts that meet my current fitness goals and wrote this statement in my notebook: I will do my pre-determined workout at 6pm in my garage after I get home from work. This is no longer foggy. I know what I am going to do, when I am going to do it, and where I will do it.

Action vs Motion

Another idea that helped me was the idea of action versus motion. Motion is the planning, strategizing, and learning that go into the habits we want. Motion can make you feel that you are getting a lot done but really is a form of procrastination. Action is the actual behavior that delivers and outcome. In order to master a habit you have to get in the repetitions. I find this happens a lot with my reading. I love to read, learn, and share what I have learned with others. However, there are many things that I read which I should put into practice but until I do so they remain motion. Someone told me it is ok to sharpen the sword but at some point you have to use it.

Don’t miss habits twice

Clear points out that when we are developing new habits in our lives we should never miss a habit twice. If you miss it once you can call it an accident but if you miss it twice you are starting a new habit. This concept is extremely important when habits get difficult like when you are tempted to miss a workout on days you don’t feel like working out. On those days when you follow through with the habit you reinforce the type of person you are. You string together and unbroken chain of performing the habit. It is like the brick layer who lays one brick each day with the goal of building a wall. If he consistently lays bricks each day, after many days he will have the wall. If he stops laying bricks because it’s too hard, he doesn’t feel like it, or he is not seeing any improvement, all he will have is a couple of bricks but no wall.

Atomic Habits provided me with a framework of how habits work, how to implement good habits, and how to overcome bad habits. James Clear does not pretend that there are any quick fixes and any good habits we want will come through long term thinking rather than short term thinking. He provides many insights on how to make the process easier & more effective. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve themselves, especially to people who feel stuck in their current routine and habits and know they need to change.

Deep Work

When you see the title of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work it can create the image in your head of an intellectual looking person poring over books and taking notes in some secluded area of a library. This image makes it feel like working deeply is for scientists and researchers but has no intersection with my life. The concept of Deep Work that Newport develops is quite different than the previously described image. Newport makes the case that high quality work is just a function of time spent and the intensity of focus. We all have time for what we decide to use it for and we can all learn to focus better on the things that are important to us. Because we posses both of these things we can all learn to perform deep work. The book describes what deep work looks like and provides strategies to accomplish more of it in our lives.

Attention

In the book Newport says “…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” Since depth is important in my field of engineering, I cannot afford to lose time and effort by paying attention to what does not matter. At work I often create my own reality of stress, anxiety, and worry by focusing on these emotions. For example, by constantly checking my email inbox throughout the day I ensure that the issues which come up stay at the front of my mind all day long. My work life is then dominated by my inbox and whatever comes into it. To fight this I have begun the habit of not immediately checking my email when I arrive for work every morning. Perhaps I wait 1 or 2 hours to get some work accomplished before I dive into my email. Another way I have applied this is by not immediately reacting to every email that comes into my inbox. Not every situation is a disaster and my response is not usually needed immediately, if at all. I can also close my email for intervals throughout the day to accomplish certain tasks distraction free and the earth will continue to spin.

Plan Your Day

In order to focus your attention on the right things throughout the day, you have to have a plan. One idea that Newport gave to plan your day better is to start each day by creating a block schedule of your day on a piece of notebook paper and assigning activities to each block. You can batch similar tasks together, you can plan for lunch breaks, but the idea is that you assign each minute of your workday a job. Inevitably you will be interrupted or a new task will manifest which takes priority over your plan. When this happens it threatens to throw off your schedule. All you have to do is start over from wherever you are on your schedule and map out the remainder of the day. For me this exercise does 2 things:

  1. It helps me plan to accomplish what I know is important. When I don’t do this it is easy to get sidetracked on easy to accomplish tasks that will not equate to deep work.
  2. It helps me grasp where my time is actually going. It acts as a time audit.

Shutdown Ritual

In order to become good at deep work we not only have to start our days correctly by planning but we also have to end them correctly. Newport describes what he calls a “shutdown ritual” which is a set of steps that ensures he has reviewed all the open items and notes from the day, has a plan to complete them, or trusts that they are documented in a place where he can revisit them later. I have found this concept very helpful in my own working life as it helps me release my mind from work at the end of the day and allows me to enjoy my life outside of work. Our minds need rest but at the same time incomplete tasks cannot be left unplanned for because they will create open loops in our minds that take up mental space and energy. As long as we have noted and planned an actionable step for all open items, our minds are free to rest at the end of the day.

We all want to be fulfilled and have purpose to our lives. This desire is vague though and hard to get a handle on. We see many people around us accomplishing this in many different ways. Should we follow what they are doing? There is no blueprint. Deep work is a good way to cultivate the skill of discerning the meaning that is already present in your current role. You can apply these principles to be more efficient and increase your ability to perform deep work. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow and generate more depth in his or her work.

Ego Is The Enemy

Like many of the books I read, I picked up and read Ego Is The Enemy after hearing about it from multiple sources. I first heard about it from a friend about 8-9 months ago. Last weekend an acquaintance mentioned it and this time the topic struck a chord with me. I have found reading books based on inspiration in a particular season of life is the best way to find the most useful applications. This book did not disappoint me.

Ryan Holiday conveniently splits the book into 3 parts: Aspire, Success, and Failure. He shows how ego can destroy us in each of these phases. Holiday also weaves in stories from historical figures, currently successful people, and his personal life to illustrate the points he makes.

Aspire

Passion

Aspiring is all about the journey from obscurity to success and what you do to get there. Passion is typically seen as a good trait. We recognize it in people who tell us all about the things they intend to accomplish, often very convincingly. However, when it comes to showing actual progress there often isn’t any. Why? Because you can be busy with intentions without actually accomplishing anything. This is what Holiday calls the “passion paradox.”

I am no better. I fall prey to this all the time whether it is imagining to myself all the books I will read, telling my friends about all the miles I will run, or telling my co-workers about all the work I plan to complete. Passion tends to cause us to overestimate what we can accomplish in the future but underestimate what we can accomplish right now. We always seem to have far less time than we imagined.

The Canvas Strategy

The canvas strategy is all about making other people look good and be good by providing support for them.

“Find canvases for other people to paint on.”

“It means you’re the least important person in the room – until you change that with results.”

“Say little, do much.”

“…the person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

My struggle with this is that I often want recognition and reward now. It is hard to sit back and let someone else take credit for my idea. My ego causes me to think short-term rather than planning for the long run. As Holiday says “Let others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”

Work, Work, Work

So what should we do? Henry Ford said “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” My ego wants the fact that I aspire, plan, and have great ideas to count toward success. This doesn’t work. I have to sit down, delay gratification, and put in the hours. This isn’t sexy and popular in the short term but pays off in the long run.

Success

Always Stay A Student

“An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.”

As soon as you believe you already know everything, you stop learning anything new. To maintain success and excellence we have to continue being a student. It can be easy to fall in the trap of believing you have arrived. But what got you there? Unless your success is a flash in the pan, it took hard work, effort, and persistence over a long period of time. This effort does not end once you become successful. This point also reminds me of Carol Dweck’s work and book Mindset which delineates between 2 different mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. With a fixed mindset we feel our intelligence is fixed and are obliged to prove how smart we are. Someone with a growth mindset knows they have deficiencies but strives to learn and grow. They don’t need to prove how smart they are because they are in the process of “becoming.” I personally don’t always get this right and often fall into a fixed mindset, however, I am applying this to my life and want to cultivate being a learner.

Managing Yourself

“As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions. Such is the nature of leadership.”

Although I have received a few promotions, I would not say I have arrived in my field of engineering. I still have a lot to learn with regard to technical skills and will always be honing my leadership skills. I have definitely found the quote above to be true. Before I was given the opportunity to take more responsibility, I would be given a task or direction, and could focus solely on that thing. I did not have a lot of influence in the office so I was rarely interrupted and I was not communicating directly with clients so my phone calls were few. As time has gone on, however, I have gained more influence, built more trust, and taken on more responsibility. These days I may have 4-5 things going on at one time and be delegating work to the younger engineers. If I don’t learn to cope with this effectively as time goes on, it will be very easy to become overloaded. I am learning to steer the ship and delegate the other tasks.

Failure

We are all bound to fail at some point. We can do everything right and still get into trouble. Since we all fail, it’s not so much a matter of if it comes, but when it does, how do we respond? Holiday points out that often when we fail we lack the ability to examine ourselves and figure out what behavior led to our failure. We have to learn to invest our time and energy into habits and patterns that will fix our trouble, not lead us to make the same mistake later.

I found Holiday’s book very helpful and practical. I appreciate the way it is organized in a very simple way and easy to follow. If we are honest, pride and ego are traits that we all struggle with on some level. I found that after reading this book I walked away with tools to fight the ego that so often crops up in my life and hinders me from making an impact and being successful.

Blink

It can be difficult to distill a book into a few main ideas. I find it particularly difficult to distill Malcolm Gladwell’s books because of all of the stories and anecdotes interwoven throughout the book. For me, this style is what makes him an expert storyteller; however, it makes it difficult to pull out main ideas without retelling all of the stories.

The basic premise of Gladwell’s book Blink is to investigate how people make decisions and judgments. We basically rely on 2 different strategies to make sense of situations: conscious and unconscious. The conscious strategy relies on logic, knowledge, and works slowly, whereas our unconscious strategy happens quickly and under the surface. In general we tend to think that to make good decisions we must gather as much information as possible and take as much time as possible to reach the best decision. Gladwell shows that this isn’t always the case and that decisions made quickly can be as good as those made slowly.

Thin-slicing

Thin-slicing is a persons ability to unconsciously recognize patterns in situations and behaviors in a very short amount of time or slice of an experience. An experiment that Gladwell references to illustrate thin-slicing involved developing a “personality workup” on 80 college students and then seeing how closely their friends could measure their personality in a questionnaire versus complete strangers. The strangers were only allowed 15 minutes to look around in the college students’ dorm rooms. On the whole, the strangers were a bit more accurate. This experiment shows that you can often learn a lot more from a private space than from the image people display. By only being exposed to a “thin slice” of an experience with the students, the strangers did not have the distractions or confusing and irrelevant information that comes along with knowing someone personally.

Rapid Cognition Gone Wrong

Although thin-slicing and first impressions can often reveal more than we imagine, there are times when rapid cognition leads us in the wrong direction. The example that Gladwell provides is president Warren Harding. The impression people got of him was that he was handsome and distinguished-looking, therefore, he must be intelligent and a man of integrity. Gladwell describes Harding’s path to presidency but the general idea was that he advanced not because of his political or leadership abilities but because he looked like a good president. The general consensus from historians is that he was “…one of the worst presidents in American History.”

The truth is that our first impressions and snap judgments are driven by our experiences and environment. The only way to change our impression on race, for instance, is to change the experiences and environment we live which creates a negative impression.

Effective Rapid Cognition

It is true that rapid cognition can lead us astray due to our previous experiences, but it is also true that sometimes it is a person’s experience and intuition that allows them to make a good decisions in a high stress situation. Gladwell mentions Gary Klein’s study of nurses and firefighters who often have to make decisions under lots of pressure. There simply isn’t enough time to systematically and logically go through all the data. These decisions have to be made quickly and are often based on experience. Good decisions made under high pressure are not random but stem from good training, following rules, and doing rehearsals. Someone inexperienced without a lot of training that is forced to make a decision under high stress will confront more information than his or her unconscious is comfortable with and this is paralyzing. The trick is to eliminate all the extra information and focus only on what is important.

High Stress Effects on Decisions

Good decisions can be made under high stress situations; however, there are limits to this. Gladwell mentions a former army lieutenant named Dave Grossman who argues that the best performance occurs when a person’s heart rate is in the range of 115-145 beats per minute. What happens above this range? Gladwell uses stories of high speed police chases and shootings to illustrate this idea. When a cop is in a fast-paced, high stress, situation after a high-speed chase it is easy to understand how they wouldn’t be in the optimal mindset for decision-making. Cops in these situations tend to display “temporary autism” and lose their ability to take in details. Their thinking narrows, their mind becomes very rigid, and all additional evidence or factors don’t register in their mind. This tends to lead to low-quality intuitive reactions, which rely on stereotypes, bias, and prejudices.

In this book Gladwell gives a very thoughtful presentation how people think and make decisions. He shows how thin-slicing and rapid cognition can lead to effective decisions which cut out all the clutter. On the other hand, he also shows how high stress situations can have disastrous effects on our decisions. If you want to read good stories interwoven with thoughtful information that will make you think, this is the book for you.

Give and Take

Recently I have found myself questioning whether you can truly get ahead in your chosen career without using people and manipulating them. It can sometimes feel like those individuals who use power and manipulation continue to take strides forward while those who live with character, integrity, and honesty get left behind. I mean all you have to do is check out Robert Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power to see how many successful people in history have used manipulation and tricks to get what they wanted at the expense of others (one example is Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit). I found myself asking friends what they thought because I’m never quite sure if I’m just being pessimistic and need some perspective. In light of this, reading Give and Take couldn’t have come at a better time. Adam Grant shows how givers tend to make up the top of the success ladder and how matchers and takers can often be at a disadvantage. This book was very helpful, especially in this particular season of my life and I hope you can gain some value out of the few main ideas I pulled out.

Takers, Givers, & Matchers

Whenever we collaborate with people at work we are constantly deciding how much value we will add. Are we trying to take more than we give or are we trying to contribute to others with no thought as to what we will gain in return? Grant defines takers as people who want to take much more than they give. They do not care about the interests of others. For takers, we are all in a competition and they want to win, which often means self-promotion with no thought to others. On the other side of the spectrum are the givers. While takers are self-focused, givers tend to think about others in terms of what they need. Givers are always looking for ways to give with no thought as to what they will get in return.

“If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal cost.”

Then there are the matchers, who end up behaving somewhere in between takers and givers. Matchers want to maintain equality in what they give and get, they want their dealings to always be fair and want to receive as many favors as they give.

Throughout the book Grant shows how givers can be successful and shares the stories of a wide range of successful givers like entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, comedy writers, teachers, health care professionals, consultants, and politicians. In order to get the full benefit of these stories, you will have to read the book, however, there were a few other ideas from the book that I found helpful.

Seeing Potential

One of Grant’s examples of a successful giver is C. J. Skender who teaches accounting for Chapel Hill and Duke University. He is very popular among his students and has an extraordinary ability to recognize and pull out talent. As I read about Skender, however, I began to see that he doesn’t really possess supernatural abilities of recognizing talent. This is exactly Grant’s point. Skender is very passionate about helping his students and always sees the best in them. He believes in their potential and there is a lot of evidence that supports the idea that what we expect from someone and express to them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“He isn’t unusual in recognizing talented people; he simply starts by seeing everyone as talented and tries to bring out the best in them. In Skender’s mind, every student who walks into his classroom is a diamond in the rough – able and willing to be mined, cut, and polished. He sees potential where others don’t. Which has set in motion a series of self-fulfilling prophecies.”

Givers don’t look for talent first, instead they look for people with grit (passion & perseverance) and seek to motivate them. As givers invest in these gritty people the potential they see in them often becomes a reality. At work it is often one of my responsibilities to teach, train, and mentor new or young engineers. I often struggle with motivation for this since it takes me away from my own work and the return on my invested time is not always quickly noticed. However, by reading Skender’s story I have begun to see coaching & mentoring in a different light. I want to be better at speaking to the potential in people rather than letting my preconceived notions become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is easier said than done.

Powerless Communication

Most people who want to be successful in life realize building influence is important. According to Grant there are basically two ways to gain influence: establish dominance or earn prestige. Take a guess which way takers get influence? Takers usually gain influence through dominance, which means using powerful and authoritative verbal and nonverbal communication. This is all about establishing a strong physical and dominating presence. The problem is this is a zero-sum game because the more dominance and power I show, the less there is for anyone else.

Earning prestige, on the other hand, means earning respect and admiration from others without being dominant. There is no limit to the amount of respect and admiration we can give. Grant describes a totally different approach for this called powerless communication, which entails speaking less assertively, asking questions, and relying on others input. On the surface this approach sounds like it wouldn’t work, however, Grant goes on to show how effective it is in areas like presenting, selling, persuading, and negotiating.

Grant shows how questions are effective for communication, especially when others are skeptical of your abilities or knowledge. By asking questions and listening you can build trust and credibility. He shows how powerless communication is effective when working closely in teams because it encourages members to speak up and share. Although takers may appear to be more effective leaders because of their dominance, this often discourages team members from speaking up and sharing ideas. When givers practice powerless communication they create psychological safety and allow members of a group to voice their thoughts. Soliciting advice and input from the group would seem like a weakness for a taker (making it appear they don’t have the answers) but this turns out to strengthen a team.

Reading this book came at a perfect time for me. I have been struggling through the question of whether you can be successful if you are focused on helping and adding value to others, rather than focusing on your own success and reputation. I found the explanation of takers, givers, and matchers to be helpful in building some framework for me to model my own leadership and influence. Focusing on identifying passion and perseverance in young engineers rather than innate talent will help me be a better mentor and coach. Using powerless communication will encourage my team members to share and open up while also building influence and trust. I hope these highlights add value to you as well and together we can work on applying them to our lives.