Thinking and Interacting Like a Leader ebook released today

e978-0-9767180-7-9The 2nd edition of Thinking and Interacting Like a Leader: The TILL System for Leadership Communication is now available as an ebook on Google Play. The book is a concise guide to help current and future managers become better leaders by building their personal power.

In a nutshell, the TILL system teaches you to manage tone when you manage people. Its focus is deliberately not media specific. But I plan to create a few relevant posts about writing here on Pros Write this fall while using the TILL ebook in my course on leadership communication. (Yes, I do have a day job.) There have been a few guest posts here by terrific former students in that course. In fact, the material in the ebook grew out of my experiences teaching them about the role of language in leadership.

Details for instructors/coaches:

  • 12 chapters with two in-depth application exercises per chapter––one analyzed for students, the other for practice, homework, or quizzes
  • extensive analysis of memos, emails, letters, performance evaluations, and leader-member conversations
  • answers to selected exercises
  • annotated bibliography and suggested readings at the end of each chapter
  • equivalent to ~200 pages
  • $29.99 list price (currently $16.19 USD at Google Play)
  • ISBN 978-0-9767180-7-9

One of the great things about ebooks is that you can read a sample without buying. The 1st two chapters of TILL are available free on Google Play. Thanks to Frank and Kathy at Parlay Press for making it happen.

Comments welcomed!


Six guidelines for responding to hostile challenges to change

Credit: Vasko Miokovic
Credit: Vasko Miokovic

I’m breaking my silence here at Pros Write with these guidelines. They’re the result of a study made available today in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly. With my co-authors (Pierson Carmichael and Jefrey Naidoo), I offer six practical lessons to help change agents manage communication and maintain credibility with stakeholders who have made a hostile challenge like “Why are we changing a successful system?”

Lesson #1: Diagnose the source of the stakeholder’s hostility in order to determine the component of readiness you need to address.

Once you are familiar with the five components of change messages, you will become adept at diagnosing which of these you must address to neutralize the stakeholder’s hostility toward your change initiative. Does your response need to focus on the discrepancy between where your organization is and where it needs to be? the appropriateness of the planned change for dealing with the discrepancy? the likely efficacy of the planned change? the support of leadership? or the benefits of the planned change to individuals?

Lesson #2: Claim dealing with the challenge isn’t timely as your default response strategy.

Our recommendation is backed by the consistency of findings in studies about strategies for responding to hostility. It may well be most preferred because it implies that the change agents are already addressing the concerns the stakeholder has raised.

Lesson #3: With an efficacy challenge, either deny something about the challenge exists or explain why answering the challenge isn’t desirable.

Because the timing strategy was not preferred with challenges focused on the potential efficacy of the planned change, you need alternatives in this situation. Our recommendation to use the existence strategy is based on our own findings, with nothing in an earlier study to warn against its use. Similarly, our recommendation to use the desirability strategy is based on earlier findings, with nothing in our own to warn against its use.

Lesson #4: Deny something about the challenge exists to deal with challenges to discrepancy and appropriateness, as well as efficacy.

Because the timing strategy may not always be applicable with challenges focused on the the need for or appropriateness of your planned change, you need an alternative in these situations. Our recommendation to use the existence strategy is based on its consistently high preference rankings in our own and earlier studies.

Lesson #5: Claim you aren’t able to handle the challenge with caution and only when dealing with principal support or personal valence challenges.

Preferences for the ability strategy were highly inconsistent. It ranked 2nd overall in our study because of its effectiveness dealing with principal support and personal valence challenges. In contrast, it ranked among least preferred strategies for dealing with other types of challenges in our study and for dealing with all challenges in an earlier study.

Lesson #6: Don’t deny you are the right person for handling the challenge.

Although our results for the agency strategy were inconsistent with an earlier study, we feel justified in cautioning change agents not to use it because it “passes the buck.” Benoit notes that “denial and shifting the blame are not considered by those who are injured by the actions to be as appropriate or effective as other potential image restoration strategies”. Earlier research found the agency strategy least preferred when responding to hostility about environmental concerns, and in interviews with experienced organizational spokespersons, some noted they had been explicitly taught not to use it in public affairs training.

After using these lessons to deal with the hostile challenge in a way that maintains your credibility, you can continue your on-going dialogue about components of the change which your stakeholder finds troubling. My single-minded focus on research has been inevitable during my sabbatical this fall. But I intend to share more often here when 2015 arrives. At least that’s the plan.

Further Reading

Armenakis, A. A. (1993). Creating readiness for organizational change. Human Relations, 46(6), 681–703.

Benoit, W. L. (1995). Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration strategies. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Campbell, K. S., Follender, S. I., & Shane, G. (1998). Preferred strategies for responding to hostile questions in environmental public meetings. Management Communication Quarterly, 11(3), 401–421. 

Campbell, K. S., Parker, F., & Follender, S. I. (1996). Responding to hostile questions: More insights from speech act theory. Technical Communication Quarterly, 5(2), 151–167.

Gore, M. S. (2003). Strategies leaders should use to respond to hostile questions regarding organizational changes: An empirical investigation. Thesis. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Friday fun with translating economic jargon

yellenIf your brain isn’t too tired yet, check out this quiz from the Washington Examiner and do your best to translate statements from the current and former Federal Reserve Chair(wo)man into plain language.  Somehow I got 5 out of 5.  It was sheer luck!

If this jargon was used only with other economists, it would be forgivable. But these are remarks aimed at Congress or the press. I think that’s supposed to mean a U.S. citizen should understand it.

Thanks to the folks at Write in NZ for pointing me to the quiz. Happy weekend to both Southern and Northern Hemispheres!

Persuade readers with an appeal to logos

Photo Credit: soukup via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: soukup via Compfight cc

People who have influence at work know how to write persuasively. Persuasion is how you successfully lobby for resources from your boss or win funding from an investor. Research found that persuasion was central to the success of 10-30% of all internal, written communication in an organization.

The negative connotation of persuasion is created by trust (ethos) problems with the organizations where writers work. (Or with some individual writers.) And also the fact that unethical individuals often rely solely upon appeals to audience emotion (pathos) rather than reason (logos). Workplace writers can use written language both (a) to sell the need for higher health insurance co-pays to their company’s employees while the CEO buys a villa in France or (b) to sell the value of alternative energy sources to government representatives. The writer’s intent — not the writer’s prose — is the key to differentiating between these two messages.

Creating persuasive prose is briefly explained in Chapter 4 of Revising Professional Writing in Science and Technology, Business, and the Social Sciences (3rd edition). If you’re using the book in an academic setting, you’ll find many exercises in that chapter, requiring you to practice identifying and fixing problems with persuasion in professional texts. But here are some additional resources to help you become a more persuasive writer:

  • a sample document, including both an original and revised version
  • a brief video tutorial
  • a list of research articles supporting my guidance

Enter feedback in the comments below if I can do something to make the resources more useful.

Sample Document

Read this executive summary from a business plan, which was adapted by me based on a sample available from the Center for Business Planning (

  • Writer: the owner of a manufacturing company
  • Readers: potential investors (like venture capitalists)
  • Bottom line message: the company is a good investment because it has developed an innovative product at reasonable cost with high market demand

Here’s a revised version of that business plan’s executive summary, with more persuasive content.

Video Tutorial

The business plan’s executive summary, along with other examples, is included in this video about persuasion in workplace documents. My goal is to provide a succinct guide to the essentials of writing more persuasively by appealing to your reader’s logos (reason). This content is not easy to grasp. Although this tutorial follows my rule for length (it’s less than 12 minutes long), you’ll have to pause and read at several points in order to follow the material.

Related Readings

There are posts here at Pros Write that deal with persuasion in workplace documents. Just enter the term in the search field near the top of this page. If you want to see the research supporting my guidance, you might check out the following sources.

Cialdini, R.B. (2001). Harnessing the science of persuasion. Harvard Business Review, 79(9), pp. 72-79.

Gilsdorf, J.W. (1986). Executives’ and academics’ perceptions on the need for instruction in written persuasion. Journal of Business Communication, 23(4), pp. 55-68.

Halmari, H. & Virtanen, T. (Eds.) (2005). Persuasion Across Genres: A linguistic approach (Pragmatics & Beyond, New Series). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sproat, E., et al. (2012). Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation.  Purdue OWL. The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University.

Cut your email into three chunks for better digestion

Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc

Travis, a former student who now works as an IT consultant, asked for a summary of what we taught him about developing and organizing content in emails ’cause he wants to share it with his project leaders. (Seems they had asked him how he knew what the majority of new grads don’t.)  Although I’ve written here about email requests and different aspects of organizing content, I couldn’t find a single post to meet his needs.  So I whipped up this one.

Let me start by showing you an announcement I recently received at work. It was NOT easy to digest.

This message was a blob I couldn’t begin to swallow. I mean I could read the words. It had well-formed sentences. It had three short paragraphs. But I had no clue what it meant. Because it was sent by a top administrator, I felt some obligation to figure it out. I actually read the entire message. And I talked to fellow employees. No one had a clue. Most had simply trashed the message without reading more than the first few words.

Note the problem isn’t one of brevity. The announcement was brief.

Here’s a revised version of the announcement I’ll use to describe the three chunks needed to help your readers digest an email easily.

Chunk #1: State your bottom line message clearly as an obligatory appetizer.

The bottom line message in the revised version of the announcement is stated early. And twice.

  1. Subject line: Directions for Office of Internal Audit Requests for All University Employees
  2. First sentence: I want to clarify the role of the University’s Office of Internal Audit on our campus and direct all University employees to cooperate with their staff fully.

The first chunk of your email must establish your purpose in communicating with your readers. Stating it clearly requires that you can actually verbalize it before you hit the send button. The critical problem with the original announcement was that it did not explicitly state the bottom line message. There was a required chunk of information missing entirely!

Stating the bottom line in the first chunk of your email requires you to take responsibility for making the message easier for your readers to digest. Even if the writer had included a bottom line message at the end of the original announcement, it would have created indigestion. Believe it or not, there are few situations when a delay in stating your bottom line is warranted.  (See the video tutorial on placement of the bottom line for more help.)

Chunk #2: Provide details or other information supporting your bottom line as the main course.

The details in the revised announcement are nearly identical in content to the original. The details about cooperation for all employees appear in one paragraph. The details about cooperation for all managers appear in a separate paragraph. The content here is brief. But you can provide a load of detail in the second chunk of your email if you make it easy for readers to skim and scan. (See the video tutorial on format for help.) The more complex the second chunk is, the more important it is to provide a wrap-up, further analysis, justification, or something else to tie the details together.

In the revised announcement, I also altered the writer’s style from the original to make it more personal. I couldn’t stop myself.

  • Original bureaucratic tone: University personnel are expected to collaborate with the Office of Internal Audit during an audit review.
  • Revised personal tone: As a University employee, you are expected to collaborate with the Office of Internal Audit during an audit review.

That personal tone is more likely to succeed if you want readers to interpret what you have to say as directions. (See the video tutorial on tone for more on this topic.)

Chunk #3: Include a call to action for dessert.

Readers of the original announcement received nothing after their main course. Readers of the revised email received just a little something as the third chunk of the writer’s message.  Call it lagniappe. They were thanked. And they were told where to go if they had questions.

This chunk isn’t strictly necessary in a downward message like the announcement email (where the writer has more power relative to the readers). But it makes sense to create goodwill that may help you get readers to pay attention to what you say in the future. After all, the language you use with subordinates determines whether they will follow you.

The original announcement was not easily digested because it used three paragraphs, but not the three-chunk format. Thanks to Travis for requesting this summary guidance for writing emails. We’re delighted he’s not the cause of indigestion in his workplace . . . Oh, how we LOVE confirmation that we’re teaching the right stuff!

Research Support

If you’re interested in the research that backs up our guidance, you could start with the following.

Fielden, J.S. & Dulek, R.E. (1984). How to use bottom-line writing in corporate communications. Business Horizons, July-August, pp. 25-30.

Evans, S. (2012). Designing email tasks for the Business English classroom: Implications from a study of Hong Kong’s key industries. English for Specific Purposes, 31, pp. 202-212.

On the 50th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech

I have a dream speechMartin Luther King, Jr. certainly had a way with words — and with audiences. I have often used his words as the focus of discussions in my leadership communication class. In honor of today’s 50th anniversary of perhaps his most famous speech, Johnson wrote an interesting rhetorical analysis for today’s Economist. If you want to read Dr. King’s words for yourself, they are available in the National Archives. If you want to hear the actual recording, NPR provides the audio for the entire speech.


Warren Buffett, pro writer

Warren Buffett sings with University of Nebraska cheerleaders during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual shareholders meeting in OmahaI was reading my digitial issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) this morning and found Ben Yagoda’s Warren Buffett Is a Better Writer Than I Am. Damn It. (Yagoda is one of a handful of contributors to CHE’s Lingua Franca blog.) The piece is a terrific analysis of Buffet’s writing ability based on his recent Letter to Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Here’s an excerpt:

My favorite part of the letter, improbably, is where Buffett explains why the listed operating expenses for Berkshire Hathaway’s Manufacturing, Service and Retailing group do not conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). I know, right? It’s just that Buffett’s evident belief that such matters can and should be explained lucidly is touching. And he succeeds. At least while reading the letter, even as unreconstructed an English major as I grasped his point about “the disparate nature of intangible assets: Some truly deplete over time while others never lose value.” He closes the section this way:

“And that ends today’s accounting lecture. Why is no one shouting ‘More, more’?”

Here’s a quote from Buffett’s letter that I especially liked:

Berkshire’s yearend employment totaled a record 288,462 (see page 106 for details), up 17,604 from last year. Our headquarters crew, however, remained unchanged at 24. No sense going crazy.

I became aware of Buffett as a pro writer when I read his preface to the SEC’s 1998 publication, A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents. Reading the plans for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in Omaha made me homesick. I’d like to think Buffett and I both profited from a public education in Nebraska — even if our experiences took place 50 years apart.

Guest Post: Analysis of Nelson Mandela’s Leadership in “Invictus”

nelson mandelaMy name is Jessica Crew. I’m a graduate student at the University of Alabama studying Communication Studies and have a personal interest in business and organizational communication. For these reasons I enrolled in Dr. Campbell’s Leadership Communication course.

The exam below is an analysis of Nelson Mandela’s effectiveness as a leader in the movie InvictusThis was the final exam in the course, and, as such, we were able to fully understand and evaluate the various communication tactics employed in the dialogue.

The Assignment

The dialogue used as the basis for this exam comes the film, Invictus, released in 2009.

The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted in that country following the dismantling of apartheid. Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiated a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. (from

morgan freeman as nelson mandelaYour task is to assess whether President Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) was thinking and interacting like a leader in his interaction with Jason (played by Tony Kgoroge). More importantly, you must demonstrate your ability to explain Mandela’s success as a leader, using what you have learned about the TILL system. Organize your response using the summaries in chapter 5 and 11 of your TILL textbook. All of you should consider the roles of readiness, values, and media choice as discussed in Chapter 5. And you must give specific pieces of evidence from the dialogue to support your claims.

The dialogue that appears in the table comes from a scene in which Jason, one of Mandela’s subordinates, visits Mandela because security officers from the former segregated administration have reported to Jason for work in the new integrated government. Complete your analysis in the table. Then write your opinion of whether Mandela was thinking and interacting like a leader, drawing on your analysis. You may find it helpful to watch the scene from the film.

My Response

Speaker Dialogue contributions

Your Analysis

Purpose(s) Rapport   Effects Strategy Tactics
Jason Sorry to disturb you.
Mandela You look agitated, Jason. Directing Positive Off record Be cursory[K1]
Jason That’s because I’ve got four Special Branch cops in my office.
Mandela What have you done? Directing Negative On record plainly[K2] Be brief
Jason Me? Nothing. They say they’re the Presidential bodyguard. They have   orders . . . Signed by you.
Mandela Yes. They’ve had special training those boys – with SAS. And lots of   experience. They protected de Klerk. Informing Positive On record plainly Be explicit
Jason Yes, but
Mandela [interrupting] You asked for more men, didn’t you? Direct Negative Off record Be cursory
Jason Yes, but
Mandela [interrupting] In public, when people see me, they see my bodyguards, too. You represent me, directly. The rainbow nation starts here. . . Reconciliation   starts here. Directing Negative Off record Be irrelevant
Jason Reconciliation?! Mandiba, not long ago they tried to kill us! Maybe even these four guys. They tried and, often, they succeeded!
Mandela Yes, I know. Forgiveness starts here, too. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon, Jason. . . Please try   it.[K3] Directing Positive Off record Be figurative
Jason Yes, Madiba. Sorry to disturb you.

In-depth analysis of dialogue

When Mandela says, “You look agitated Jason,” he is going off record to direct Jason by being figurative. Mandela uses this strategy and tactic instead of going on record plainly by stating, “Tell me what’s wrong.” We know that this is effective because Jason understands Mandela’s meaning and explains why he is agitated.

When Mandela asks, “What have you done?” Mandela is directing Jason to tell him what he did. This is plain on the record briefly. It has a negative rapport effect because Mandela is assuming that Jason did something wrong, when Mandela actually requested that the men be there (and it seems had forgotten about it). It is an effective strategy and tactic because if Jason had done something wrong the situation could be urgent.

When Mandela says, “Yes. They’ve had special training those boys – with SAS. And lots of experience. They protected de Klerk.” He is giving Jason more information about the guard. He is informing on the record plainly.

When Mandela interrupts Jason to ask, “You asked for more men, didn’t you?” Mandela’s primary goal is to direct Jason; Mandela goes off the record and asks this question instead telling Jason to shut up and quit complaining because Mandela complied with Jason’s request for more help.

Jason then begins to protest and again is interrupted by Mandela: “In public, when people see me, they see my bodyguards, too. You represent me, directly. The rainbow nation starts here. . . Reconciliation starts here.” The primary purpose of this off the record message is to direct Jason to get used to working with these new men—that is the future of South Africa that Mandela is trying to shape. The content of the message is irrelevant in that it does not directly depict the message that Mandela is trying to send, which is “Get used to it, bud.” The secondary purpose is to value; Mandela shows that he values Jason as well as the other guard members because he mentions that the guards represent him and the future of the nation. This is intended to have a positive effect, but only makes Jason indignant.

After Jason’s indignant response, Mandela says, “Yes, I know. Forgiveness starts here, too. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon, Jason. . . Please try it.” In this line Mandela is directing Jason to move forward emotionally and try to get past the resentment he seems to harbor against these men. The real message in this line is, “It is time to move on. Get over your personal issues with these men. Something bigger is at stake.” By going off record, Mandela is able to maintain his rapport with Jason and not jeopardize Jason’s level of commitment. The tactic Mandela uses is “be figurative” by using fear and forgiveness metaphorically. In the last sentence he says, “Please try it,” but it is actually a directive, Mandela is just being polite by using the word please.

Analysis of Mandela as a leader

1. What is the purpose driving Mandela to communicate and how urgent is the need to act? The purpose is to direct Jason to adjust to the new way things are going to be done now that Mandela is President of South Africa. The need to act is fairly urgent because Mandela needs to immediately begin his term as President in a way that reflects the change he is implementing and persuades the country (both blacks and whites) to feel loyalty and commitment to the new regime, for lack of a better word. In this excerpt of dialogue Mandela is trying to direct one of his in-group members to accept his white co-workers and embrace the rainbow nation that Mandela is constructing. Mandela effectively communicates this and manages to maintain rapport with his group member.

2. Is the member one of the in-group? Some of Mandela’s individual messages above are more effective than others. Overall, Mandela is an effective leader. Jason is clearly part of Mandela’s in-group and this helps with much of the communication above. That Jason is part of the in-group is evidenced in the statements where he refers to Mandela as “Mandiba” a name used amongst the in-group members that identify with Mandela up to this point.

3. How will the message affect the member’s ego needs? Mandela consistently goes off the record in the dialogue to protect his rapport with Jason—thus tending Jason’s ego needs. He clearly values Jason and the other members of the guard by speaking of them as the future of the rainbow nation and including Jason by speaking of him and the other guards as representatives of Mandela himself.

4. How will the message affect the member’s autonomy needs? The only way that Jason’s autonomy is threatened is that Mandela does not give him the option of working with the Special Branch cops. Instead he tells him (off the record) that these are Jason’s new co-workers, that Jason needs to get over his anger, and that he needs to move forward by forgiving these men.  Although this threatens Jason’s autonomy, Mandela negotiates this by speaking of forgiveness and inspiring Jason to be a good example for the rainbow nation.

Overall Mandela is an effective leader in this management situation. The media choice of this exchange is effective as Mandela is able to engage his member more because he is speaking to Jason in person. Although Jason’s not ready to comply with Mandela’s decision to hire these new guard members at first, he is willing to comply with Mandela’s directives by the end of the conversation. This is evidenced by his acquiescent statement, “Yes, Mandiba. Sorry to disturb you.” Mandela clearly values his organizational members, and fosters commitment and loyalty by including Jason and the other guards as an important part of changing the feelings of the nation.

[K1]I think you’re the only one who analyzed this “my” way!

[K2]Not sure about this one. How can he direct plainly, using an interrogative?

[K3]What about this? Doesn’t this make the purpose/message fairly clear?

Guest Post: The effects of communication strategies on rapport

My name is Aylin Wispeler. I am from Germany and at the moment I am doing my exchange semester as an undergraduate student at University of Alabama. I am here to deepen my knowledge in management and communication in order to become an effective leader in my future. For this reason, I am taking Dr. Campbell´s  “Leadership Communication” class. It has given me a deep insight in effective communication strategies.

The assignment below is a comparison of two dialogues from the movie “The Bounty.” Both conversations are between the captain, William Bligh, and the executive officer, John Fryer. Since this assignment was the final assignment from Dr. Campbell´s book, Thinking and Interacting Like a Leader, it was a great opportunity to use our gained knowledge in order to assess the effectiveness of Mr. Bligh´s leadership. The two dialogues show, on the one hand, why it is important to adjust your communication strategy to the situation and, on the other hand, the effects and consequences on rapport and relationships if strategies are used ineffectively.

The Assignment

Read the dialogue from “The Bounty.” The crew of a ship has recently sailed from England in 1787 with their captain, William Bligh (played by Anthony Hopkins in this 1984 film) and executive officer John Fryer (played by Daniel Day-Lewis). This interaction takes place during their attempt to sail around Cape Horn during a very dangerous storm.

Fryer: We should turn back. 

Bligh: What?

Fryer: In my opinion, we should put about.

Bligh: In my opinion, we should not, sir. We keep on going.

Fryer: We’ll never make it around the Horn. We MUST turn back! . . . I want my opinion in the log, [Sir].

Bligh: Very well, Mr. Fryer. You’ll get what you wish.

Fryer: The ship can’t stand it!

Bligh: The ship can stand it very well.

Fryer: And how long do you think the men can stand it?

Bligh: As long as the officers can, Mr. Fryer.

Your task is to assess whether Bligh was interacting like a leader by identifying the management situation he faced and the communication strategies he chose for his messages. You should gauge the effectiveness of his communication strategies for this management situation.

Now compare the following dialogue that takes place when Bligh addresses the officers and crew after surviving the storm by giving up the attempt to sail around Cape Horn. He begins by announcing that he is replacing Mr. Fryer with Mr. Christian, as second in command.

Fryer: [heads for the door in disbelief]

Bligh: Mr. Fryer, come back here. [Fryer keeps walking.] Mr. Fryer, sir, COME IN HERE! [Fryer turns and moves back near Bligh]

Fryer: This is an outrage.

Bligh: Mr. Fryer . . .

Fryer: [interrupting] In all my years at sea . . .

Bligh: [interrupting] Your years at sea! Good lord, man, if I’d known your nature, I would not have accepted you as bosun of a river barge.

Fryer: Must I suffer this in front of the men?

Bligh: You’ll suffer my correction whenever you’re at fault, sir!

Fryer: [raising voice] WHAT fault, sir?

Bligh: [screaming] God damn it, man, you turned your back on me!!

Fryer: And for that I apologize.

Bligh: Very well . . .

Fryer: But I protest . . .

Bligh: [interrupting] You protest, do you?

Fryer: I am master of the boat.

Bligh: [screaming even more loudly] And I say I am COMMANDER. By law . . . DO YOU UNDERSTAND!!

Your task is to assess whether Bligh was interacting like a leader by identifying the management situation he faced and the communication strategies he chose for his messages. Gauge the effectiveness of his communication strategies for this management situation. Finally, compare the effectiveness of Bligh in thinking and interacting like a leader in the two management situations.

My Response

The organizational goal for Mr. Bligh in this situation is to convince Mr. Fryer of their ability to sail around Cape Horn despite the storm. Mr. Bligh does not compromise and sticks with his own opinion during the first conversation. Even though Mr. Fryer seems really concerned about the well-being of the crew and mentions doubts, Mr. Bligh does not change his mind. Throughout the first conversation, Mr. Bligh expresses his opinion by going ON RECORD PLAINLY. By using the “Be first” tactic, he shows from the beginning that he does not support the idea of turning around. In most of his contributions he is very brief “We keep on going.” or “The ship can stand it very well.” The only time, he kind of responds to Mr. Freyer´s needs — or rather demands — is when he says “Very well, Mr. Freyer. You´ll get what you wish.” Therefore, it could be interpreted as going ON RECORD POLITELY by being positive. He addresses his member by name. Nevertheless, taking the second conversation into account, it could also be seen as going OFF RECORD by being figurative. I think so because he might be sarcastic when saying “You´ll get what you want” not responding to his wish that his opinion will be mentioned in the log but rather his demand to turn back, except for the fact that he will be the only one going back without the captain and crew following.

In my opinion, Mr. Bligh was not acting like a leader because, despite the serious situation, he did not listen to the concerns of his executive officer but instead threatened his ego and autonomy needs. He goes ON RECORD PLAINLY, showing him no interest in his concerns and therefore threatening their rapport.

In the second dialogue, Mr. Bligh´s initial goal was to inform the crew about replacing Mr. Fryer with Mr. Christian, but it changes to Mr. Bligh informing Mr. Freyer about his disappointment. Generally, it seems like Mr. Bligh has the need to underline that he his the only authority, the only one on board giving commands. Taking the first dialogue into account, it seems like Mr. Bligh realizes he was wrong in his assumptions and tries to blame Mr. Freyer.

From Mr. Bligh´s point of view the situation is an urgent issue and, like in the first conversation, he does not consider the quality of his relationship to Mr. Freyer. He chooses to go ON RECORD PLAINLY. He is brief and direct in his accusations, “COME IN HERE!” and “And I say I am COMMANDER!”  Not only is he threatening Mr. Freyer´s ego and autonomy needs by blaming him for his own mistakes but also by raising his voice. Furthermore, you can see that Mr. Freyer is obviously threatened when he says “Must I suffer this in front of the men?” and Mr. Bligh´s answer “You´ll suffer my correction wherever you’re at fault, sir!” shows again that he does not consider any personal relationship.

Also in this second conversation, Mr. Bligh does not act like a leader. He is very offensive in his words. He is only concerned about his own well-being and his authority being acknowledged. Obviously he does not care about threatening rapport or the autonomy and ego needs of his members.

All in all, Mr. Bligh is not effective in his communication. Even though he delivers the message (more than clearly), he threatens rapport in such a negative way that trusting and committing to him as a leader is very difficult for his members.

What makes organizations (un)willing to deliver documents in plain language?

Last week I said I wanted to understand the obstacles to widespread adoption of plain language. This post will explore organizational willingness. I wrote earlier that I intend to study this topic in detail next fall. But, to make the best use of my time, I’d love to hear from those who have been involved in plain language initiatives. In fact, I have far more questions than answers at this point.

Management research is the likely source of knowledge about what makes organizations (un)willing to adopt plain language. Although I am not a management scholar, I work within a management department in a college of business and have collaborated on research with several of these folks over the past 20 years. (I hope that’s somewhat more persuasive than saying I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night!)  And the Journal of Change Management has been publishing research for 25 years at this point.

So what do management experts know about organizational willingness to change? First of all, research states that organizational change is often — or mostly — unsuccessful. I’ve seen statistics of between 40% and 70% describing how many organizational change initiatives fail. Is this accurate when looking specifically at plain language initiatives?

Second, research often describes the change process with three phases as suggested in 1947 by the father of social psychology, Kurt Lewin (aka “The Practical Theorist”): (1) unfreezing, (2) moving, and (3) freezing. Later research proposed additional stages but builds on these three.

Third, research shows that developing willingness among employees is a critical part of the unfreezing phase. To minimize resistance and create readiness for change, Armenakis and his colleagues argue that initial communication about the change must address five components. (How do organizations make these arguments about plain language?)

  1. Discrepancy: the organization needs to change.
  2.  Self-efficacy: the organization has the capability to successfully change.
  3. Personal valence: it is in everyone’s best interest to change.
  4. Principal support: those affected are behind the change.
  5. Appropriateness: the desired change is right for the organization.

I would love to hear stories about resistance to change in a plain language initiative. Do these five components help to explain how resitance was/wasn’t dealt with successfully?

Fourth, and not surprisingly, research has found that an organization needs transformational leaders — those who can attend to both tasks and people — to create positive employee affect and commitment about the change from the beginning. So, while organizational change may have to begin with the organizations’ top managers, it must be embraced by individual employees to succeed. That means leaders must help employees become willing to use plain language. You can listen to leadership expert and Forbes contributor, John Kotter, talk about change leadership in 2011. Because our language is so closely tied to our identity (more about that in a future post), I suspect that the kind of leader required to get employees to change their language is one rare individual. Could you tell me about your experience with top managers and their leadership in plain language initiatives?

I warned you I have a lot of questions . . .