Book reviews - Persuasive communication

Book Recommendation: Managers as Mentors, by Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith

Why am I reviewing a book on mentoring in a blog on persuasive communication? The first reason is that Chip Bell, whom I’ve known for many years, sent me a copy[1]. The second reason is that, even if you don’t plan to mentor others, many of the skills in this book are indispensable for persuasive communications. Although the examples are geared towards the mentoring process, there is a lot of practical utility that can be applied to making you a more effective communicator overall.

The authors define mentoring as “the act of helping another learn”. Notice that’s it’s not about “teaching”, it’s about ensuring the other person learns. Mentors help others to learn something that they might have learned slower, not as well, or not at all.

When you see it that way, the parallels between mentoring and selling and persuasion in general become obvious. Selling is the act of helping another buy, and persuasion is the act of helping another decide. The key theme is that the power to change comes from inside the other person. As the authors so eloquently put it, “change is a door opened from the inside.”

It’s not about you—it’s about the other person.

If you see mentoring as merely transmitting information and passing on responsibility to the listener to get it or not, the best you may get is heads nodding in agreement and immediate forgetting. If you see mentoring as helping the other to extract insight, you will get willing acceptance and learning that sticks. The same applies to persuasion or selling—if you see it as helping your listener or customer to extract insight that helps them improve their situation, you get sustainable agreements.

Some sections of the book stray a little too far into philosophical musings for my taste, but there is plenty of hard-headed practical advice and tools to compensate. If you’ve read books on selling and persuasive communication, you’ve been exposed to the same toolbox that Bell and Goldsmith cover: listening, building rapport and trust, using questions, etc. Yet, because of their long experience in mentoring and coaching, they bring some great insights. Here is a small sampler:

  • Listening is not about starting to do something special; it’s about stopping doing normal things, such as yielding to distractions, judging the other person’s statements, and rushing to solve. I also like their term, “raffle thinking”. The point is that we’re all capable of listening with complete focus when we make it a priority.
  • Never resist resistance. Change will always involve some resistance; the wise mentor accepts it, seeks to learn from it, and applies those insights to the learning conversation. Both sides learn and grow from the interaction.
  • The crucial importance of knowing yourself. From a practical standpoint, self-awareness helps you identify your strengths and blind spots so that you can be a more effective communicator. Beyond that, it can bolster your own humility and acceptance, both of which foster trust in the relationship.

If you see this as a book just about mentoring, it’s mostly recommended for experienced, higher-ranking corporate executives. If instead you see it as a book that extracts insights on how to improve persuasive communication in general, anyone can benefit.

 


[1] Would I let that affect my objectivity? Of course!

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