How To Communicate With Powerful People

How To Communicate With Powerful People By Gene Griessman

Sarah Cooper has created a popular Website that’s called the Cooper Review which has recently attracted a lot of attention after being featured in an article in The New Yorker.

I particularly like Cooper’s “9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women,” which is an excerpt from her new book:

How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings .

When I read Cooper’s strategies, I found myself thinking how well some of the nine strategies would have worked when I was a young, brash department head in a big university. That would have spared me needless pain when I dealt with deans, vice presidents, and presidents.

I think Cooper’s strategies will help you communicate with people who have more power than you do, whether based on rank, caste, race, or gender.

Below are three of Cooper’s tactics that I, a male, wish I had used with my “superiors.”

One. Downplay your ideas as just “thinking out loud,” “throwing something out there,” or sharing something “dumb,” “random,” or “crazy.”

Two. If powerful people steal your ideas in meetings, thank them. Give them kudos for how they explained your ideas so clearly.  (One of the best ways to be influential is for your boss to think your idea was his.)

Three. Pointing out a mistake is always risky so it’s important to always apologize for noticing the mistake and then make sure that no one thinks you’re too sure about it. People will appreciate your “hey what do I  know?!” sensibilities.

BTW Benjamin Franklin offered similar advice in his “Autobiography” a little over two centuries ago:

“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself…the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainlyundoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present.When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this charge in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly.

The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with other to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”

The Words Lincoln Lived By

“Not a single spurious Lincoln quote in the entire book.”

“This is a book to cherish and share.”—Bill Marriott, CEO, Marriott International, Inc.

“Not only does Griessman give us Lincoln quotes, but he also weaves each one into a little jewel of an essay on that particular subject.” Wayne C. Temple, renowned Lincoln scholar, Illinois State Archives

A stirring, inspirational treasury of quotations from our greatest and most admired president.

You will also enjoy Lincoln Speaks To Leaders by Gene Griessman and Pat Williams.

Don’t leave yet. You’ve found a goldmine. Check out additional power phrases and unusual quotations.


Gene Griessman is a thought-leader who's celebrated around the world for his books, training videos, and memorable presentations. As an actor and playwright, he has performed at Ford’s Theater, the Georgia Dome before 25,000, the Lincoln Memorial, and aboard the famed carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln. He has conducted exclusive interviews on TV and in print with Presidents, actors, sports stars, and business leaders. He has won numerous awards including the Benjamin Franklin Award. he has performed his Lincoln one-man play at Ford's Theatre. His award-winning book “The Achievement Factors” is considered a classic. “Time Tactics Of Very Successful People,” published by McGraw-Hill, is in its 43rd printing. “The Words Lincoln Lived By,” published by Simon & Schuster is in its 23rd printing. He is author of “Lincoln Speaks To Leaders,” “Lessons from Legends,” “Lincoln’s Wisdom;” and the celebrated training film “Lincoln On Communication.” He is a member of the Television Academy. His newest book "Lincoln and Obama" has just been released by Audible.
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