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  • Toby Sinclair

Summary: Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

⭐ Toby's Rating: 6/10

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg Summary Image

Why read this? 📚

Supercommunicators are the friends everyone phones for advice; the colleagues who get promoted; and the coworkers everyone welcomes into a hallway conversation because they make it more fun. When you become a Supercommunicator, you too can achieve these outcomes.

3 Big Ideas from Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg 💡

Here are three big ideas that business leaders can apply to lead their business and team more effectively:

1. There are Three Layers In All Conversations

At the heart of Duhigg's exploration is the idea that every conversation we engage in is multi-layered. There are practical, decision-making conversations that focus on What’s This Really About? There are emotional conversations, which ask How Do We Feel? And there are social conversations that explore Who Are We? Recognizing which layer is at play in any given interaction is crucial for effective communication. You may experience conversational confusion if you misalign the layers. For example, if you jump straight into discussing actions and plans (Decision making) but the team wants to hear what each other is thinking (Social). Being aware of “What conversation is emerging now?” ensures better conversations. Improving your ability to lead the conversations that matter most at work.

2. Supercommunicators Synchronize

There’s been a flurry of research showing that at the heart of every conversation is the potential for neurological synchronization, an alignment of our brains and bodies—everything from how fast each of us breathes to the goosebumps on our skin—that we often fail to notice, but which influences how we talk, hear, and think. Some people consistently fail to synchronize with others, even when they’re speaking to close friends. Others—let’s call them supercommunicators—seem to synchronize effortlessly with just about anyone. Most of us lie somewhere in between. But we can learn to connect in more meaningful ways if we understand how conversations work.

3. To Connect, Make The Conversation Emotional

The most important goal of any conversation is to connect. With the right tools, you can connect with anyone. Researchers found that during successful conversations, people tend to ask each other the kinds of questions that drew out replies where people expressed their “needs, goals, beliefs and emotions,” In unsuccessful conversations, people talked mostly about themselves, or they asked shallow questions, the kinds of inquiries that didn’t reveal anything about how their partners felt.

To connect with others, you just have to ask people to describe how they feel about their life—rather than the facts of their life—and then ask lots of follow-ups. Questions about facts (“ Where do you live?” “What college did you attend?”) are often conversational dead-ends. They don’t draw out values or experiences. They don’t invite vulnerability. Instead, ask questions that draw out emotion. Next time you're in a conversation ask these kinds of questions: ‘Do you love that job?’, ‘Do you have something else you dream of doing?’, “How do you feel when you're fully engaged in your work?”, “How did you feel when you worked on your most successful project?”

2 Best Quotes From Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg 💬

Your goal, for the most meaningful discussions, should be to have a “learning conversation.” Specifically, we want to learn how the people around us see the world and help them understand our perspectives in turn.

Happily married couples, successful negotiators, persuasive politicians, influential executives, and other kinds of supercommunicators tend to have a few behaviors in common. They are as interested in figuring out what kind of conversation everyone wants as the topics they hope to discuss. They ask more questions about others’ feelings and backgrounds. They talk about their own goals and emotions, and are quick to discuss their vulnerabilities, experiences, and the various identities they possess—and to ask others about their emotions and experiences. They inquire how others see the world, prove they are listening, and share their own perspectives in return.

Toby's Top Takeaway From Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

“Do you want to be helped, hugged, or heard?”

When you fumble the conversations that matter, your employees will leave. It might only take one to have a lasting negative impact that is hard to turn around.

”But meaningful conversations, when they don’t go well, can feel awful. They are frustrating, disappointing, and a missed opportunity. We might walk away confused, upset, uncertain if anyone understood anything that was said.”

In Supercommunicators, Charles Duhigg shares one reason why leaders might fumble these conversations. A lack of awareness about what conversation is emerging now, in the moment. Is this a decision-making, emotional, or social conversation? This adaptability is a hard skill to develop. Many leaders have heard the recommendation to set an agenda in advance and be clear on the purpose. That can work but what if the tides change the conversation that’s needed is a highly emotional one, rather than ticking off the agenda items?

I resonate with this challenge. There have been countless conversations where what I want doesn’t align with the wants of the team. I’ve wanted to get straight to the actions (What’s this really about?) but the team wants to discuss with each other (Who are we?)

A nice way to think about this. Before your next conversation, consider, do the participants want to be helped(practical), hugged(emotional), or heard(social)?”

I do have a problem with Supercommunicators. There are few practical tools and techniques. There are great stories and lots of research but I felt the book was too theoretical. This is a topic that leaders desperately want practical tools and techniques.

For leaders seeking practical tools, I would highly recommend The First Minute by Chris Fennning. One of the big problems Charles Duhigg shares is that leaders do not align everyone around the conversation that needs to happen now. The First Minute provides a practical framework you can apply in every conversation that matters.

One practical tip shared in Supercommunicators was the importance of preparing well. Harvard and other universities have looked at exactly which kind of prep work is helpful. Participants in one study were asked to jot down a few topics they would like to discuss before a conversation began. This exercise took only about thirty seconds; frequently the topics written down never came up once the discussion started. But simply preparing a list, researchers found, made conversations go better. There were fewer awkward pauses and less anxiety, and, afterward, people said they felt more engaged. So ahead of the next conversation with your team, just ask everyone to write down what they would like to talk about. Then see what difference it might make.

Did you find this summary useful?

Turn Your Knowledge into Action 🛠️

Here is an exercise you can do based on the lessons from Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Exercise: Start Every Conversation Well

Objective: To start conversations off on the right track so they can deliver the right outcomes for participants:


✅ Step 1 - Frame the conversation in seconds.

Provide: Context - Why are we speaking, and why now.

“I’ve been testing the latest software release and I need you to review a critical bug.”

✅ Step 2 - Summarise your entire message in just a few words.

Provide: The desired outcome, the blocker, and a possible solution.

“I need your agreement to delay the software release (outcome). The team is unable to resolve the bug in time (the blocker). We have a solution but it will take the weekend to resolve. (solution).”

✅ Step 3 - Ask an open question.

Provide: Invite the other person to speak.

“To make a decision, what do you need?” In summary: - Frame - Summarise - Ask

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