BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS SKILLS
SPEAKING WITH POWER
To encourage you to appreciate effective speaking as a critical human relations skill.
A manager’s ability to understand and get along with supervisors, peers, and subordinates is a
critical human relations skill. At the heart of this skill, says Harvard University Professor of
Education Sarah McGinty, is the ability to speak with power and control. McGinty defines
“powerful speech” in terms of the following characteristics:
The ability to speak at length and in complete sentences
The ability to set a conversational agenda
The ability to deter interruptions
The ability to argue openly and to express strong opinions about ideas, not people
The ability to make statements that offer solutions rather than pose questions
The ability to express humor
Taken together, says McGinty, “all this creates a sense of confidence in listeners.”
Working alone, compare your own personal speaking style with McGinty’s description of
powerful speech by taping yourself as you speak during a meeting with classmates or during a phone conversation. (Tape both sides of the conversation only if the person to whom you are
speaking gives permission.) Listen for the following problems:
An absence of solutions
Too many disclaimers (“I’m not sure I have enough information to say this, but …”)
The habit of seeking support from others instead of making definitive statements of personal
conviction (saying, “I recommend consolidating the medical and fitness functions,” instead
of, “As Emily stated in her report, I recommend consolidating the medical and fitness
Language fillers (saying, “you know,” “like,” and “um” when you are unsure of your facts or
uneasy about expressing your opinion)
Join with three or four other classmates to evaluate each other’s speaking styles. Finally,
Have a 10-minute group discussion on the importance of human relations skills in business.
Listen to other group members, and take notes on the “power” content of what you hear.
Offer constructive criticism by focusing on what speakers say rather than on personal
characteristics (say, “Bob, you sympathized with Paul’s position, but I still don’t know what
you think,” instead of, “Bob, you sounded like a weakling”).
1 How do you think the power content of speech affects a manager’s ability to communicate?
Evaluate some of the ways in which effects may differ among supervisors, peers, and subordinates.
2 How do you evaluate yourself and group members in terms of powerful and powerless
speech? List the strengths and weaknesses of the group.
3 Do you agree or disagree with McGinty that business success depends on gaining insight into
your own language habits? Explain your answer.
4 In our age of computers and e-mail, why do you think personal presentation continues to be
important in management?
5 McGinty believes that power language differs from company to company and that it is linked
to the corporate culture. Do you agree, or do you believe that people express themselves in
similar ways no matter where they are? EXERCISING YOUR ETHICS: INDIVIDUAL EXERCISE
MAKING ROOM FOR ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS
Assume that you are the manager of a large hotel adjacent to a medical center in a major city.
The medical center itself consists of 10 major hospitals and research institutes. Two of the
hospitals are affiliated with large universities and two with churches. Three are public and three
are private. The center has an international reputation and attracts patients from around the
Because so many patients and their families travel great distances to visit the medical center
and often stay for days or weeks, there are also eight large hotels in the area, including three new
ones. The hotel that you manage is one of the older ones and, frankly, is looking a bit shabby.
Corporate headquarters has told you that the hotel will either be closed or undergo a major
remodeling in about two years. In the meantime, you are expected to wring every last cent of
profit out of the hotel.
A tropical storm has just struck the area and brought with it major flooding and power outages.
Three of the medical center hospitals have been shut down indefinitely, as have six of the nearby
hotels. Fortunately, your hotel sustained only minor damage and is fully functional. You have
just called a meeting with your two assistant managers to discuss what actions, if any, you should
One assistant manager has urged you to cut room rates immediately for humanitarian
reasons. This manager also wants you to open the hotel kitchens 24 hours a day to prepare free food for rescue workers and meals to donate to the hospitals, whose own food-service operations
have been disrupted. The other assistant manager, meanwhile, has urged just the opposite
approach: raise room rates by at least 20 percent and sell food to rescue workers and hospitals at
a premium price. You can also choose to follow the advice of neither and continue doing
business as usual.
QUESTIONS TO ADDRESS
1 What are the ethical issues in this situation?
2 What do you think most managers would do in this situation?
3 What would you do? EXERCISING YOUR ETHICS: TEAM EXERCISE
CLEAN UP NOW, OR CLEAN UP LATER?
The top management team of a medium-sized manufacturing company is on a strategic planning
“retreat” where it is formulating ideas and plans for spurring new growth in the company. As one
part of this activity, the team, working with the assistance of a consultant, has conducted a
SWOT analysis. During this activity, an interesting and complex situation has been identified.
Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be issuing new—and much more
stringent—pollution standards for the company’s industry. The management team sees this as a
potential “threat” in that the company will have to buy new equipment and change some of its
manufacturing methods in order to comply with the new standards.