How to Communicate Like Ben Bernanke

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may not have solved the economic crisis but his reappointment by President Barack Obama demonstrates that his boss has confidence in him. One reason may be Bernanke’s ability to connect with others. At Fed meetings, Bernanke’s habit, in contrast to his predecessor Alan Greenspan, is to “speak last.” As New York Times columnist David Brooks noted on NPR’s All Things Considered, Bernanke wants to facilitate a free discussion without imposing his own point of view from the start.

This is something that I have coached senior executives to do for years. Letting others take the lead in discussions when you’re the boss is not a sign of insecurity; it can be a sign that you are in control. You are not seeking to impose your will on discussion; you are facilitating alternative points of view. This is essential to establishing the trust necessary to broker agreements between parties who don’t agree.

Bernanke, who established his academic credentials by researching and writing about the Great Depression, is first and foremost, as E.J. Dionne noted in the same interview, a straightforward speaker — people understand him. Bernanke, according to Brooks, also worked hard during the financial crisis to keep discussions going, even calling people back after a meeting to follow up. In this way, Bernanke seems more a legislator, one who works with peers, than an executive, one who dictates. Toward that end, here are some lessons you can follow to keep dialogue flowing.

Open up. If you want to keep discussion going, you should keep talking. If the topic is critical to the future of the company, throw out your calendar. Meet with your colleagues, even those who don’t agree with you, until you come to consensus, even if it’s only an agreement to keep talking. (Mediators employ this technique to help resolve disputes between adversaries.)

Give (a little) up. The secret to good conversation is give and take. Those who feel the need to impose their will gain little by talking. Those who want to reach consensus learn how to make concessions over small things to gain agreement over major issues. Dialogue is essential to facilitating that process.

Follow up. Important matters are seldom resolved with a single conversation or a single meeting. You will need to meet multiple times. Keep the dialogue going by following up with participants between meetings. The act of simple conversation can lead to greater understanding off issues and people.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to chit chat. Listening to someone you don’t know (or may not like) talk about his family or other personal matters can spade the ground for more substantive discussions about serious issues. Following up after a meeting to clarify issues or check for understanding further cements the development of trust.

Facilitating discussions is a valuable leadership trait, but it does not negate the need to act decisively. There are times when a leader must end deliberations and act with bold swiftness. Bernanke certainly did this during the Fed’s bail out of some financial institutions as well as its slashing interest rates to zero. That action won him plaudits from the financial community here and abroad.

Bernanke’s communication style is a lesson to those who feel they should always speak first (because that’s all they have learned from their bosses) that leaders who work collaboratively can get things done. Sometimes all it may take is waiting to speak last.

Go & see the original here, by John Baldoni @ Harvard Business Publishing