The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Communication Rules

By Andrew Silberman

The title of this month’s article may be interpreted two ways. Which does it mean: that a list of communication rules follows, or that, of all skills, the one that rises above the rest—the ruler, so to speak—is communication?

The answer is both. The two practical rules outlined here can improve communication, especially useful if a relationship has soured. Second, I continue to believe that communication is one area in which it is worth investing your time. And yes, you can count reading this as part of your investment.

Let’s start with the second point first. You might think that I am biased toward working on communication because that is my company’s focus. When we began AMT Group, the idea was to offer training in what we felt were the core business areas: accounting and finance, marketing, and human resources.

But those topics can be learned through books, and our clients were facing more challenges with communication than with any of the traditional management disciplines. One early client, whose company provided on-site engineers, said, “Andrew, we have never lost a customer due to poor technical skills. It has always come down to communication.”

Rule 1: Simplify
A classic communication tip goes like this: “Tell me your idea in a way that a smart 12-year-old can understand it.” Why? Because this forces you to remove words that fly over people’s heads.

Last month, I was conducting a workshop in Los Angeles for Fusion Systems North America. Their most senior leader, long-time American Chamber of Commerce in Japan member Ray Ribble, kindly offered to let my son Skylar observe the training.

At the end, when it was time for the teams to present their ideas, I shared the above tip and added, “Today we actually have a smart kid who’s going to be 12 next month. So today, your ideas need to pass the ‘Sky test’.”

The results? Clear, creative ideas, two of which they implemented immediately. And a proud father who enjoyed hearing Skylar share what he learned that day. To the teams, Skylar said he learned that people can create good ideas in a very short time. Privately, he told me that he learned how even adults have a hard time communicating.

Rule 2: Take Turns
If you’re having difficulties getting through to someone, here’s a simple rule: take turns speaking, each for only 30 seconds, or one sentence (whichever comes first), to make your point.

Before meeting with me, a client was having trouble with his subordinate (shall we say his “in-subordinate”). A few weeks prior, after one too many unproductive wars of words, they had agreed on a new rule for their communication.

“We won’t interrupt each other. Each will let the other finish all his points, and only respond after the other person says he’s done speaking.”

Sounds good, right?

The problem with that rule is that there is a limit to what the brain can process. The human equivalent of RAM storage is about 30 seconds. Rather than listening, the manager was using his notepad to record how he would respond, point by point, to the emotionally charged (in)subordinate’s words.

By limiting your remarks to 30 seconds, or one sentence, here’s what happens:

You will both think more before you speak. Since the thinking and feeling parts of the brain are located in different places, this takes the emotional charge out of your words.

You will order your thoughts more efficiently.

Your counterpart will be able to focus on the one thing that is of utmost concern to you.

Apply these two rules and watch what happens. You may find the second one awkward, yet ultimately rewarding. Who wouldn’t prefer a short-term awkward feeling over an exit interview, after all?



Andrew Silberman is president and chief enthusiast of AMT Group ( and an elected governor of the ACCJ.