(Eng.) Business Communication & Any Other Communication: EAP Ideas Inspired by Dianna Booher’s “Why Communication Fails To Persuade”

The photo above shows the Binnenhof in the Hague. Somewhere in the background, besides the charmingly pink geraniums, you may be able to see the waters of the pond (or lake according to some sources) of Hofvijver. What is, however, the focus of the photo is hidden further in the background – the Dutch parliamentary buildings. It is here that Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is one of my few favourite politicians, resides. Apart from the PM’s office, the Binnenhof comprises the House of Representatives together with the Ministry of General Affairs. Historically speaking, the complex dates back to the 13th century and has been Dutch political centre since the 16th century.

This post isn’t about history, nor is it about politics. It isn’t about picture description, either. Far from it! It concerns communication and basic laws that define effective communication. The language used within the walls of the Binnenhof is a jargon from the worlds of business, politics, or public relations. Ministers, consultants, experts, or representatives working here all speak daily about internal and external affairs. Their code of conduct defines their code of communication, and vice versa.

Sometimes ineffective communicators in both business and political worlds disrespect their interlocutors, fail to listen attentively, and know it much better themselves. Communication is instantaneously ruined where no cooperation is present. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” (G.B. Shaw). Sudden bursts of anger and abrupt insulting remarks reflect one’s failure to communicate effectively. It rings a bell of so many aimless parliamentary debates from Polish political scene (or any other, I guess). “Two monologues do not make a dialogue” (J. Daly). Simple and concise, this statement should, by all means, characterize professional speakers who, in order to agree on a matter, should first of all bear in mind the following rules:

  1. It’s important to intelligibly present your point of view;
  2. It’s important to skillfully explain the core points to the audience;
  3. It’s important to patiently listen to, accept, and then reply to any queries from the audience;
  4. It’s important to naturally balance your tone between it being serious and fun (never ridiculous or mocking);
  5. It’s important to continually respect your audience and keep eye contact with them.

Arriving at a successful interchange of ideas and suggestions means mastering your communication skills. Heated debates faced and followed nowadays, either on TV or during company meetings, may very often depict communication which, unfortunately, hardly ever leads to community. Effective communication laws refer to any professionally-bound, interpersonal contacts: classroom, conference room, debate, job interview, discussion panel, etc. The encoder and the decoder follow then a set of basic rules / laws, so desired in verbal human interactions.

Dianna Booher, who is a communication specialist, offers a list of essential laws to remember when we want our communication to persuade, and not to fail (ref. below). Students of Business Communication, teachers of Communication Skills and teacher trainers may find the laws useful and applicable, either in an EAP classroom or during a workshop for educators. On the basis of the list suggested by D. Booher, I’ve decided to generate some activities used later on with my own students of Business Communication Skills.

Topic: Why Communication Fails and What To Do About It: tasks inspired by Dianna Booher’s “What More Can I Say”

Time: 100 min (+ homework assignment)

Skills: speaking (defining, expressing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing); listening (peer listening, T-SS listening); reading (definitions, word-formation tasks, homework topics, Dianne Booher’s Laws of Communication); writing (definitions; word-formation – spelling focus; homework task – essay, report or motivation letter)

Language focus: nouns – notions in communication; word-building tasks; verb collocations

Functions: speculative techniques (modal and auxiliary verbs – giving definitions and guessing at the notions); agreeing / disagreeing techniques (discussing communication factors); conceptualization and personalization (written assignments and in-class participation)

Aims:to familiarize SS with Dianna Booher’s findings; to introduce a series of traits and to promote critical thinking skills; to combine language with meaningful content following from the CLIL approach (Content and Language in Integrated Learning); to integrate language skills in a coherent way; to personalize the traits and to rely on SS’ previous knowledge and expertise.

Objectives:By the end of the interactive class  Ss will be familiar with the laws suggested by Dianna Booher, an expert in effective communication; Ss will be encouraged to analyse the theme in detail; Ss will have reviewed word-building and will have mastered the use of some verb collocations; Ss will have integrated and focused on their language skills in a theme-based way (CLIL).

Suggested tasks:

Task 1 (15 min):

Below there are eighteen communication-bound laws. Divide the notions into (1) laws which make communication fail and (2) laws which make communication persuade. Be ready to orally justify the choices you have made.


Note: Elicitation follows; Booher’s list is displayed and open to discussion.       

Task 2 (15 min):

Match the following definitions with five communication-bound laws from the table above:

1/ Communicators share goals and values and their tasks is to build bridges and avoid as many misunderstandings as possible. LAW: ____________________

2/ Careless phrases and single words may offend the audience and make the people present think of other ideas rather than make them focus on the primary message. LAW: ________________

3/ During a presentation, the speaker informs his/her audience as meaningfully and memorably as possible. The aspects delivered in such a way should be well structured and adapted to situation and purpose. LAW:______________________

4/ When negotiators and /or communicators read between the lines, respond to various points of view and never fail to ignore cultural diversities, their rapport with the audience becomes then effective. LAW:___________________

5/ When the audience is withdrawn, the presenter should realize that it might be him/ her who has inhibited the people in a way. Additionally, not understanding culture contributes to creating a barrier. LAW: ________________

Task 3 (20 min):

Working in pairs (or in groups), choose two other laws from the table above. Define them and challenge others, i.e. you give a definition and people from other pairs or groups guess at the law. They may not agree afterwards with your definitions or would like to add something else. Let them do so.

Task 4 (15 min):

In this task you have some other descriptions of the laws suggested by Dianne Booher. Complete ten sentences below with the words built from the words in BLOCK letters:

1/ Monologue: What the COMMUNICATE ___________________ assumes is obvious, does not have to be so for the audience. In this case, communication goes in one DIRECT _______________ only.

2/ Trust: The speaker takes step to become accepted and does it SKILL ______________ .

3/ Tact: PERSUADE _________________ people tend to speak PRECISE ____________, POWER ____________ and TACT _____________ .

4/ Achievement: People VALUE _______________ performance and are inclined to be less persuaded by the part rather than EXPECT ________________ and hope for any future possibilities.

5/ Dilution: Speakers very often use a list of endless qualifications, credentials and benefits. However, the more-is-better rule may WEAK _____________ impact on the audience.

6/ Generalization: Generic INFORM ____________ does not make a strong impression and is EASY ___________ FORGET ____________ .

7/ Distortion: Hearing only what’s said results in NUMBER _____________ UNDERSTAND ___________________ ; the audience doesn’t follow the communicator.

8/ Emotion: What persuades the audience is the message which is EMOTION _____________  APPEAL ___________ .

9/ Distinction: When the communicator focuses on the core DISTINCT ______________ advantages or credentials, he/she produces high impact. Focusing on fewer rather than on a great number of ideas adds attention and doesn’t TRACT __________________ it in any way.

10/ Logic: The communicator might choose to present a LOGIC ____________ case. By doing so, he/she RARE _____________ motivates the audience.

Task 5 (10 min):

Dianna Booher uses a great number of verb collocations in her presentation “Why Communication Fails to Persuade”. Match the verbs from the left-hand side column with their correct phrases from the right-hand side one. In this way, you get a list of fifteen verb collocations you can use in different contexts.


Note: Teacher displays the original text of Dianna Booher to show the collocations present there or distributes fragments among random students. Elicitation follows. Alternative collocations are welcome, too.

Task 6 (25 min):

Pyramid discussion (conceptualization and personalization) :

1/ Individually, think of the most essential laws (choose three) which define effective communication;

2/ Exchange your lists in pairs and try to agree on one together – reaching consensus;

3/ Exchange your lists in groups (closed groups) and agree on one together;

4/ Exchange your lists with other groups (open groups) and agree on one, if possible.

Task 7:

Homework assignment (or in-class writing): Read through the laws of Dianna Booher (ref. below). On the basis of the list and  your own experience, choose one of the following topics and elaborate on the theme (250-300 words):

1/ Last week you attended a conference and participated in one workshop on effective communication. In your opinion, the workshop was a complete failure. Write a report.

2/ Plato said: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” How do the words of the ancient philosopher resonate with the laws of Dianna Booher? Write an opinion essay.

3/ When communication fails, some conclusions should be drawn to avoid making the same mistakes in future. G.B. Shaw claimed: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  On the basis of the quotation and the laws of Ms. Booher, write a cause-and-effect essay.

4/ You have recently decided to apply to the Crème de la Crème Communicators Company; post title: Communication Leader. In your motivation letter, you have been asked to memorably present your credentials for the post.

5/ Look at the comic picture below. As a local journalist, you have been invited to observe the meeting. Next, you decide to write a review for your local paper. Your opinion should be supported by some detailed examples which directly refer to the laws of communication by Dianna Booher.



References (DOA: 26.06.2015):

  • Dianna Booher’s laws of communication:


  • Quotations: Plato and Shaw:


  • Comic photo: