A Lesson in Communicating from Ray Dalio & the Bridgewater Principles.
A summary of the Bridgewater Principles based on this public document.
Communicating is like swimming.
Almost anyone can keep themselves a float for at least a few seconds.
BUT even though anyone can technically do it. There’s a huge difference between someone who has had practice and coaching and those who haven’t.
Thankfully there have been leaders who understand the importance of communication and what it means to be great at it. For example Bob Burg wrote an amazing book on the topic called Adversaries into Allies. In the book he teaches people how to communicate effectively in all types of situations, including the uncomfortable ones we all like to avoid.
Do you have a communication handbook for your company??
Initially I thought that’s what Bob’s book should turn into but there was something missing from a would be “handbook”. The advice was all very clear. By reading through the book you would know what to say. But it wasn’t until I found Principles by Ray Dalio that I understood how you could help people understand why.
Ray Dalio, for anyone who doesn’t know is the Founder, CEO of Bridgewater Associates. A Connecticut based Hedge Fund with over $160B under management. He is known not only for starting the largest hedge fund in the world but also for his philosophies around management.
.Ray very clearly articulates that it’s the culture that is the most important thing for any group of people working together to be successful. The culture is deliberately created based on the things that the organization and the people inside that company value most.
In Ray’s case he decided that they were going to value truth and transparency above all else. The strategy was meant to disable ego’s and allow for more accurate decisions to be made faster.
Principle #13 – “Don’t worry about looking good – worry about achieving your goals.”
For me the realization was that deliberately building a culture based on principles and what you value is what should fuel and direct your communication on daily basis.
Armed with this clarity you can avoid platitudes. Things like; “it is what it is”, “we all have to do things we don’t want” or “let’s agree to disagree” because you fundamentally understand why things are the way they are.
For example in Bob’s book he talks about the importance of being empathetic. Not just the thought of empathy but actually communicating that you know how they feel. If you worked at Bridgewater you would understand that empathy isn’t just a common courtesy but a way of uncovering the truth and fundamental to making improvement.
Another example in Bob’s book is when he talks about accepting responsibility for communication. Rather than accusing someone of a communication breakdown “you didn’t do this..” or “they didn’t tell me that..” use first person language like “for my clarification” or “so I’m clear”. Those are great pieces of advice on their own but they become even more powerful when you back them up with principles.
Principle #14 – Get over “blame” and “credit” and get on with “accurate” and “inaccurate”.
Rather than taking the advice of accepting responsibility as just the right thing to do, a tactful conversational tip, a Bridgewater employee would understand that it’s their duty to uncover the truth. Not understanding why something happened or passing blame is admitting to not being open minded and embracing feedback. Or ignoring a fundamental way of improving. Having an open mind means seeking to learn by asking questions. These types of people understand there’s plenty that they don’t know and that they could be wrong.
By understanding the principles that the company operates on and assuming you’ve found a place where your values align, this type of operational standard only builds your integrity and naturally causes everyone to improve.
I’d recommend reading Principles first to get an idea of what a clear foundation of values looks like. Then read Adversaries into Allies to get tactical examples of how people can employ company values in conversations to build more allies.
To get an overview of Ray Principles I built a Trello board of the primary points. He gives the example throughout the book that learning should be like skiing. On the mountain you learn from experience with your instructor. Until eventually the list of fundamental tips and tricks become your own and you’re ready to teach someone else. If you don’t have a list of principles for your company use Ray’s as a template and over time make them your own.