The Heath's Stick to Communication

heath_review_09072016Chip and Dan Heath.[1] 2008. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New York: Random House, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When you write and speak so distinctly that—your words enter the dictionary; children grow up repeating your phrases; songwriters plagiarize your work; competing products leave the market; and everyone knows your name—you know that you have reached the Holy Grail of communication…the few, the chosen, the MarinesI had it my wayhave it your wayjlo…where entertainers and advertisers and politicians and marketing types all come together.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write:

“We wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick. By ‘stick”, we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.” (8)

Catch the action words here—understand, remember, and change. Every therapist, teacher, and pastor holds these objectives, but seldom attains them. If you don’t believe me, pick up a pen and write down the main points of the last sermon that you heard—what? You can’t? The point here is that sticky is good.

Sticky is also hard.

The Heaths cite 6 principles of sticky ideas: they are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, [stimulate] Emotions, and [tell a] Story (14-18) which form acronym: SUCCESs. The core chapters of the Heath’s book concentrate on these 6 principles so let me briefly describe each in turn.

Simple. The Heath’s write:

“Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.” (16)

Simple means that the core idea is obvious. The core idea could be the “commander’s intent”, if you are in the military, (26) or “the lead”, if you are a journalist, (30) or a memorable phrase like “It’s the economy, stupid”, if you are Bill Clinton running for president (33-34). The Heath’s write: “Core messages help people avoid bad choices by reminding them of what’s important.” (37) They expand saying: “Simple messages are core and compact” (46) which implies that simple messages need to remind you of something basic that you can remember—a metaphor (60). Think: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” (Not a metaphor, but a simile but the idea is the same). Simple communicates because it is simple.

Unexpected. The Heath’s write:

“We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive…For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.” (16)

Surprise gets our attention; interest keeps it (65). The Heath’s advice sticky artists: “to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.” (71) Or, alternatively, to “open gaps” in people’s knowledge and then to “close them” (85). Gaps create curiosity, but only in learning new things are we able to close the gap.

Concrete. The Heath’s write:

“How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information…Our brains are wired to remember concrete data.” (17)

They elaborate:

“…concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things…World class customer service is abstract. A Nordie [Nordstrum’s employee] ironing a customer’s shirt is concrete.” (104) The concept of a Nordie doing outrageously good things for customers communicates customer service is a priority in a manner like an urban legend.

Credible. The Heath’s write: “Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.” (17) Think: lots of gritty details.

Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. Still, we tend to believe our “family, personal experience, faith”, authorities with a “wall [which] is covered with framed credentials”, “celebrities and other aspirational figures”, and “anti-authorities” like the common person on the street (133-134). A Nordie is an anti-hero.

Emotions. The Heath’s write: “We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.” (18) They elaborate: “…the goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.” (169)

Story. The Heath’s write:

“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories…mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulation, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.” (18)

They elaborate: “The story’s power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).” (206)

Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick, communicates in mental pictures and stories what communicates—becomes an urban legend—and what only informs is relegated quickly to the circular file. One of my first applications of Made to Stick was borrow the story of tappers and listeners (tap out the beats to a song and have a friend try to guess the song; 19-20) as a warm-up exercise for a high school group. Anyone interested in communicating effectively will want to pay attention to this book. It is also great reading.



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Silk Shares Wisdom About Relationships

Silk_review_07302016Danny Silk. 2013. Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication, and Boundaries. Sacramento: Loving On Purpose[1] (publisher).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The intrusion of technology into our lives has increased the time spent interacting with machines and reduced the time spent interacting with people. Because developing healthy relationships take time, the reallocation of time away from development of healthy relationships has contributed to declining civility and increasing violence, both at home and in public places. Against this rather bleak environment, an emerging role for the church in these postmodern times has been to teach the basic relational and social skills that can no longer be assumed to exist: enter Danny Silk.

In his book, Keep Your Love On, Danny Silk starts by writing:

“I wrote this book to help people build, strengthen, and heal their relational connections.” (11)

Silk sees three themes as components of healthy relationships—connection, communication, and setting boundaries (12)—and he structures his book around these three themes. Let me turn to each of these themes in turn.

Connection. Silk starts his discussion of connection by distinguishing powerful people from powerless people, writing:

“You need to be a powerful person. Powerful people take responsibility for their lives and choices. Powerful people choose who they want to be with, what they are going to pursue in life, and how they are going to go after it.” (20)

Being powerful is important in relationship because:

“A healthy, lasting relationship can only be built between two people who choose one another and take full responsibility for that choice.” (20)

Powerless people are driven by fear and anxiety in making choices and look to other people to fill in for their perceived lack of power (21-24); powerful people realize that they can only control themselves and do not look to others to solve their problems (25). Consequently, it is powerless people who feel a need to role-play as victims, villains, or rescuers (23), because these roles focus on sharing power that powerless people feel they lack, as Silk writes:

“Powerless people use various tactics, such as getting upset, withdrawing, nagging, ridiculing, pouting, crying, or getting angry, to pressure, manipulate, and punishing one another into keeping their pact” [in being victims, villains, or rescuers] (24).

Real love is a challenge for powerless people because being deeply insecure in themselves they approach relationships as consumers (21) who have trouble being full partners in relationships … Obviously, a lot more can be said about the subject of connection and relationships.

Communication. Silk sees communication as a transaction between the inner and outer life, citing Jesus:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 ESV; 81)

Silk sees powerful people insisting on assertive communication where: “My thoughts, feelings, and needs matter and so do yours” (86), not motivated by fear. Powerless people are governed by fear, trying “to hide what is really going on inside” (81), not able or willing to communicate on an equal basis. Instead, powerless people adopt a passive communication style (you matter, I don’t), an aggressive style (I matter, you don’t), or a passive aggressive style (you matter, but not really) (82-84).

Silk offers some helpful advice on dealing with these three powerless, communication styles:

“A powerful assertive communicator responds to a passive person with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ They respond to an aggressive person with, ‘I can only talk with you when you decide to be respectful.’ And they respond to a passive aggressive person with, ‘We can talk later when you choose to be responsible and tell me what is really going on.’” (87)

Clearly, not everyone starts out as an assertive communicator—Silk himself admits that he started out as a passive communicator married to an aggressive communicator. Because he had to learn to be an assertive communicator paying attention to the needs of others, there is hope for the rest of us.

Boundaries. Silk begins his discussion of boundaries by observing:

“…not everyone should have the same access to you. You are responsible to manage different levels of intimacy, responsibilities, influence, and trust with people in your life.” (124)

Silk starts by recounting several stories about Christians who did not understand this issue of levels of intimacy and counters these stories by observing that “Jesus prioritized certain relationships over others”, as in (most intimate) =>God the Father=>John=>Peter, James, and John=> the twelve disciples=>other disciples=>spectators=>everyone else (125).  He goes on to state:

“I love lots of people through my ministry. I counsel them, pray with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. But that’s it. They don’t get the bulk of my time, attention, or money. They don’t get to know my heart and influence my decisions. After our few hours together, I leave those people at church and go home to my family and close friends.” 128-129)

This insight into Silk’s own relationships might come as a shock to many Christians who have trouble establishing such priorities and maintaining them, especially Silk’s comment about the “God-spot” (126), reserved only for God—not spouse, not work, not kids, not political causes, and so on. You get the idea—if not, remember how the Ten Commandments start out:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exod 20:2-6)

Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On, is an important resource for church groups, readable, and interesting. Before I had finished the first 20 pages, I started thinking of all the people that I would like to share this book with, especially newlyweds and family members. Read it; discuss it; share it. You will be glad that you did.


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Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions, Part 1

Elliot_review_08032015Matthew A. Elliott. 2006.  Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional.(Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you think that Jesus practiced emotional intelligence?

In emotional intelligence training we learn that complete communication has 2 parts:  the information being communicated and the feeling attached to it. Excluding one part or the other leads to confusion and misinterpretation [1]. Information communicated in concrete examples is easier to remember than abstract examples. Short stories communicate ideas and emotions better than long explanations. Body language often reveals our true feelings, even when we are not entirely truthful with ourselves.

In his book, Faithful Feelings, Matthew Elliot examines scripture’s descriptions of God’s use of emotions with special emphasis on the New Testament (NT).  He writes:

“This book attempts to apply modern studies dealing with emotion to the NT. But it is not primarily about the vocabulary of emotion: anger, love, joy, hope, jealousy, fear, and sorrow. Instead, it is about emotion itself, how it was perceived by the writers of the NT, and what role they thought it should play in the life of the believer” (14-15).

While this subject is very timely, it is not new. Theologian Jonathan Edwards (2009, 13), writing in 1746 about the effects of the Great Awakening, noted that both head and heart were necessarily involved in effective discipling. Thus, he coined the phrase “holy affections” to distinguish the marks of the work of the Spirit from other works and associated these holy affections directly with scripture.

Elliott distinguishes 2 theories of emotions:  the cognitive theory and the non-cognitive theory. The cognitive theory of emotions argues that “reason and emotion are interdependent” (47) while the non-cognitive theories promote the separation of reason and emotion (46). In other words, the cognitive theory states that we get emotional about the things that we believe strongly. Our emotions are neither random nor unexplained—they are not mere physiology. Elliott writes: “if the cognitive theory is correct, emotions become an integral part of our reason and our ethics” (53-54) informing and reinforcing moral behavior.

The implications of this discussion are far reaching for the church. If my emotions reinforce and inform my thinking, then work on either side can help me understand my own priorities.  Reflection on my emotions can then help me organize my thoughts which may otherwise be inconsistent for lack of priority.  Likewise, theological reflection aids my emotions in being more consistent, more “even tempered”. Fellowship and Bible study in the church can, of course, aid in this process because healthy thinking and healthy emotions go hand in hand. The balance of heart and mind is therefore an obvious goal to reach Edward’s ideal of holy affections.  The bodily resurrection of Christ reminds us that we are both body and spirit—a denial of the Platonic duality of body and soul—which is another allusion to the unity of heart and mind.

Matthew Elliott received his doctorate in NT studies from the University of Aberdeen and is currently the president of Oasis International in Chicago, Illinois which makes Bibles available to the poor in English speaking parts of the world [2]. Faithful Feelings is written in 6 chapters:

  1. What is Emotion?
  2. Emotions in the Greco-Roman World.
  3. Emotions in Jewish Culture and Writings.
  4. Emotion in the NT: General Analysis, Love, Joy, and Hope.
  5. Emotion in the NT: Jealousy, Fear, Sorrow, and Anger. and
  6. Emotions in the NT: A Summary Statement.

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments, abbreviations, a list of books of the Bible, and an introduction and are followed by a bibliography, an index of names, and index of biblical references.

Elliot (90, 238) observes that emotions must have an object and that our evaluation of the morality of a particular emotion depends on its object. For example, Elliott (214) reports that the only passage in the NT where Jesus gets angry occurs in the story of the healing of the man with the withered hand:

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, Come here. And he said to them, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill? But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3:1-6 ESV)

In the story, Jesus asks the Pharisees if it is right to do good on the Sabbath?  In other words, is Sabbath observance more important than caring for one another?  Their unwillingness to answer incensed Jesus and he gets angry because of the “their hardness of heart”. In his anger he heals the man.  The object of Jesus’ anger is accordingly a hardened heart—in other words, a righteous object of anger[3].

Matthew Elliott’s Faithful Feelings is a book that I have referred to this book frequently in my writing and speaking since I read it in 2012. This book is of obvious interest to pastors, lay leaders, and seminarians interested in current controversies. Elliott makes an important contribution to the discussion of how to understand emotions in the Bible and to develop a better balance between head and heart in our faith.

In part 1 of this review, I have provided an overview of Elliott’s work.  In part 2, I will dig more deeply into his analysis.

Did Jesus practice emotional intelligence? Jesus’ extensive use of parables and object lessons, like the washing of feet, in his teaching suggests that Jesus was an expert at communication and fully understood the role of emotional intelligence in effective communication.

Question:  Do you suppose that the observation that post-moderns often hold inconsistent views is more a consequence of choice (decision by emotional response) or simply the result of insufficient time for reflection?  What do you think?


[1] This is often the source of problems interpersonal communication via electronic media—even the most carefully crafted email can be misunderstood.


{3] God likewise gets angry over sin:  “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen 6:5-6 ESV)


Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (orig pub 1746). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press.


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Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories

John Savage: Listening and Caring SkillsJohn Savage.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Being fully present when listening to someone is tough.  It requires setting aside our own egos to hear not only what the person is saying but what is not being said—the backstory.  The backstory is important because language is laconic; tone of voice and body language provide the context. John Savage’s book, Listening and Caring Skills, helps to start down the road of being fully present in listening to your family, friends, and colleagues.


Listening and Caring Skills focuses on preparing pastors for ministry, but the principles apply more generally.  The book starts with an introduction defining the problem and follows with three major sections:  Basic listening skills; hearing the story, and advanced listening skills.

Communication Gap

Savage starts by defining the listening problem as closing the gap between what is said and what is heard (17).  This gap can be huge because the speaker desires to communicate feelings, intentions, attitudes, and thoughts.  This internal desire is actually communicated with words, tone of voice, and body language.  Words communicate about 7 percent of the message; tone of voice communicates 38 percent; and the remaining 55 percent is communicated through body language (16).  Focusing on just the words used in written communication leaves out important information needed in making decisions.

Consider the potential for conflict just because of weak communication.  Skyping can communicate words, tone of voice, and some body language.  Telephone conversation can communicate words and tone voice but no body language.  Email communicates only the words—unless you are really good with emoticons!  Clearly, if I use a form of communication that is incomplete, the potential to be misunderstood grows in proportion to what is left out.  Face-to-face communication at least allows a complete set of details to be communicated.

Five Styles of Communication

Once we are face to face, communication is technically feasible, but we do not normally engage everyone at the same level.  Savage lists five styles of communication:  direct and open, open but partial, distorted full information, distort and delete information, and only non-verbal communication (15-16).  At best communication is an art:  people lie; people don’t listen’; people run off.  Being fully present is a gift that we give to those who we really care about.  In my experience, people notice immediately when you are really listening.


A lesson worth the price of the book is a technique called fogging which is often used by politicians and lawyers.  In fogging one only answers the part of the question that one agrees with.  The most famous example of fogging occurred in Matthew 22:15-22 when Jesus was baited with the question:  is it lawful to pay taxes…?  If he answers yes, then the Jews will be offended;  if he answers no, then the Romans will be offended.  Instead of answering, Jesus asks to see a coin–everyone agrees on the coin used to pay the tax.  When one fogs, one does not answer the whole question and does not become defensive—even when the question is hostile.  Fogging allows the conversation to continue without becoming emotionally charged.

Listening for the Five Types of Stories

Savage observes that in order for people to feel like they have been heard, you need to identify the emotional content of what they are saying. Oftentimes, this emotional content takes the form of one of five story types that he outlines (95), including.

  1. Anniversary.  An anniversary is a story connected to a date on the calendar. Perhaps someone important died or had an serious accident on a particular date. In the story of the patient, the date was a birthday. The most famous date at the time of Jesus was the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt which they celebrated as Passover each year.
  2.  A “I know a man who” story. In this case, the person under discussion is normally the person speaking because the subject matter is too sensitive. In the Bible, we read: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”(2 Cor 12:2)2.
  3. A transition story has three parts—the past, the present, and the future. A hospital visit is normally a transition story. University studies are also a transition with three parts. A transition obvious in the Bible is the story of the Exodus when the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, went into the desert for forty years, and afterwards entered the Promised Land (Bridge 2003, 43). It is interesting that the people of Israel learned to depend on God during their time in the desert.
  4. A story from the past with current meaning. This is the typical story from the Bible, but this type of story gets special mention in the context of the Lord’s Supper where we read: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(Luke 22:19)
  5. A reinvestment story. This is a story like economist becomes pastor. That was then; this is now. In the Bible we see this type of story in the conversion of Paul from a persecutor of the church into an evangelist for Christ.

If you can identify the story that a person is telling, chances are good that you will connect with them at a deeper, emotional level.


Savage’s Listening & Caring Skills is a book that I have recommended, given away, taught, and preached about.  Active listening skills are of value in dealing with your children, difficult co-workers, and demanding supervisors.  In the church, pastors can benefit from periodically reviewing Savages principles and teaching them to those in leadership.  It is simply a great book.


William Bridge.  2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press. (Review)

Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories

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