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Sally Susman’s Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World stands out as an invaluable guide for those seeking to refine their communication skills and make a meaningful impact at work, at home, and on the world. Susman, a communications executive at Pfizer, shares her wealth of experience in navigating complex communication landscapes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her insights are not only profound but also practical and accessible to any marketers and communications professionals in any size business.

Understanding the Core Message

One of the primary takeaways from Susman’s book is the importance of understanding the core message before any communication begins. Susman emphasizes the necessity of clearly defining what you are trying to say. She spends considerable time unpacking this concept, ensuring that communicators grasp the essence of their message at the most fundamental level. This approach resonates with our philosophy at Threadline, where we advocate for clients to define their core narrative before embarking on storytelling. By clarifying the message first, many communication errors can be avoided and the stories that are told as a result are more meaningful and have greater impact.

The Role of Gratitude in Communication

Susman also highlights the often-overlooked power of gratitude in communication. In Chapter 4, she discusses the significance of being gracious and kind, emphasizing the value of thank-you notes and follow-up messages. This focus on gratitude underscores that communication is not merely a tool for manipulation but a means of building genuine relationships. Susman’s emphasis on pre-communication and post-communication—such as expressing gratitude—reinforces the idea that effective communication is as much about building relationships as it is about conveying messages.

Susman recounts how small acts of gratitude have made a significant impact in her professional life. She details instances where sending a simple thank-you note after a meeting or expressing appreciation for a colleague’s hard work helped strengthen professional bonds and foster a more collaborative environment. This practice, she explains, is not only about politeness but also about recognizing and valuing the contributions of others, which in turn builds a foundation of mutual respect and trust.

Humility and Humor as Communication Tools

Another key insight from Susman’s book is the importance of humility and humor. She breaks down these concepts in a way that highlights their effectiveness in connecting with audiences. Humility, she explains, is not about diminishing one’s achievements but about presenting oneself as a relatable human being. This approach helps bridge gaps between the communicator and the audience, fostering trust and rapport. Susman illustrates how humor, when used appropriately, can make communication more engaging and relatable. She cautions, however, that understanding the context and knowing where to draw the line is crucial for the effective use of humor.

Susman shares anecdotes where humor helped defuse tense situations and brought a sense of camaraderie to her team. By using light-hearted comments and finding common ground in shared experiences, she was able to ease tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. However, she also stresses the importance of being sensitive to the context and the audience, ensuring that humor is always inclusive and respectful.

Building Trust Through Transparency

Susman’s experiences at Pfizer, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, provide a real-world context for her emphasis on transparency. She shares how clear and honest communication about the challenges and developments in vaccine production helped build public trust. Susman argues that transparency is essential, especially in a world rife with misinformation and distrust. By being open about both successes and failures, communicators can establish credibility and foster a more trusting relationship with their audience.

Susman recounts specific instances where transparency played a crucial role. For example, during the early stages of vaccine development, she led efforts to communicate openly about the uncertainties and challenges faced by the team. This approach not only kept the public informed but also demonstrated Pfizer’s commitment to honesty and integrity. By sharing both the successes and the setbacks, Susman was able to build a narrative of perseverance and dedication that resonated with the public.

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is a central theme in Breaking Through, with Susman advocating for its power to convey complex ideas and evoke emotional responses. She shares numerous examples from her career to demonstrate how effective storytelling can open minds and move hearts. At Threadline, we believe that every brand has a unique story that can create meaningful connections with its audience. Susman’s insights reinforce our commitment to helping brands articulate their narratives in authentic and engaging ways.

Susman explains that stories are not just about the content but also about the way they are told. She provides tips on how to craft compelling narratives that capture the audience’s attention and convey the intended message effectively. By using vivid imagery, relatable characters, and emotional arcs, Susman shows how stories can make complex ideas more accessible and memorable.

Practical Applications and Personal Reflections

Throughout the book, Susman provides practical frameworks, personal anecdotes, and professional insights that make Breaking Through both accessible and applicable. She shares her challenges, failures, and successes with humility, making the book relatable to communicators at all levels. Susman’s ability to distill complex communication strategies into actionable advice makes this book a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their communication skills.

Susman’s reflections on her personal growth as a communicator are particularly enlightening. She discusses how her experiences have shaped her approach to communication, emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and adaptation. Whether dealing with a crisis or celebrating a success, Susman’s stories provide a roadmap for navigating the complexities of professional communication.

A Call to Authentic Communication

In conclusion, Breaking Through is not just a guide to better communication; it is a call to action. Susman inspires readers to use their communication skills to advocate for their values and make a positive impact. She encourages leaders to be intentional about their communication, using it as a tool to build bridges and foster understanding.

Sally Susman’s Breaking Through is an essential read for anyone looking to enhance their communication skills and make a meaningful impact. Her blend of personal stories, professional insights, and practical advice provides a comprehensive roadmap to mastering the art of communication. Her principles can help brands not only communicate more effectively but also connect with their audiences on a deeper level.

For those interested in learning more about Sally Susman and her work, visit