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Techniques > Conversation > Types > Dictating

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Dictating is not talk, not in the sense of conversation. When we dictate, we talk without listening. We wear the hat of the dictator as we tell people what is true, what is false and what they must do. Dictation assumes the dictator is the sole arbiter of truth and that others are not permitted to disagree or refuse, typically on pain of punishment of some form.


I want you to get me a cup of coffee and then clean this room. I'll be watching you so you'd better make sure you do it well.

It is quite obvious that our products are not selling well enough. Bring me a revised marketing plan by 12 o'clock tomorrow.

Pass the salt, please.


Dictating is easy. When you do not have to consider the views of others, you can say what you like. If others make inconvenient assertions, you can just tell them they are wrong. We are all, in our own ways, dictators from time to time, and most of us will accept a request or assertion if it seems reasonable and does us no harm to go along with it. It is when we want to respond but feel unable to do so that harsh dictating is at play.

Dictating is popular among the powerful and unintelligent. Those in power tell more than they sell, partly as a demonstration of that power and partly as a way of avoiding long conversation in their busy schedules. Those with limited ability to reason or persuade more subtly may also resort to dictating.

Dictating may use softeners, such as expressing desires or making requests rather than making direct demands, though the underlying dynamic is still that the other person does not have a choice. For example in an everyday request, such as to pass the salt, even though it is phrased as a question, the other person will feel so strongly obliged to comply, it is in effect dictating.

The value and limitation of dictating is that it gains compliance but it may well not change minds. If you want people just to do something now, you can deliberately appear dominant or otherwise ensure they understand your power as you demand that they do as you say.

If you dictate you also face the risk that the other person will react to the perceived control being applied to them. If you are to continue dictating, you will need to be able respond to this. Faced with revolution, dictators typically will not hesitate to either escalate their threats or act in ways that hurt those that oppose them. In the everyday world, this includes managers who can sack you and parents who send their children to bed without any supper.

If you want them to really think differently and act well even when you are not there, then you need a more subtle and powerful method of persuading. Dictating is for dictators. Changing minds needs a deeper ability.

Having said all this, dictating is widely accepted in certain situations, for example in emergencies or presentations where an expert presenter talks and the audience simply listens and accepts. This principle may also be used in conversations, where one person 'takes the stage' and speaks as an expert, without expectation of interruption or question. Again, if the person is accepted as an expert, what they say may be accepted without challenge.

See also

Assertiveness, Power, Dominant Body Language

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