I have a new favorite podcaster. So naturally, now that I work in strategic communications, I thought I would explore what makes this person such a good communicator, and are there lessons each of us can learn? 

Bari Weiss is a former New York Times Op-Ed columnist whose very public departure propelled her to national recognition. If you’ve not read her open letter of resignation from the NYT, I urge you to do so. Her book How to Fight Antisemitism, which had just been published, is one of the best books on the subject I have read. During the first year or so following her resignation, her prominence was found primarily in the Jewish world, speaking on antisemitism and anti-Zionism.  

Since that time, Bari has launched her website, newsletter and podcast, Honestly. Though I had been a mild fan of Bari’s for a few years by this time, her podcast is the vessel through which I’ve had the pleasure of really getting to her. She comes across as someone I want as a friend. Of course, I don’t really know her, but the fact that I feel like I do suggests there is something special about her communication style. Notwithstanding the fact Bari has no idea who I am, I will henceforth cloak Bari in the very loosely fitting description, “my friend.” So, allow me to explain why my friend, Bari Weiss, is an exemplary communicator. 

What does it take to be considered a 'masterful communicator? See why New York Times Op-Ed columnist Bari Weiss might fit the bill. via @redbanyan Click To Tweet

On paper, a description of Bari would dissuade many of those on the right side of the political spectrum from paying her any attention. On paper, a description of the topics Bari discusses would dissuade many of those on the left side of the political spectrum from paying her any attention. It’s her uncanny ability to channel conversations, using a rare combination of reason, pragmatism, fair-mindedness, equanimity and humility, about important, complex and provocative issues that exemplifies her masterful communication skills. 

Now, if she were just a talking head on a podcast, then I’d describe her as a good speaker, a description befitting those who excel at talking at you rather than with you. Bari is a communicator. She speaks with you, and I believe Bari is one of the best long-format podcast interviewers in the business. She reminds me of a young, female Frank Sesno, who is revered for his interviewing abilities and who literally wrote the book on the subject, Ask More.

Listen to any one of her podcasts and I dare you not to look past her political persuasion and those of her guests. It’s impossible not to like her, and it’s impossible not to like her guests who, on paper, may appear to hold views antithetical to your own. When you find yourself liking someone you otherwise would not, it’s often because they are a good communicator. 

I’ve listened to many of Bari’s podcasts, but one really resonated with me, particularly in the lead-up to this blog. A 21st Century Witch Hunt is a sobering and profoundly upsetting story about Maud Maron, a woman who had the temerity to swim against the current in pursuit of a better system, only to find her life torn asunder by those whom she thought were friends, colleagues and allies. Her story is sadly all too common in our cancel-culture world.  

Maud, on paper, is the archetype those on the right love to denigrate. She checks all the Progressive boxes, so no reason to care about her…until you can’t stop yourself from caring. The topic, on paper, is one those on the left are too often willing to write off as right-wing propaganda, so no reason to care about it…until you can’t stop yourself from caring. 

This is the brilliance of my friend Bari’s communication style. She deftly shatters what I call the political archetype heuristic, the unconscious blueprint we use to define another as “the other.” Listening to Bari, one cannot help but be rational, pragmatic, fair-minded and humble. She elevates each listener through the queries of her guests. It’s so subtly transformative that you recognize how brilliant the conversation was only at the end, when you realize you actually care for the person about whom you previously could not have cared less. 

I’ll conclude with a list of Bari’s qualities, that if we could grasp, would help each one of us become better communicators:

  1. Be genuine – do not pretend to be anyone other than you
  2. Be sincere– the more you care about the person (audience) with whom you are communicating the more they will care about you  
  3. Be vulnerable – vulnerability knocks down barriers; it creates bonds
  4. Be inquisitive– ask questions more than you make statements. The more genuine questions you ask, the more genuine will be the relationship you form.
  5. Be prepared – know your topic inside and out and know your guest/audience 
  6. Be moderate – ask questions with the middle in mind – don’t play gotcha, play as a team seeking to get to an agreement 

How many crises, cancellations, misunderstandings and destroyed relationships would have met different outcomes had the above principles been employed by all parties? Perhaps we should start paying attention to what Bari does. 

Interestingly, these are the very communications principles to which we at Red Banyan adhere and help our clients to embrace. Crisis PR is often about pressing the truth in a manner that is likely to be heard. As Frank Luntz noted, “It’s not what’s said but what’s heard.” A good communicator understands how to convey ideas in ways that are most easily received by a given audience. That’s what good crisis PR and positive PR is all about.  

My next blog is a two-parter. The first segment will explore the three kinds of apologies. The second segment will explore how the acceptance of apologies is critical to our acceptance of failure and error, which themselves, are requirements for long-term success.  

Mark Sachs blogs on a variety of issues and serves as Director of Client Engagement for the global communications firm Red Banyan.