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  • Writer's picturekarenfrankola

What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Communicating at Work

Spoiler alert! This blog contains spoilers from the first three episodes of season six of Game of Thrones.

What is the most powerful weapon in Game of Thrones? Daenerys’ dragons? Melisandre’s black magic? The Starks’ direwolves?

While dragons and direwolves make for spectacular viewing, I would argue there is nothing more powerful in the Game of Thrones universe than the words its characters utter. And because words are a tool that we all have at our disposal, unlike a fire-breathing Drogon, the ways our favorite characters communicate to achieve their goals of amassing power or simply staying alive can teach us a great deal.

While navigating office politics is hopefully not as daunting as trying to gain the Iron Throne, the language of the Seven Kingdoms has relevance for us. Here are some lessons from the first three episodes of season six.

Lesson #1: Make your message relevant to your audience. When Daenerys is captured by Dothraki warriors, she stays silent until brought before their leader. After putting up with trash talk from the khal’s henchmen and wives, she finally utters announces who she is.

“I am Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaeyan, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, the Queen of Meheern...” (yada yada yada)

But the response is not what she’s expecting.

The khal laughs and says, “You are nobody, queen of nothing.”

Things look pretty bad for Daenerys until she comes up with, “I was wife to Khal Drogo.”

These turn out to be the magic words. The chieftan takes his hands off her and responds, “Forgive me. I did not know. It’s forbidden to lie with a khal’s widow.”

The Dothraki didn’t care about most of Daenerys’ backstory, but the fact that she was married to one of their leaders stopped them in their tracks. Daenerys buried the lead, but recovered in time.

Tyrion Lannister, the best communicator in Westeros and beyond, didn’t make that mistake in an equally perilous situation. When Tyrion faced off against two dragons with nothing more than his words and wit, he began with the information most likely to endear him to his audience. (And yes, dragons do seem to understand English.)

“I’m friends with your mother,” says Tyrion.

“I’m here to help you. Please don’t eat the help.”

And then Tyrion tells a story about begging for a dragon when he was a child. Tyrion had pleaded, “It wouldn’t even have to be a big dragon, it could be little like me.”

The story is so charming that one of the dragons offers his neck to Tyrion so he can unlock his chains. Tyrion walks away, uneaten.

Lesson #2: Good leaders don’t just talk - they listen.

In this season’s first episode, Tyrion displays a very unusual activity for any leader in the Seven Kingdoms. He goes on a walking tour of Mereen, the city he’s attempting to govern.

“We’re never going to fix what’s wrong with this city from the top of a 800- foot pyramid,” Tyrion tells Varys.

Dressed like a merchant, Tyrion gets off to a bad start due to his faulty Valyrian, terrifying a woman who thinks he wants to eat her baby. But with help from Varys, Tyrion makes some progress on his listening tour. He checks out the latest graffiti and overhears a discussion by former slaves.

However, Tyrion realizes it’s going to be harder to tap into what his enemies are planning. Varys, whose title was once “Master of Whisperers,” comes to the rescue once again, promising his little birds will soon return “singing songs.”

This scene shows the importance of seeking feedback from employees, especially those that might be resistant to change. Otherwise executives will become isolated and their initiatives won’t be adopted. Unlike a certain Dornish prince, an executive doesn’t have to be worried about being stabbed by a Sand Sister, but he or she might face a similar accusation (just substitute office for palace).

“When was the last time you left this palace?” asks Ellaria Sand as the prince bleeds out. “You don’t know your own people.”

Lesson #3: Coach people with honest and direct language, especially leaders.

When Jon Snow was killed last season, a lot of us assumed Melisandre would resurrect him. But how many of us guessed that she would lose faith in her powers and need coaching? All too often, workplace leaders are surrounded by those who are afraid to challenge or coach them. But Ser Davos Seaworth shows how important candid talk is, especially with those more powerful than you.

Almost immediately after his boss is killed, Davos decides it’s a shame Jon Snow had been murdered and wants the Red Woman to fix it. But she no longer believes in her power.

“Everything I believed, the great victory I saw in the flames, all of it was a lie. You were right all along - the Lord never spoke to me,” says Melisandre.

“I’m not asking the Lord of Light for help,” says Davos. “I’m asking the woman who showed me that miracles exist.”

Fueled by Davos’ words, Melisandre makes the impossible happen.

But Davos’ coaching isn’t over. The newly alive Jon Snow also has doubts.

“I did what I thought was right and I got murdered for it,” he says bitterly to Davos.

“Now I’m back. Why?”

“I don’t know,” replies Davos. “Maybe we’ll never know. What does it matter? You go on. You fight for as long as you can. You clean up as much of the shit as you can.”

“I don’t know how to do that,” says Snow. “I failed.”

“Good, now go fail again.”

And with that, Jon Snow leaves the Night’s Watch and embarks on a new chapter that could make him a winner in the Game of Thrones.

Without Davos’ words, it never would have happened.

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