Leadership Tool: The Power of Being Specific

Here’s three ways you can experiment with being more specific.


Tutti Taygerly

2 years ago | 3 min read

Many of us fall into a common pattern of speaking in platitudes, abstractions, or generalities. This often happens when we are distracted and not completely focused. Think about the last time someone asked, “How are you?” Many of us automatically reply, “Fine, thank you. And you?” and then we continue on with our day. We back on these habitual communication patterns.

If you’re trying to influence others in an organization or build trust with key relationships, a powerful leadership technique is to stop talking in abstractions. Instead, dive deeper into the specifics of a conversation.

Moving into specifics makes the experience of the conversation more engaging, leading to a stronger connection with the other people. Here’s three ways you can experiment with being more specific.

1. Share a problem

People love to problem solve and give advice. Ground the conversation you’re having with the specifics of a problem to engage your listener. Imagine that you’re leading a team and looking to connect with other leaders in your company. Here’s a contrast between abstract versus specific problem sharing.

Abstract problemI’m having an issue with one of my team members. He often fails to meet my high expectations, and I’m worried that this will be an ongoing problem.

Specific problem: I’m having a problem with Joe who runs recruiting on my People Ops team. He does a great job with meeting his targets. His team always hits their outreach and close numbers. However, I’ve noticed that Joe doesn’t tend to be open about problems he runs into. He doesn’t want to come to me with problems, and I believe he wants to reassure me that he can handle them himself. I expect my direct reports to be open about their mistakes and challenges so I can support him, and also so that they can learn from each other.

Going specific provides more fodder for the conversation. Sharing a problem invites the people you’re talking to engage and collaborate on problem solving with you. Going specific can also help you get personally unstuck and see some ways out of the problem.

2. Tell a story with emotion

It’s impossible to tell a story without going into details. Part of storytelling is having a protagonist who goes through an experience—positive or negative—and comes out the other side having learned something insightful.

If you’re sharing a presentation about strategies for how to improve email list conversion for a retail brand that sells face masks, consider telling a story rather than relying on bullet points within a slidedeck. For example:

Kareem subscribes to our email list. He’s a busy with a full-time job and also has twins in elementary school. He receives a large number of emails, both personal and professional.

He’s worried about their health now that his twins are back to in-person school and it’s the start of flu season. Each evening, he sorts through his email as quickly possible to clear out his inbox. Yesterday evening, he notices a subject line: “We’ve restocked kids’ mask sizes for cold & flu season” and opens it.

The specifics in this story can help a leader pitch ideas for marketing strategies to her leadership team. It grounds the business problem in a story experienced by a customer.

For bonus points, tell the story with emotion, walking through the protagonist’s pain points and slowly unveiling what happens next.

3. Be personally vulnerable

Finally, one of the most accessible ways to be specific is with sharing our own stories. Being personally vulnerable and diving into details models behavior for the other person and can establish a foundation of trust.

For example, for one of the companies I consult with, we kick off our weekly team meeting with gratitudes. Some can be high level:

  • I’m grateful for the sunshine today. It’s a welcome break from the frigid unseasonable lows of the past few weeks.

However, the entire zoom room buzzes with connection when someone shares something personally vulnerable and specific:

  • I’ve been having trouble getting my teen son to open up with me. He’s been having trouble turning in homework at school. Yesterday, he got into such a deep hole that he was completely overwhelmed. I’m grateful that he finally came to me for help. We looked at the work together and will talk to his teacher later today.

Sharing details of our personal lives, perhaps in a team meeting or in a 1–1 situation helps model that we care about the entire human. Going first with a personal story requires courage and vulnerability, but often these specifics are what builds the long term relationships that leaders need to develop.


One of the most powerful leadership tools to foster connection and greater influence is to be more specific. Three ways on how to be more specific is by 1. Sharing a problem, 2. Telling a story with emotion, and 3. Being personally vulnerable. Moving away from the abstract can feel uncomfortable, but when used in conversation will result in stronger connections.


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Tutti Taygerly







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