A Lesson in Communicating from Ray Dalio & the Bridgewater Principles.

Ray Dalio is the Founder of Bridgewater Associates, a Hedge Fund with $160B under management.

Communicating is like swimming.

Almost anyone can keep themselves afloat for a few seconds.

Just like swimming there’s a big difference in how someone with a lot of practice and coaching communicates.

Thankfully, this topic has been studied for centuries and there are countless great communicators we can look to for guidance.

For example, Bob Burg wrote an amazing book on the topic called Adversaries into Allies. In the book he teaches people how to communicate effectively in all types of situations, including the uncomfortable ones we all like to avoid.

Bob gives you specific examples of what to say in these scenarios but it wasn’t until I found Principles by Ray Dalio that I understood why this level of communicating is important in the first place.

For one, Ray sees culture as the single most important factor of success. That culture is deliberately created based on what an organization and its people value most.

In Bridgewater’s case they valued truth and transparency which emphasized the need for great communication.  

The strategy was meant to disable egos and allow for more accurate decisions to be made faster.

Principle #13 – “Don’t worry about looking good – worry about achieving your goals.”

They were deliberately building a culture based on principles and the things they valued most were what directed communication on a daily basis.

Armed with this clarity you can avoid platitudes. Things like; “it is what it is”, “we all have to do things we don’t want” or “let’s agree to disagree” because you fundamentally understand why things are the way they are.

For example in Bob’s book he talks about the importance of being empathetic. Not just the thought of empathy but actually communicating that you know how they feel. If you worked at Bridgewater you would understand that empathy isn’t just a common courtesy but a way of uncovering the truth and fundamental to making improvement.

Another example in Bob’s book is when he talks about accepting responsibility for communication. Rather than accusing someone of a communication breakdown “you didn’t do this..” or “they didn’t tell me that..” use first person language like “for my clarification” or “so I’m clear”. Those are great pieces of advice on their own but they become even more powerful when you back them up with principles.

Principle #14 – Get over “blame” and “credit” and get on with “accurate” and “inaccurate”.

Rather than taking the advice of accepting responsibility as just the right thing to do, a tactful conversational tip, a Bridgewater employee would understand that it’s their duty to uncover the truth. Not understanding why something happened or passing blame is admitting to not being open minded and embracing feedback (ignoring a fundamental way of improving). Having an open mind means seeking to learn by asking questions. These types of people understand there’s plenty that they don’t know and that they could be getting wrong.

By understanding the principles that the company operates on and assuming you’ve found a place where your values align, this type of operational standard only builds your integrity and naturally causes everyone to improve.

I’d recommend reading Principles first to get an idea of what a clear foundation of values looks like. Then read Adversaries into Allies to get tactical examples of how people can employ company values in conversations to build more allies.

My favourite analogy used throughout the book is that learning should be like skiing. On the mountain you learn from experience with your instructor. Until eventually the list of fundamental tips and tricks become your own and you’re ready to teach someone else.

To get an overview of Ray’s Principles I built a Trello board of the primary points.