Most people don’t communicate well in personal and business situations. Without solid skills people flounder, time is wasted, and opportunities are lost. Decades of coaching, teaching, and observing have contributed to the substance of J. Robert Parkinson’s You Can’t Push a String. This book explores some of the problems and common misconceptions about interacting with others in business, social, and civic situations. Crammed with ideas and techniques that can be used immediately, the book is filled with personal stories about good and bad techniques and habits and highlights appropriate correct actions and reactions.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In You Can’t Push a String J. Robert Parkinson gives some no-nonsense advice on how to be both a better manager and a better speaker. He points out a lot of techniques that should be obvious, but aren’t. He discusses things like how to write effective emails, how to deliver a clear and effective message, and basically how to get along with co-workers and make yourself understood.

The book is packed full of good information you can use in both your personal and business communications.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: You Can’t Push a String by J. Robert Parkinson is a communications self-help book that is both informational and cleverly written. Parkinson covers most aspects of business and personal communications, as well as touching on effective management and selling techniques. Parkinson gives lots of case studies and anecdotes that are cute but make a point. He doesn’t go into a lot of technical information, but instead focuses on common-sense techniques that you can put to use immediately.

It’s clear that Parkinson not only knows what he is talking about, but also that this isn’t his first book. You Can’t Push a String is full of good, useful information and is written in a light-hearted manner that is fresh and fun to read


A piece of string can be useful, powerful, helpful, and flexible, but only when it is pulled. It ties, tightens, and secures, but only if it is pulled. Because there is no rigidity, it is impossible to push a length of string.

In any situation where it is appropriate to provide guidance and direction to others it is essential to have a strategy and a plan of execution.

By definition, guiding and directing require a clear vision and a sense of direction. They also require key players to be out front, demonstrating and controlling the behaviors. It is impossible to lead effectively from behind other participants.

A piece of string is an excellent tool. It is flexible. It is available in a wide variety of strengths in order to match the requirements of a task. It is easily adjustable.

But it must be used to Pull, which means the user must lead the way.

Using a piece of string requires knowing two factors: where one wants to go and where the starting point is. Without knowing those two points, it is impossible to set a course or design a travel plan successfully.

The intricacies of navigating communication vagaries, business interactions, customer attention, and a variety of interpersonal interactions require careful attention to detail as well as flexibility to adjust to changing personnel and situations.

Over time, I’ve identified material, examples, and anecdotes that address some of the more serious and the more common examples of options available in a variety of settings.

I have arranged these ideas into a dozen topic headings in this book which is a “think about…” book, not a “how to…” book.

The categories are loose and flexible, and it’s quite possible a reader would include some of the material in categories other than the ones I selected. I won’t stand toe-to-toe defending my choices, but I think, in general, they make sense.

This is designed for random reading so the sequencing is up to the reader. Start and end wherever you want and take whatever route is most comfortable.

The stories came from a wide variety of interviews, observations, and experiences. We all process and react to stimuli through our own set of mental filters so reader reaction could be vastly different from that described in each segment.

Use the stories as a work in progress. Review and evaluate the actions and examine how you might respond to the situations.

I hope you enjoy the read.


In today’s highly competitive market, every edge we acquire helps us succeed. The ability to communicate well with customers and co-workers is one of the sharpest of edges. If we tell our tale well, we can sell, motivate, inspire, and convince. Regardless of what we offer, someone else provides the same thing. There are few truly unique products or services — at least not for very long. Competition moves quickly.

All things being equal, people buy people, not things. That’s why customers often follow employees when they move to new companies. They like, trust, and believe the people they have grown to know. We strive to build the relationships that are so important in every business, but precisely how do we go about doing that?

Our topics will include presentation skills, media techniques, effective writing, selling principles, handling difficult customers and colleagues, information security, e-mail, and voice mail to name just a few areas. Managing and Coaching will also be covered, as well as delegating and supervising.

I welcome this opportunity to share information I’ve gained during my years working in business, government, and academia. Here are some abbreviated segments to illustrate the focus and variety of the material.

Sell vs. Buy: Because salespeople know their product so well, there is a temptation to tell customers all about it. How it works. How it was developed. What it can do. Salespeople are good at that, but a sales interaction is not about “selling,” it’s about “buying.” It’s about determining what a customer needs and wants.

A ballpoint pen salesperson, for example, will not sell the pen if the customer wants something he or she can erase. Trying to sell a customer what he or she does not need wastes everyone’s time and patience. That certainly isn’t good for business.

The Presentation Data Dump: When designing and delivering a talk, many people simply say too much. And they often confuse and annoy an audience with a disorganized sequence. To avoid that, keep three words in mind: What? Why? How? Use that order to sequence a presentation, an e-mail, or a voice mail. What do you want? Why do you want it? How do you want it? That makes the point and gets results.

There’s an old joke that states if someone asks you what time it is, just tell him. Don’t’ tell him how to build a wristwatch. Too much data hurts a presentation and will usually confuse — and sometimes anger — an audience.

Make your point, and move on.

Professional Manager vs. Non-Professional Manager: The professional manager asks questions and welcomes input, sees the staff as valued individuals rather than workers, teaches the staff to perform new tasks, delegates and enables them to take acceptable risks. The non-professional manager, on the other hand, often tells others what to do and how to do it, sees staff only as vehicles to accomplish a task, limits growth and development, expects obedience.

Other crucial business communication topics include: How do you get ready for a radio, TV, or print interview? How do you delegate effectively? How do you coach others to improve performance? How do you write a memo that is clear, concise, and complete?

This is just a brief overview of our business communication menu. There will be plenty of detail — but not so much detail that I violate my earlier comment about the data dump.

I look forward to building a strong and productive relationship with you. Please feel free to contact me with ideas, questions, objections, suggestions, and reactions.

Here’s to the start of a long and productive relationship.

© 2014 by J. Robert Parkinson