A CEO’s communication tips: Use few adjectives, think Socrates, coffee

Huawei’s Ren Zhengfei wants employees to send shorter emails and talk face to face.

May 12, 2021 / 02:20 PM IST
File photo of Ren Zhengfei, founder, Huawei.

File photo of Ren Zhengfei, founder, Huawei.

If Huawei boss Ren Zhengfei could, and if the China-US relationship were better, he’d provide his employees with a Central Perk café a la Friends. And there’d be a picture of Socrates, the philosopher, on the wall.

The Washington Post reported on May 10 that last month, Zhengfei made a speech to staff detailing better methods of work and communication. This was a consequence of controversies Huawei has faced due to its internal documents. One investigation has even resulted in Zhengfei’s daughter Meng Wanzhou, the company’s CFO, being on bail in Canada, resisting extradition to the US.

Zhengfei advised staff to keep emails short, use few adjectives in legal documents, delete outdated records and have coffee with each other.

“In addition to retaining legal information and a longer period of validity for important company documents, useless historical data should automatically be sunsetted (using the sunset clause),” Zhengfei said.

“We must not only reduce and clean emails, but also improve the quality of email expression, understand the text, and know the standard format of emails. The subject of the email must be clear, concise and clear, with as little text as possible. Legal documents must be accurate and use adjectives sparingly,” he added.

Zhengfei then expounded on the far-reaching benefits of drinking coffee or water with colleagues, or even just sitting with an empty cup. He called it the “1+1>2” factor.


“There are some things you didn't want to understand, and suddenly someone will break them up for you. This is the value of coffee investment,” Zhengfei said. “The famous philosopher Socrates didn't have any works. He just chatted with people all day long. It was other people's articles that recorded his thoughts and gave birth to the Greek culture.”

He added, “A little spark from him just inspired you. It was originally two cups of coffee, but you drank another cup of spiritual coffee. Isn’t that 1+1>2? Drinking coffee is a form of communication. If you don’t have coffee, you can use plain water, or just take an empty cup.”
Akshay Sawai

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