Archive for the ‘Effective communication’ Category

Your Attention, Please!

I always looked forward to celebrating my birthday; and just last week I did (Yay!!! I am one year wiser!). What I like most about my birthday anniversary is the sing-song like excessive attention I receive – one that stretches a few more days many times. Family members recall and make the effort. Very dear friends call, send messages, and write on my Facebook wall. It feels so darn good to wear the crown and be in the spotlight. Give it a few days and that attention levels off again, but so what? It surely makes a lot of difference on that exceptional day; even if it was for just one day. Get that sort of attention every day and it will have a counter effect akin to what celebrity figures suffer.

Most of us crave attention; yet, we give and receive it sparingly. Do we have to wait for occasions to provide others with such a positively mood altering doze? Think of those people you love to associate with. Aren’t they the ones who are most attentive to you? Those skilled communicators you admire; aren’t they those who make you feel really engaged? They look you straight in the eyes as you speak and their gaze shoots very deep that you feel the connection touching your very soul (it sometimes gives you the creeps). Among the crowd, they address you by name to relay the message that “you’re not just a number”. You’re gently forced in sync to any point they relate. Compare how you feel then, with what conjures up when someone is only partially involved in your conversation – being too busy with his/her mobile (answering messages or emails) for instance. What a disappointment that would be especially if you were the only two out there.

 Almost everything in life responds positively when given sufficient attention (e.g. plants, work/business, pets) especially us, humans. It’s an energizing force that triggers a host of positive emotions; and has a spillover effect in different walks of life. It embeds a lot of meaning: care, respect, responsiveness, love, appreciation, presence, and the like. Get deprived of it, or lose it, and a state of distress precipitates. It may transform into jealousy, anger, de-motivation, sadness, or feelings of ostracism. No wonder we witness people retaliating, siblings engage in rivalry battles, marriages collapsing, employees becoming less productive, and friendships breaking-up. I am not suggesting we overwhelm others with too much attention. That sort of obsession-like focus can lead to similar problematic byproducts.

 But is it easy to provide others with our undivided attention all the time? By no means is it that simple. We come equipped with limited attention spans and are easily distracted. But at least we can train ourselves to be fully there in our interactions. Be aware of what others are saying (and even not saying). Many of us filter out all sorts of sensory information – especially listening – as others try to make a point. We engage in mentally preparing our arguments instead. We fail to consider that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen more than we speak.

 What about the targets needing our attention? Can we possibly be fully attentive to all people we know? Again, our mental and time resources are limited. We can’t but be selective and prioritize as to who deserves our attention most. Never mind those with sufficient support. They may be saturated enough to develop a flight reaction. Clearly, people dear to our hearts come first; others who appear to be receiving little attention come second. They do need that extra push. It’s worthwhile to seek them out if you’d like to make a difference. You might just be their catalyst for positive life changes. Your life must have been de-toured by someone else somehow. Wouldn’t you like to leave a fine mark in somebody else’s journey?




Eight Tips to Know If You’re Being Boring.

I love to read posts written by Gretchen Rubin who is a creative writer working on what she calls the “happiness project“. Her purpose is to spread the word on what makes people happy; and bases her writings on scientific research, popular wisdom, and lessons from the popular culture. I especially liked her post on testing the grounds for whether you’re being boring as you converse with someone else. I am sharing it here on my Blog as yet another life-enhancing tool. This is what she wrote:

‘Tis the season of merry-making, which means you’re probably more likely than usual to find yourself making polite and perhaps awkward chit-chat. One of the challenges of the holidays!

If you have trouble talking to a stranger in those situations, here are some tips to consider.

But once you’re talking, how do you know if the other person is interested in your conversation – or not? One challenge is that the more socially adept a person is, the better he or she is at hiding boredom. It’s a rare person, however, who can truly look fascinated while bored.

Here are the factors I watch, when trying to figure out if I’m connecting with someone. These are utterly unscientific – I’m sure someone has made a proper study of this, but these are just my observations (mostly from noting how I behave when I’m bored and trying to hide it):

1. Repeated, perfunctory responses. A person who repeats, “Oh really? Wow. Oh really? Interesting.” isn’t particularly engaged.

2. Simple questions. People who are bored ask simple questions. “When did you move?” “Where did you go?” People who are interested ask more complicated questions that show curiosity, not mere politeness.

3. Interruption. Although it sounds rude, interruption is actually a good sign, I think. It means a person is bursting to say something, and that shows interest. Similarly…

4. Request for clarification. A person who is sincerely interested in what you’re saying will ask you to elaborate or to explain. “What does that term mean?” “When exactly did that happen?” “Then what did he say?” are the kinds of questions that show that someone is trying closely to follow what you’re saying.

5. Imbalance of talking time. I suspect that many people fondly suppose that they usually do eighty percent of the talking because people find them fascinating. Sometimes, it’s true, a discussion involves a huge download of information desired by the listener; that’s a very satisfying kind of conversation. In general, though, people who are interested in a subject have things to say themselves; they want to add their own opinions, information, and experiences. If they aren’t doing that, they’re probably keeping quiet in the hopes that the conversation will end faster. Or maybe you just aren’t letting them get a word in — recently I was talking to someone who, though fascinating, didn’t want to let me contribute to the conversation. I enjoyed it, but not as much as if I’d been able to talk, too.

6. Abrupt changes in topic. If you’re talking to someone about, say, the life of Winston Churchill (I have a tendency to dwell at length on this particular subject), and all of a sudden the other person says, “So how are your kids?”, it’s a sign that he or she isn’t very interested or perhaps not listening at all. When someone makes this kind of switch, I have to fight the urge not to drag the topic back to what I want to talk about – but the fact that someone has introduced a completely different subject is a sure sign that the subject is not engaging.

7. Body position. People with a good connection generally turn to face each other. A person who is partially turned away isn’t fully embracing the conversation. Along the same lines, if you’re a speaker trying to figure out if an audience is interested in what you’re saying:

8. Audience posture. Back in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He determined that people slouch and lean when bored, so a speaker can measure the boredom of an audience by seeing how far from vertically upright they are. Also, attentive people fidget less; bored people fidget more. An audience that’s sitting still and upright is interested, while an audience that’s horizontal and squirmy is bored.

I often remind myself of La Rochefoucauld’s observation, “We are always bored by those whom we bore.” If I’m bored, there’s a good chance the other person may be bored, too. Time to find a different subject. (Here’s a list of some topics to avoid, if you don’t want to risk boring people.)

Have you figured out any ways to tell if you’re boring someone?

Make Me Feel Important!

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ”Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life” (Mary Kay Ash).  What a life philosophy to adopt! Indeed, as a customer, you would like to feel important, so would you as a family member, a student, a hard working employee, and even as someone providing an ordinary service. It feels so good to be noticed and valued. Wouldn’t it hurt YOU if you felt ignored or neglected? Wouldn’t YOU feel blessed to be noticed and appreciated? You can be the most confident human on earth; you can be the most self-sufficient and independent person in the world; but, still, there’s always room for external appreciation that needs to be occasionally filled.

 It would be a mistake to assume that others are OK without your acknowledgement. In many instances, people resort to psychotherapy or coaching just to create the space to feel important. Let’s not wait for this to happen. Go out there and make others feel important no matter what their social status is. You’ll make their day a better day; and consequently yours. You will feel important because you made a difference. It comes back ten fold. It really is so rewarding. Go ahead, try for yourself and notice how it will make you feel.


You Are One of a Kind!!



So I was conversing the other day with a friend of mine when he said something that lit a bulb in my mind’s eye. He mentioned that he finds everybody the same. He fell in the trap of over-generalization. Without hesitation, I responded that I disagreed. It’s a matter of perspective, I guess. He looks at sameness. I try to find the unique qualities in every person I meet. I don’t suppose people have a lot of commonalities. I mean, physically we share the basics, but what fascinates me about human nature is the unique combination of the varied qualities or traits forming one’s character. That’s what magnetized me to be in the peoples’ business; and aim at partnering with others in their process of self-discovery.

Do you share my belief that YOU are special in YOUR own way? When I hold this attitude as I talk to you, you shine. Come to treating you as yet another ordinary person, that sparkle in your eyes fades 😦 . Experiment on it and see for your self. Notice the difference in another person’s behavior when you treat him/her on bases of fault-finding or neutrality on one hand, and with affirmation of their best unique qualities on the other hand. The outcomes are amazingly polarized. This happens because we all have a grounded unequivocal conviction that no one can ever match our being that idiosyncratic in so many ways. We could make use of external sincere reminders to support that guiding principle no matter how hard we try not to openly seek it.

So, when I interact with you, you can be confident that I will be exploring the best in you. I will try hard to find those things in you that I would want to imitate. I will make sure to voice out loud the commendable actions you demonstrate. That mind-set requires a lot of training; and it definitely is not easy to take that stance permanently all of a sudden. You can object that you cannot apply this attitude to every one you meet. Abound are those whom you hold a grudge against, or shun to cut the cords of any further possible maltreatment. To that I say, give yourself some time to forgive and forget. Meanwhile, find where they blossom and eulogize it. You’ll find that things can take on a different turn.

You can, also, balk that people might think you’re just sucking in. To that I say, when people find out how genuine you are, and that your attitude is consistent with all those you meet, they will know that with you, they are in safe hands; and that their image you will never break. You are unique in so many positive ways. It’s those positive attributes that I try hard to find in our first encounter. It is those positive attributes that I keep looking for in further exchanges…..

Why Be "Praise" Misers?

I heard someone say “Always praise in public and punish in private”. Very wise, indeed. How do our caregivers start teaching us right from wrong? They engage in punishing our bad behavior and (supposedly) praising our good efforts. Very intuitive, right? Sadly, the trend for praising slows down as we grow into adulthood. Very few are those parents who continue to commend their children’s’ efforts with time. Others are saluted for being alert not to embarrass their children in front of others upon misbehavior. They save the reprimand to a side-talk. Great! But they become blind unintentionally, sometimes, to the necessity of maintaining a sense of self-worth in their children. They don’t pause to counter-balance the negativity with what a child needs most: some acknowledgement for being good in other aspects.

Children are not the only targets of punishment or reprimand. It hurts even more when we become adults. We all make mistakes; and it’s already harsh enough to know that we are far from being perfect. But we learn from our mistakes (hopefully); and we don’t need someone else to keep bringing it to our attention in a domineering way. And if there is, indeed, room to effect positive change, there are rules for reprimand to work.

I admire those who are clever enough to properly frame a reprimand. Usually, those are more sincere in caring for the other and “saving his/her face”. They give some praise or compliment about the other person’s good intentions, unique personality, or another job well done. They, then, gently highlight the improper behavior, action, or strategy. Then suggest an alternative better mode to replace it. Even better, still, and after giving praise, is asking the other person whether that behavior is, indeed, the best there is in that given situation; and whether a better alternative exists. Very few are aware of how powerful framing reprimand in a positive sense is to move one forward.

In the heat of the moment, many loose sight of considering the good in others. We sometimes fail to see the bigger picture. But it is a learned skill. It can be utilized in dealing with both adults and children; with employees and employers; among spouses and friend. Praise – even for no specific incident- builds ones’ self esteem. It raises awareness that one is still appreciated despite any flows. It motivates one to believe in his/her ability to be a better person; not give up; and conclude being worthless. It is an attractive way to communicate with others.

I know people and employers who would refrain from paying tribute or compliments to others under any circumstance. When I ask why so, one mentioned that it’s his way of making the other person work harder and keep trying. In reality, this category would be so apprehensive to let others know how good they really are. They would be anxious of letting others be so confident or become conceited with time. All they could pinpoint is flaws of character, or faults in dealing or actions. What happens is it only leads others to stop trying. Why would they persevere if recognition is never granted? Unless they are intrinsically motivated to maintain high standards, the external motivation is just not there. Any interest to further prove one self wanes with time.

Unfortunately, “praise” misers are abundant everywhere we go. In every day life, few nice words do a great deal in alleviating a distressed soul. Praise and acknowledgement normally give reassurance of ones’ being; and supports undertaken efforts. Why restrict it to a behavior, or any other specific occasion? Why is it that we use acknowledgement sparingly when its effects are like music to the ears. It stimulates the heart to love life, the self, and the other person. It does not cost much. When made a habit, it reflects self-confidence, transcendence to a higher emotional level, and wisdom. Why then remain misers in spreading positive vibes around?

Feedback or Criticism?

When we interact with others, we are prone to give or receive judgments of various types. Sometimes judgments received may be positive. They either boost our self confidence, or verify that we are on the right track in our behavior or attitude. And don’t these just sound like music to the heart and ears? At other times, judgments by others may be negatively perceived. They might irritate us either because they are not true; thus, put us on the defensive, or because they strip away our having some positive self image. Wouldn’t we all need less to hear of these?

In some instances, we may have to deal with someone who keeps criticizing our actions, beliefs, or attitudes. For no apparent reason, and despite all our efforts to reflect a positive standing, we find ourselves being showered with negativity. As a result, we find ourselves taking precautions to shun meeting that person. “Why would I willingly put myself under attack?” one might rationalize. “I’d rather be with those who make me feel good about myself”, one would reason, right? Being criticized on one incident is enough to make us doubt ourselves, so why do we have to tolerate continuous negative evaluations?

Scientific research supports the idea that those who engage in criticism have, in fact, low self-esteem that they try to uplift by degrading others. Rest assured then, that once it’s the case, you are not at fault. Try to understand the insecurity that person is projecting; and smile back. Attempt to find good qualities s/he holds and give in return only praise about these assets. You just may succeed in giving him/her the reassurance needed.

Now, imagine that you caught yourself criticizing someone else. You might ask yourself: “Why am I doing this? What purposes would it serve?” You might have all the good intentions in the world that all you are doing is providing feedback. Perhaps your aim is directed on improving certain aspects or casting some light on a different perspective. You might have a genuine care, but it would look as if you were superior, or merely degrading the other person. Some would assume they have the right to give such feedback being the other person’s boss, parent, or have any other hierarchical role. Even then, one should be aware that there’s a fine line between criticism and effective feedback.

Feedback has a different lure. It is put in positive terms. It is more humble and is phrased in terms of other possibilities. Unless you want to maintain your own belief that you know better, ask permission to give your feedback. Start up with a positive note on aspects to be discussed, then, highlight your opinion in a question form. Effective feedback provides alternatives and possibilities; Criticism locks one in a doubt loop. Feedback induces the receiver to ponder about ways to fine-tune; Criticism prompts one to shut-down and ruminate about shortcomings.

So next time you have the urge to give your own evaluation, aren’t you better off making sure it is not threatening to the other’s positive sense of self. Why not wrap your tone of voice with all sorts of sensitive considerations? I bet it would guarantee both an open heart and all ears to your message. Says who you know better? Even if your role dictates more knowledge, why not make it a two way communication process by listening to what is said in return? It could just be that you are the one who needs feedback….

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