Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bettering our people skills

Dear Friend/Colleague,

Communication skills, no matter how finely structured cannot be a substitute for authenticity, caring and understanding. But, it can certainly help us express these qualities much more effectively. Nearly all of us want better communication skills. However, we don’t always realize that our communication is full of road blocks that prevent real communication with others.

Two of the main ones are judging and giving instant solutions. While talking to someone, it is difficult to listen to what they are saying without putting in our own ‘two bits’ worth. Here I recall a saying ‘What is the point of my two cents of value addition, if it results in reducing other person’s enthusiasm in half’. This is actually the nicer side of judging because the other is criticism and labeling.

With people close to us, we feel we should be critical, otherwise we don’t see how they will ever change. With others, we feel the need to give them a label such as ‘intellectual’, ‘brat’, ‘jerk’ or ‘nag’ but by doing it we cease to see the person in front of us, only a type and our own projections. Our ‘good advice” is rarely constructive, because it usually comes almost as an insult to other person’s intelligence.

Much of the description above forms the context setting for the summary of “People Skills: How to assert yourself, listen to others and resolve conflicts” – by Robert Bolton. I read the gist of this from ’50 Psychology classics – by Tom Butler-Bowden” which I have picked up at the Just Books outlet recently.

I liked the way essence of listening skills is broken into sub components namely attending, following, paraphrasing and reflective responses.

A gist of each sub component as follows:

Attending is all about giving the full and undivided attention as 85% of our communication is non verbal in nature. I liked the example of painter Norman Rockwell was creating a portrait of US President Eisenhower, despite several pre-occupations and election campaign pressures, the president gave his full attention to the painter for full one-and-half hours. Without really intending, the lapses in our attending easily show up. Last statement is Jagan-ism, paraphrased statements by Jagan (description of paraphrasing coming ahead)

Following is being clued into the other person’s emotional state and responses. It forms an essential part of listening as with our own body language we either reassure the other person. We might end up convey the opposite meaning, often without intending. In order to very good at this, we have to learn to become comfortable with silence both from the other and more importantly curb our rush to fill in the silence. Without being comfortable with silence, perhaps our own license to improve our people skills expires quickly.

Paraphrasing is a concise response to the speaker’s content which conveys essence of other’s content. It is like reporting them back what they said, but efficiently. This feels strange initially and needs lot of getting used to. Listening for long without paraphrasing can be paralyzing.

Reflective response is a type of effective listening which provides a mirror to the speaker so that the state and emotion they are in is recognized. Often people are reluctant to bring out their real feelings and beat around the bush. By being reflective and not reactive we are able to discern their real message. It is important to be reflective and not deflective.

Assertiveness Bolton considers the listening as the yin (the receiving part) of communication where as assertiveness is the yang (the active part). Assertiveness provides the vital third alternative to complete withdrawal versus aggressive behavior. Whole point of assertion statement is to produce change without invading other person’s space.

Conflict prevention and control – Much of the conflict is due to seeing it as win-lose or lose-win situations. If the focus is on understanding other party’s needs, using the listening & assertive principles, there is greater likelihood for the same.

While the book could be quite dated, apparently it still sells well. The apparent secret is the focus on learnable skills and not making the issue a function of personality. Finally a last expression as a closing to the topic:

Adopting a pupil’s mindset will definitely better our people skills.

Would like your thoughts and feedback.


Jagan Mantha


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thought provoking Jokes ..

Dear Friend / Colleage,
I am writing about yet another Pustak Mahal publication. The earlier post I have made on another Pustak Mahal publication is about “Creative problem solving - the Birbal Way” where i had talked about simple Akbar-Birbal Stories have been turned into a crash course on Problem Solving and Managerial Wisdom with a consistent format Problem->Birbal Solution->Managment Moral
I see a clear parallel to that approach in this little Joke book, which is again a Pustak Mahal publication. What you you find interesting is that this does not play like a typical joke book but it follows it with a little twist. First there is the initial set-up for the joke, which is followed by the format The Query -> The Answer -> The message.

I will explain this with an example from the book (Just one - I hope it is still within permissible guidelines citing from a published source, partly because i am also doing a free promotional for the book :-).

Learn to criticize without Offending
In a party a woman was requested by the organizers to sing. After she sang, she proudly announced that she had spent Rs 50,000 to learn music and singing.
“I want you to meet my brother” interjected a guest.
Is he a critic or an agent? Asked the singer.
The man replied.
The Query What was the reply of the man?
The Answer “Neither” was the reply, he is a lawyer. “He will get your money back”.
The Message A subtle way of telling her message was below par ..

Over 250 questions in this format for less than Rs 100 price of the book. Is n't a steal :-).
I guess, a good way to read this book is to read the query and try guessing it and see how close you are to the answer although it is quite likely that you get lazy and just read it anyway as I am doing right now :-). Anyway the reference of the book is

P.S: Made me recall the series of “a bit of laugh + a by(i)te of Sanity” series of posts made by Vasu Chittipeddi(an X-wiproite), where he used to take some popular jokes and convey a spiritual message alongwith the Joke. As at Wipro, once the first page fills up as the old blogs don’t have a good way to get retreived, i am taking opportunity to link those series of Joke-cum-Philosphical streaks which are wonderful read. Anyone bothering ot check them out can use the below link.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Inductive (or) Deductive Learning? By the by which is more productive? :-)

Dear Friend / Colleage,

I am trying to crowdsource answers to couple of question i have on this thread. Firstly let me introduce these two magic terms. Using the “Global English” methodology that is fast becoming a solution for improving English Skills within the organization, among other things there are two ways in which English language skills can be acquired. These are Inductive and Deductive Learning.

In Deductive Learning the Learners are presented with a Rule or Generalization and they are required to apply the rule to the samples of Language data, whereas in Inductive Learning one works through samples of language(basically will be presented with several concrete examples) and will be encouraged to arrive at Generalization or Rules through a guided discovery process. So which one of the methods you think is more effective and why? I am not trying to limit these two concepts in terms of learning Language constructs only but any Learning that is useful to us either from a Professional versus Personal development stand point.

Coming to examples, i thought of my last post wherein i had described about Learning about a rule on Speed Vs Control with respect to driving from an Driving Expert and my attempt to explain the same with respect Oral Speech with a cross cultural setup - i was considering as an example of deductive learning. What is inductive learning? What is uttered by the Expert upon observing the real world driver behaviors over and over again. It might as well be learned from someone Expert as well, actually ;).

My question to you is that what kind of Learning would you be indulging most of the time? Is it Inductive or Deductive? Will you be able to share some public examples of some of your recent key learnings and attempt to categorize the same along the two categories please - This is purely from a greater understanding and assimilation of concepts. As I said these questions are being posed with crowdsourcing view which means together as group we would have lot many answers than any of us individually.

So, which kind of learning Inductive or Deductive is more preferable in your view? In other words which is more productive and why?


Jagan a.k.a J2M

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Half the speed, twice the control(clarity) ..

Dear Friend / Colleage,
I don’t know about you, but i went through a rather testing(trying) situation of trying to learn to drive a car. The year was 1996 and I was in UK. While i had taken previously some 10-15 lessons for driving in Bangalore and also got a driving license(which did not involve a real test), i was DEFINITELY not in a position to drive on my own.

In my previous trips to the place i had relied on public transportation but during this time, it was not a viable option due to location my home and that of the client. So, i had enrolled for additional driving lessons. The instructor was almost 60 yr old gentleman by name Mark (don’t remember his last name). On the first day of the lesson itself the guy was amazed that i held an international driving permit while having learnt so little driving :-( . There started the series of lessons with Mark where he began to correct my basics .. which were definitely out of place.
Like all the new drivers learning to drive .. i had tendency to get quite a few things WRONG .. I would release the clutch pedal rather quickly .. i would press against the accelerator little too high or too low .. my breaking tend to be very hard or sometimes not hard enough .. you get the picture right . One of the key lessons i remember very well that Mark told me .. “Half the speed, twice the control“. He used to emphasize this point particularly for the 1st gear change from rest and getting the vehicle to move.

Today while talking about “Effective Communication” in a training session .. I realized that what Mark said is equally applicable for Communication too, although with a minor tweak. It would be “Half the speed, twice the clarity” :-). Because, as indians we tend to speak little too fast particularly with clients etc and we will definitely help ourselves, if we all learn to speak at a more measured pace, our own effectiveness will get further better. I am certain you heard this before, but does as re-iteration hurt? :-)

But, this will not happen for us overnight. We should learn to condition of rate of speech as well as the clarity with which we speak by using some tools like record and play back and also compare/contrast the speech with a native speaker’s voice as it becomes very contrasting and provides a great feedback. Are there tools that can help us to do this. Yes, very much so .. Tools like GlobalEnglish precisely help us with that .. And these tools are becoming available for people within their desktop subject to certain guidelines and conditions ..

Now, have i been able to raise your interest/curiosity about the tool/solution? :-)

-Jagan Mantha a.k.a J2M

Friday, January 15, 2010

Gastronomy over Astronomy ..

As it turned out i was among the people who preferred Gastronomy over Astronomy as i chose to have my food right at 12.45 PM at my desk although it happened within with the eclipse time - if not right within the total eclipse time.
What about you? Was it Astronomy over Gastronomy (or) other way round for you?
Jagan a.k.a J2M
7 Comments Categories: Collaborative, Cuisine Edit

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Becoming a “hip” presenter ..

Dear Friend / Colleage,

For the past two days i.e. 11th and 12th Jan 2010, i took opportunity to be part of “School for Talent Transformer” conducted Dale Carnegie(DC)’s High Impact Presentation in short HIP program. While i did experience this program in a different format around 3.5 yrs ago, this time i was in much better frame of mind to extract lot more learning from the program.

The Power of the program is an excellent combination of Learning by Doing as well as Learning by Observing others’ doing their respective presentations. Every participant over the course of 2 days - will make as many as 6 presentations (each ranging from 2 to 3 minutes) - which provides a lot of scope for “Doing” and ofcourse with a big multiplication factor for observation too. Sudip Majumdar is undoutedly a facilitator-par-excellence particularly when it comes to HIP. All other participants (12 people other than me) brought a great deal of expertise to the table which made the program highly engaging and worthwhile. My sincere thanks and appreciation to each of the Talent Transformer in the program and anyway i will be marking this individually to everyone in the program.

The rich interaction and lively experience in the program made me come up with several expressions (paraphrased learning statements) at different points of the program. Fundamentally HIP is about stretching otherwise self imposed limits of the Learners by putting them in situations that otherwise Learners are unlikely lead themselves into. Here are few of the expressions i had managed to paraphrase at different points of the program, based on the discussions unfolding during the program. While i managed to paraphrase these statements, the credit for these expressions should be equally shared by the Facilitator (Sudip), the Cameraman(Prakash) and the co-participants of the program, as they have created the excellent learning environment that i had experienced for past two days !!!

1. A little “Stretch” can “etch” your memory but more importantly can “fetch” you THE results you have been looking for ..

2. You can’t afford a “bias” when on a “dias” (This is to emphasize the need for the speaker to focus on both his/her left as well as right sides during presentation).

3. If you want to make an “Impact” can’t afford to be “compact” - About right sizing the Font on ppt slides.

4. Handling “hot” situations well can turn the presentations into a “hit”. In other words be “sure” to handle the “pressure” situation.

5. Sometimes the success of the presentations is dependent on “owning” the material without “moaning”. This is when someone else created it.

6. Don’t let your slides “slide” you into choas .. another way of saying “avoid death by power point slides”.

7. A right “analogy” can possibly save a later “apology” . About power of examples and analogies during Presentations.

And last but the most important one and i am using Sudip’s expression as-is :

8. One should n’t forget to smile :-). Smile is the curved line that can make many things straight.
Jagan Mantha a.k.a J2M

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Quotes to help you toast the New Year

Dear Friend / Colleague,

Reposting a collection of quotes from Harvey Mackay's website as a toast for the new year.

Harvey Mackay's Column This Week Quotes to help you toast the New Year

One of the most innovative holiday greetings I received last year came from friends who sent a holiday card labeled "Quips and Quotes to help you toast the New Year." Since I am an aphorism junkie and always on the lookout for creative and interesting ways to stay in touch with my friends and readers, I especially welcomed their effort.
In fact, I liked it so much I decided to create my own version. Here is some of my best advice to guide you through 2010 and beyond.

They don't pay off on effort ... they pay off on results.
No one ever choked swallowing his or her pride.
Don't just mark time; use time to make your mark.
People don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.
Technology should improve your life, not become your life.
The best way to be somebody is just to be yourself.
The best vitamin for making friends is B1.
It is not a question as to who is right but what is right.
The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right.
Many people hear ... but few people listen.
There is no free tuition in the school of experience.
The person who has no goal does not fear failure.
The best way to get even is to forget.
It is better to forgive and forget than to resent and remember.
Make decisions with your heart and you'll wind up with heart disease.
People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be—not what you nag them to be.
You can win more friends with your ears than with your mouth.
When you kill a little time, you may be murdering opportunity.
Education is an investment and never an expense.
Ideas won't work unless I do.
It's never right to do wrong, and it's never wrong to do right.
Your smile is more important than anything else you wear.
Gratitude shouldn't be an occasional incident but a continuous attitude.
Helping someone up won't pull you down.
Those that have the most to say usually say it with fewest words.
If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense in making them.
People wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.
When is the last time you did something for the first time?

I also wanted to share these gems from unknown authors whose wisdom is timeless.

Smart is believing half of what you hear; brilliant is knowing which half to believe.
One thing I can give and still keep is my word.
Those who beef too much often land in the stew.
Compromise is always wrong when it means sacrificing principle.
Most people say they are willing to meet each other halfway; trouble is most people are pretty poor judges of distance.
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Most people aim to do right; they just fail to pull the trigger.
Most people fail in life because the wishbone is where the backbone should be.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the mastery of it.
Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.
Happiness can be thought, taught and caught—but not bought.
Burying your talents is a grave mistake.
Praise, like sunlight, helps all things to grow.
Life just gives you time and space—it's up to you to fill it.
The heaviest thing I can carry is a grudge.
A stumble may prevent a fall.
Failure is no more fatal than success is permanent.

Mackay's Moral: Not just words to live by, words to live better. Happy 2010!

Miss a column? The last three weeks of Harvey's columns are always archived online. More information and learning tools can be found online at