Sunday, 30 March 2014

Communication Skills

Link to the book:

Communication Skills  

Communication is a huge subject and I will touch only those parts which are relevant to the subject matter discussed in this book.

Till now, we have discussed many reasons why sometimes we do not get what we want from others and the main points we have deliberated or reflected upon are:

Our belief system
Non-negotiated expectations
Assumed competence

Another equally important reason is unclear communication.  While good communication skills as a process, is very simple in theory, yet it easily breaks down in practice.  There are many reasons for this as discussed in the following sections:

Barriers at the Psychological Level

To better understand this model we have to revisit the following:

Whenever we experience an activating event, two things happen. I pass it through my belief system which labels it for me (looks like, sound like, feels like, taste like - contexting it with any similar experience that I might have against my framework of reality based on my belief-system). The next thing that I do, I decide my relationship with it. I may or may not have one. Then, and only then I chose my consequential feeling about it. All this happens in the blink of an eye.

Now let me introduce another process related to activating events.

Any activating event in life can also do two other things for you --  It can either reinforce your belief system or it can challenge it.  What this means: if someone behaves with me in a particular manner (activating event) and it happens to match my memory of another person behaving similarly, resulting in a negative experience for me, then the chances exist, that even this particular new instance will trigger a negative response.  In other words, sometimes the person triggering the activating event may end up getting a different response from the recipient than what he was anticipating.  The reason is because of the recipient’s previous experience with a similar situation.

The following example of a door to door salesman defines the above concept reasonably well. If a very well dressed, honest looking salesman comes home and sells me something which later on turns out to be a bad product, I will feel cheated.  It is quite possible the next sales person, who is well dressed and honest has in fact a great product to sell at a cheap price.  If he makes a sales call to my home, he will be very surprised to note that I am not at all receptive.  In fact I could be downright hostile.

When we apply the above analogy into the arena of personal communications, it looks like this:  The sender of any message “encodes” the message based on his or her previous experience.  The receiver “decodes” or interprets that message based on his or her previous experience.  If the experience bases are different, the message can easily be misinterpreted.

As messages are construed, interpreted or deduced by the receiver, the sender’s intent may be radically different from how the message is understood by the receiver.  Very important thing to notice here (generally it evades most of us): the sender has no control over the final outcome of the message.  To overcome mental barriers related to our communications skills, we have responsibilities: both as a sender and a receiver of any message.

Rule number one: Stop assuming anything, forever.

Sender of Message:  Never assume people understand what you are saying.  Double check by following some of the common assertive methods, e.g. Declare clearly using a tone and body language which are in congruence (agreement, harmony, conformity) with your message.  The following statement, even though said by someone in joke, sums up the above:

“Before I tell you what I am going to tell you, let me first tell you, why I am going to tell you, what I am about to tell you.”

In other words: State why you are going to behave (here behave includes your message, tone and body language), the way you will behave, before you behave.

Message versus Intent

When we communicate with others face to face, the message comes across in three ways:

1. Spoken words
2. Tone
3. Body language

When we break it up by percentage, researchers have said that only 7 percent of our message is conveyed through spoken words, 38 percent is conveyed by the tone (it reveals our attitude and feelings) and 55 percent is conveyed via body language. Basically our body is always giving off a message.  In psychology that draws to a very important point and it is called INTENT, also known as non-verbal communication process.  The important thing to note here: if all of the above three channels (words, tone, body language) are not in congruence, the receiver may not understand the actual requirement.

While face to face communication is a powerful method to share information and discuss your requirements, do not be surprised if you don’t get what you wanted to get, based on your communication or discussion.

Why? Because clearly you’re intent was misinterpreted.

Remember, intent is huge in our lives. Researches have pointed out 95 to 98 percent of time why human communication breaks down is because of misinterpretation of intent. Our body and tone of our voice is always intending something, which means if our intent is not explicit (outwardly visible) but is implicit (subtle, masked, guarded, hidden) we run the risk of people misinterpreting it.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Assumed Competence leading to Non Negotiated Expectations

3 Non Negotiated Expectations

In this chapter, we will talk about some of the key components around human relationship and how our emotional stance and our belief system can sometimes negatively impact our relationships.  Once we define the ownership of managing such relationship, we will discuss how we can use that knowledge to effectively manage others. Non-negotiated expectations (NNE) is a key concept of this book and I would like to dwell upon it at length since I want all my readers to wrap their hands around this concept and completely own it, in its entirety.

The first step in this journey is to realize that we, as a species, are constantly evolving. We never stop that process. To the extent that the better half that we go to sleep with on the same bed is not exactly the same person that gets up the next morning. They may sound the same, smell the same and look the same. But underneath they are different with a new mood, mind and desires.  Some of these changes occur, due to the dream state, which now the world over is recognised as a mood altering or mind changing state. Many things happen during the dream state; we explore, discover, practice, learn, grow, experiment, heal, recharge and evolve. In fact, from moment to moment, we change.

Such a change over a period of time gets categorized under what is commonly known as maturity.  Someone has also defined maturity as an unfolding journey of self-knowledge.

The second step in this journey or process is to realize that very often we fall into a trap called ‘assumed competence’.  This subject is vast and we will discuss this at a summary level in the next chapter.

3.1 Assumed Competence 

Many times when someone is assigned a new task, the person assigning the task assumes that the person at the receiving end of the assignment has all the information, and knows exactly what to do with it. And this assumption mainly stems from the fact, since I know what to do, and since this is common sense, the other person should also know it.

In the next chapter, I would like to introduce another component that is important to managing human relationships and understanding how sometimes we metabolize or manage information.

3.2 Emotional Filters 

When two individuals are interacting together, multi dimensional things happen because we are multi-dimensional beings. One such process that I would like to talk about is ‘filtering’. We have different sets of filtering process inside each of us, which along with all the things listed in the previous chapters, influence or stimulate our behavior. Before I proceed any further with this concept, I would like to qualify what filtering means in this context.  Simplest definition for filtering process revolves around separation. For example: a semi-permeable paper used to separate fine solids from liquid or air.

Our emotional filters are a complex piece of mechanism, capable of entirely two opposite process: separation and amalgamation. While our emotional filter does work as a semi-permeable filter paper, I am intrigued by its capacity to color our thought process. Think of it as a an optical filter, a camera accessory used to affect the final outcome of any image, be it affecting the relative brightness of different colors, taking away ultra violet distortion or adding a starry effect.

In a similar manner, our emotional filters can at times, distort or color the information that we pick up through our five senses, caused by any activating event. Here is the fascinating thing about emotional filters; some we are born with and some like our belief system, we acquire or learn during our life time. What we are born with, we cannot change. What we learn, we can change completely. This is unlike our attitude: we are born with our emotional palette but we are not born with an attitude. We cannot change the fact that we are all emotional beings. But we can change our attitude.

The following case study provides a perfect example of the above in relation to our non-negotiated expectations:

Case Study F:

A couple who have been married for over ten years have the following conversation:

Wife: You know what!!
Husband: What? (asks innocently)

Wife: It is what you didn’t do and the way you did not  do it, that really annoyed me.
Husband: I didn’t do anything!!

Wife: Exactly …… 
Husband: But, I did nothing …

Wife : Now you are getting it, why I am annoyed……
Husband: What?  But I did not even say anything…

Wife: Yes, that is the point…
While many can identify with the above, currently not many can read much into the above conversation. Let me first give you bit of the background and then the current state of affairs that led to such an outburst. 

Preamble: Prior to their wedding, the husband courted his wife spiritedly and enthusiastically showering her with gifts, flowers etc.  Also during the initial years of their marriage he continued the same tradition by giving her gifts, flowers on occasions like birthday and anniversaries.  

Postscript: Now, ten years later he is more worried about the rising cost of sustaining the family, job related issues etc. So much so that on the day of her birthday he is busy since morning and ends the day without even a birthday wish for his wife. His wife has her own expectation how her birthday should be celebrated and how he should still treat her, year on. It is a commitment that she expects based on their earlier relationship though it was never negotiated.  

Important point to notice here is her expectations are based on a very large assumption. Since their marriage, her husband has stopped evolving. Earlier on, right out of the gate we had established that we never stop evolving. Which means his life, his likes, dislikes, knowledge about things, all have changed with time. And if we were to analyse these things carefully, we will come to one more shocking observation. Another reason why sometimes our expectations are not met: we are actually not that important to others, as we assume from time to time.  

Also on the flip side, all the people that you think are important to you, they are actually not that important to you. You just think they are without realizing one thing, they are all situationally important to you.  As a fair example, you are hurrying to your work in the morning with an important meeting lined up.  As usual on the way you would be dropping your kids off to school.  As you hug them goodbye at the school gates, at that moment they are important, in fact very important to you.  As soon as you drive away, its like – they are good, done with, what next.  From that point on, it is just a concept.  The concept of caring.  Simply because the next task completely takes over you and that is center stage now, for you.  

And this draws to us one conclusion, we are situationally important to others and vice versa. Why? Simply because it takes too much energy to hold on to this idea or concept of someone being important to us all the time.  

Once again, let me revisit our core concept: non-negotiated expectations. To get a better handle on this subject, let us evaluate the following points:

We all have expectations.  
Who makes up the list of our expectations?  
Who decides if our expectations are met?

Since all of the above comes within the domain or scope of relationship management, it is important for us to define the ownership for any relationship.  

3.3 Ownership: Relationship  

However bizarre the following thought process may come across to you, stay with me on this one.  In any instance of our relationship with another human being (be it a friend, our parents, kids or our co-workers), can anyone else relate with them on our behalf?  

Let me use some metaphors or representations to qualify what relate means in this context:

After over a decade, I am meeting my childhood friend to catch up on good old school days.

      In the above equation, can anyone else relate with my friend on my behalf.

A mother is on her death bed. Somehow her son, who was away in a war zone, makes it to her bedside in time and without speaking a word, reaches out and holds her hand.  Emotions and feelings of a life time were relayed in that atomic moment. 

      Can even the best friend relate for or replace her son?

In any of our relationship with another person, if no one else can relate on our behalf, then it is safe to assume that the management of that relationship has to do more with us than the other person. You may bring up a very valid point, in a relationship between two different people, both have equal ownership. To your point, yes, till we bring up the following component which is an integral part of any working relationship:  Expectations.

In any relationship (be it with your significant half, friend, daughter, son…), we all have a set of expectations. They could be small or huge, different for different people. Bottom line, a list of expectation exists and we make up that list. In most of the cases, the other person is not aware of our expectations. He does not even have any access to my list of expectations as we normally do not negotiate our expectations within a relationship.  

There is another major road block in this process:  Who decides, if our expectations have been met or not in any particular relationship?

How we Metabolize Information - few extracts from the book

The next process that impacts our emotional stance leading to a particular behavior in this chain of event is about the way we metabolize information. Over twenty three centuries ago, Aristotle was one of the first proponents to study the inner-workings of the mind and how they affect human experience. He believed all of people’s concepts and all of their knowledge was ultimately based on perception.

2.3 Cognitive Style

Cognitive style or "thinking style" is a term used to describe the way individuals think, reason, decide, perceive and remember information.

Going back to our activating event position, how do we pick them up?  We pick them up using our five senses:


To gather information, sight is the most powerful sense. In fact, our eyes take in more information than all of our other senses combined together. Also note, our smell is hard wired to our memory. For example; sometimes one little smell, one little whiff of something, can take us back to our childhood: in a blink. Why? Because smell is hard wired to our memory. The tongue can primarily identify four different tastes:  sweet, sour, salty or bitter. The human nose can differentiate between 3500 different nuances (a blood hound can differentiate between 8 million). Both work together to produce a bigger list of tasting experience. That is why with a cold and stuffy nose, we are reduced to tasting food a bit differently.

What do we do, after experiencing an activating event?  We pick it up with our five senses and pass it through our belief system. When we pass it through our belief system, two things happen immediately. Step one; we label it. We, as a species, are obsessed with labelling things: looks like, sound like, feels like, tastes like, we are always likening it to something. We are always labelling things to something that we have experienced or remembered from our growing up years. So we are taking the content and by labelling it, we are putting it in context against our own framework of reality, which is our belief system.

Another essential component of our emotional stance comes under the process called self-talk. Apart from everything discussed above, self-talk can have a tremendous impact on our emotional stance and its swing from negative to positive, or the other way.
2.4 Self-Talk

The following quote from Mark Twain would fittingly qualify this chapter on self-talk:

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. 

Our ability to talk to ourselves and think in words is a major part of the human experience of consciousness. Proponents or advocates of cognitive therapy have delved deeper into the concept of self-talk and its impact on our behavior. It states, activating events do not cause the real problem, it is our thinking about them and some of the irrational beliefs that we hold dear to us.

My simplest definition for self-talk is: “What I am thinking about is what I say to myself and what I say to myself is called self-talk.” Now, self-talk is the conversation that you are having with yourself in your head all the time. Self-talk is the conversation that you have in your head while you are pretending to listen to your teacher, wife, friends, parents or kids. Most of us do not realize but as we go about our lives, all the activating events that we encounter, results in us thinking about it and interpreting it. Based on our belief system, the internal voice inside our head determines how we perceive every situation.

Unfortunately, as I have stated earlier on: we are very good in beating ourselves up.

Meaning: Self-talk is often skewed towards the negativity. Often it is tainted with guilt about our past or anxiety about our future. This negativity can swing our emotional stance and our resulting behavior.

Also note: Our actions are inspired by our thoughts. If we can change the way we think, we can begin to change the actions we take.

The first step towards this: always consciously take note of what we’re saying in our minds. Also, when faced with a negative situation, completely cut down on negative self-talk or self-criticism. Remove the personal side from the situation. Down play emotions that creep up.

Case Study from the Book

Link to the book:


We are very good at being neutral, emotionally, but we are not very much aware about it. We are unconsciously competent in being neutral.  Which means, sometimes it works for us and some time it does not work for us. What I have just stated, may not be clear to some of us right now.  And I will circle back to this, after a short while to explain at length: how we can bring back our emotional stance to neutral state using a conscious competence model.

The realism that evades most of us, and which is best for our body to be in, is to stay neutral. It enhances our performance.

We function at our best when we are emotionally neutral. This is one of the reasons why top athletes and performers are trained to do away with their emotions that are tied to their game or performance.

Many world class athletes and performers have admitted managing their psychology, as their most significant challenge. Their ability to control their emotions and to get “in the zone”, to perform at a world class level requires near perfect focus.

To better understand the above concept, let me use a case study and some of its related components to illustrate what this means. One of the components used in this example is ‘Ethos’, a Greek term for the recommended characteristics of a good speaker.  It represents the moral elements which control a person’s actions, rather than his thoughts or emotions. However, I would like to broaden its concept to include a few things for this particular case study:

State of Ethos:

You are fully focused on the task at hand -- even if it’s an unpleasant or unwelcome task.
You are bringing your best talents (available to you), which the task at hand requires.
You have a pretty high degree of confidence, and you feel you will succeed.
Even though the task may not be easy, you have a sense of complete ease and relaxation.

Case Study :

You are the marketing director for a technology company which is about to launch a new product. After months of preparation and meetings with all the required groups along with inputs from your technology team, you feel you have missed nothing and you have prepared a great presentation.

Based on the above, as you step out for your presentation to the senior management team, one would expect that you would be in a state of ethos; you would be fully focused on whatever you should be doing, or want to be doing at the time of the presentation. Unfortunately, the reality for some of us is different. There are, countless number of things which are competing for your attention as you start the presentation.

Some of the common thoughts in your mind during times such as these are:

Do I have all the people focused on my presentation?
Have all the VP’s, senior management (who I want to impress) made it to my presentation?
I hope I am clear in my speech and thought presentation etc (note - this comes under the category of under assured).

The other thing, that can take us away from state of ethos, is distractions.

Now, one could easily question my suggestion on the above situation by stating that the state of ethos brings out the best talents that we possess, that the situation requires. Secondly, the talents that we have developed so far, aren’t they available to us at all times (matter of fact - they are not).

If so, why can’t I continue to be in a state of ethos during my entire presentation?

While it would be nice if we could approach everything like this and many of you would say, “don’t we?”, let us look at a relevant model of distraction to crystallize where I am going with this.

Distraction: Imagine a situation where one of your colleagues, who worked with you on this project, poses a question that exposes some weakness or defects in your presentation model. In most cases the following would flash through your mind: “How dare you ask me this question now!  You have been working with me on this for so many days. During that time you had ample opportunities to bring up this issue. You could have helped me improve this model and deal with it in a more productive way, instead of questioning me now.”

The above could occur in other ways too where someone in the audience could have easily ticked you off, and you start to think how to get even with him. Also, there could be another complicated problem added to the above situation. There could be someone in the audience who wants to help you and comes to your rescue.  And now, even your credibility is in question.

You may want to say “thank you, but leave me alone” and risk displeasing off the person who came to help you. So it does not matter, whatever be the reason -- if you slip out of ethos state (due to distraction or lack of self-confidence ), you are not going to get the results you were looking for in terms of the quality of your presentation.

So what is it that gets in our way and we slip out of ethos state? I would like to call it self or ego.  Let me first qualify, what I mean by self or ego. Normally when we think of ego, the following portrayal /interpretation comes to our mind:

Mocking nature/haughtiness
All about me/self-centered/self-importance etc.

In this particular case, I would like to qualify ego or self as a state of anger, frustration or frayed nerves caused by a particular distraction.  Many things, other than distraction, can drive us from ethos to a state of ego. For example: some very senior person had decided to attend your presentation, and he is well known for tearing down almost every presentation he encounters. Now you are nervous, under assured, shy, self-conscious etc. Such situations also move us from state of ethos to ego or self-state. Now, instead of concentrating on the task at hand, you are concentrating on self.

But, if we can control our emotions and move out of ego state (upset frame of mind), we can bring our best talent to the task at hand to easily achieve the following:

To calmly position our views in the face of differences
Remain calm, engaged and mentally focused during heated discussions
Translate unwelcome messages into polite two-way communication process that generates results
To clearly think on our feet, embrace spontaneity, handle challenging questions with ease and create a win-win situation
Getting back into state of ethos lets you communicate your brilliance - where and when it matters most to you.

In summary, even though we have the ability to choose the three different ways to feel (positive, neutral or negative in terms of our emotional stance, which in turn cascades down to our ability to stay in the state of ethos) depending on the situation, it mostly happens unconsciously. As a consequence, our choices may not always serve us best.

Introduction From the Book

Link to the book:

1 Introduction

Baltasar Gracian, a Jesuit scholar who lived in the 17th century, once observed: “With modest intelligence and a high degree of restraint on one’s emotions, anyone could master a situation and be successful.”

On a similar note, Charles Darwin wrote in the book The Descent of Man - “The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.”  When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predicts positive outcome in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control.

While this book is primarily on Self-Management and Influencing Others, it draws heavily from the above two considerations to recognize that thought control is a vital component of emotional maturity. I personally believe that the most important corner stone for self-management is our emotional stance and its relation to our emotional muscle or our emotional palette.  All negative emotions that we suffer, becomes much more manageable as we become aware of them.  Restraints on one’s emotion as Baltasar Gracian once said or ‘Management of Negative Emotions’, is also achieved when we learn to interrupt our thoughts that lead to such feelings. Since self-management is more complicated and a precursor to influencing others, we will first discuss self-management.
The corner stone for influencing others, for me lies in understanding human personalities, which is also an important component of self-management.  We should realize very early on that our personality is one of the many causes for the reason we behave the way we behave. And to manage ourselves better, we need to be totally aware of our motives, our behavior under stress and our natural bias, based on our personality.

To effectively influence others, it is important to understand that people have different types of personalities. People with personality unlike ours, have different traits, likes, dislikes and character.

Based on these, it is important to realize that as a consequence they may also have a completely different set of motivators leading to different behaviors.
Your ability to effectively influence and manage another person becomes directly proportional to your ability to effectively manage yourself first.  If you cannot manage yourself effectively – you cannot manage someone else effectively.

In the next two chapters I will discuss various components of our emotional stance and broad based concepts of human personality. Then we shall move on to discuss various related components, such as how and why different people metabolize information differently. It forms the foundation for the most crucial characteristic of this book - Non Negotiated Expectations (NNE).  Once I have effectively defined Non-Negotiated Expectations, I will come back to emotional stance and human personality related concepts, to clearly define a roadmap which would help increase our emotional strength. Then I will progress to more details on Human Personality and the required skill sets that bring us closer to self-management and influencing others.

As we progress through this book, we will understand how all these subjects are heavily interlinked and reliant on each other.  Knowledge of this is crucial towards a journey in self discipline and self-management and you will see how it all begins with thought control process.  Because: if you cannot control what you think, you cannot control what you do.

A Book on Soft Skills for Indian Students

Link to the book:

Following excerpts gives a flavor of the book and what to expect :
As someone once said: “Never allow a Crisis to go waste, they are opportunities to do great things”
While we can easily acknowledge it, how many of us can effectively manage our Emotional Stance during a Crisis and think above and beyond the immediate.  Universal Truth being, most of us are emotional being and experience over hundred different emotions like Fear, Frustration, Anger, Hatred, Envy etc. at any given time.  Unfortunately we cannot delete our various emotions and say, I am done with that puppy.  For example, for an emotion like Frustration, we cannot say that in future, I am never going to get frustrated.
But we can learn to manage our frustration (as this book shows) on a given subject, with given set of people, in a given situation a little better.  Does not mean our personal set of frustration can be done away, forever.
Unfortunately such skills are not taught in schools.  My main objective is to present a book (almost like a Text Book) which could help a child growing up in the smaller towns of India to develop their soft skills required to compete in the world market now a days.  This book will also try to expand on the theory of our Belief System and how we can reverse engineer the entire process to understand and grow out of the boundaries that have been laid by the belief system in our country.