The Single Most Important Communication Skill to Getting What You Want

April 8 , 2019 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Building good relationships in the workplace is imperative to your success. It goes without saying that developing strong communication skills will increase the chance of successful relationships.

Communication skills, broadly speaking, encompass a cluster of skills related to how you articulate your points (assertively, aggressively or submissively), your ability to listen actively, how you ask questions and your non verbal communication i.e. your voice tone, body language and facial expressions, learning how to deal with conflict, presentation skills, giving feedback and so on.

It Starts With How You See Things

It all starts with how you see things. Your beliefs and thoughts, expectations, attitudes to yourself and others –  all have impact on the quality of your interaction with others. They play a key role in whether you are communicating assertively, submissively or aggressively.

If your thoughts are negative about the situation, yourself or the other person, it follows that your emotions will be impacted negatively as well. If you find yourself getting angry, annoyed, nervous, uptight etc., the cause of these negative feelings is rooted in how you think about the situation in the first place. These feelings impact on your behaviors which come across in your communication. And this is the self-fulfilling prophecy that then influences the overall outcome.

How To Communicate More Effectively

Assertive communication is the honest expression of one’s own needs, wants and feelings, while respecting those of the other person. When you communicate assertively, your manner is non-threatening and non-judgmental, and you take responsibility for your own actions. Assertive communication is stating your needs and wants, feelings, opinions and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways.

Assertive communication is the premier communication skill that can reduce conflict, build your self-confidence and improve relationships in the workplace.

Here are some tips to help you learn to be more assertive:

  • Make the decision to positively assert yourself. Commit to being assertive rather than passive or aggressive and start practicing what that looks like today.
  • Aim for open and honest communication. Remember to respect other people when you are sharing your feelings, wants, needs, beliefs or opinions.
  • Listen actively. Try to understand the other person’s point of view and don’t interrupt when they are explaining it to you.
  • Agree to disagree. Remember that having a different point of view doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong.
  • Avoid guilt trips. Be honest and tell others how you feel or what you want without making accusations or making them feel guilty.
  • Stay calm. Breathe normally, look the person in the eye, keep your face relaxed and speak in a normal voice.
  • Take a problem-solving approach to conflict. Try to see the other person as your friend not your enemy.
  • Practice assertiveness. Talk in an assertive way in front of a mirror or with a friend. Pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you say.
  • Use ‘I’. Stick with statements that include ‘I’ in them such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’. Don’t use aggressive language such as ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.
  • Be patient. Being assertive is a skill that needs practice. Remember that you will sometimes do better at it than at other times, but you can always learn from your mistakes.

A final word

Assertive communication style brings many benefits. For example, it can help you to relate to others more genuinely, with less anxiety and resentment. It also gives you more control over your life, and reduces feelings of helplessness. Furthermore, it allows OTHER people the right to live their lives.

Good Luck.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Communication Breakdown at Work?

April 26, 2018 • 2 minute read • by Saeed


“What we have here is a problem to communicate.”

~ Spoken by Strother Martin (as the  prison warden) in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke

George Bernard Shaw best summed up the problems that lead to communication breakdowns. The single biggest problem in communication, he said, is the illusion that it has taken place. And therein lies the problem.

Here is a perfect example of what he meant spoken by a U.S. government official: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!”

Ha?

Question: How do you communicate with impact?

Answer: Strategic Listening.  Here is how it works:

Step 1: Put away the smartphone.

Step 2: Suspend judgement.

Step 3: Reflect on what’s being said.

Step 4: Ask open-ended questions to bring people out and get them to expand their ideas.

Step 5: Then restate their ideas to show you’ve been listening.

Step 6: Have a real conversation.

Good luck:)

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

How Listening Makes You a Better Leader

December 14, 2017 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


“The word LISTEN contains the same letters as the word SILENT.” ~ Alfred Brendel

Pisssst. Listen up!

Good leaders are good listeners. They know they can shape organizational culture simply by listening. They know that listening to and respecting others builds working relationships and that relationships make things work.

In short, they know that listening makes them better leaders.

In fact, several studies support the idea that individuals who demonstrate solid listening skills, hold higher organizational positions and are promoted more often. The most important skill for organizations, therefore, is a listening behavior that is practiced as part an parcel of the organizational culture.

Listening & Communication

Everyone participates in communication on a daily basis. Communication is about people speaking and listening. Listening to others, as well as understanding others is essential. It is often said that listening is the first language skill one develops, and as a result all cognitive skills are dependent on the ability to listen. Leaders who have advanced communication skills create the opportunity for impact based on listening. Leadership depends on interactions and the use of communication. Since meaning is generated through communication, developing relationships with others and leading others requires knowledge and practice of listening behavior.

Listening & Trust

Trust makes organizations functional. Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships. Trust and credibility are necessary before a sense of community or team can be developed. It is critical for a leader to realize that listening means asking questions for clarification and paying attention to the needs and desires of others. This is how you develop an atmosphere of trust. If an atmosphere of trust has been established, it creates a much easier setting in which to ask powerful questions that lead to insights. Trust is formed when attention is given through the act of listening. The existence of trust allows for an opportunity of greater risk taking, and therefore, greater innovation.

Listening & Empathy

The ability to process information and adapt personal behavior requires the use of empathy. The process of empathizing with someone demonstrates the ability to seek to communicate trying to understand the speaker’s situation. The ability to accurately predict how another person will react emotionally and behaviorally in a given set of circumstances is what empathetic leadership is all about. The better you are at this trait, the more accurate and successful you will be in advancing your leadership goals. In fact, the big take away from a new study published in American Psychologist that explored the empathic accuracy of various forms of communication was that closing your eyes and listening intently increases empathy! You can improve your empathic listening through this and other communication techniques such as paraphrasing, self-monitoring, and asking clarifying questions to check for understanding.

Listening & Feedback

Leadership is more successful when it seeks feedback through communication; in particular through active listening. Through offering feedback based on observation and listening, relationships are developed, leaders are formed and society is improved. Offering feedback keeps people making progress towards their learning, growth and development goals. Growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. Feedback fuels motivation. The best feedback is communicated in a timely fashion and focuses on behavior. The best feedback also starts with listening because only then can feedback be tailored to the person’s specific needs as they have expressed them. Receiving constructive or critical feedback is also part of leadership. This is not possible without the skill of listening.

A final Word…

Leaders should be able to demonstrate various behaviors that emulate leadership. Leadership is not just about behaviors however. Leadership also encompasses relationships with others. Listening is a vital component of creating and maintaining relationships.

Still, it has to be said that the concept of listening in leadership is not without its challenges. Leadership incorporates listening, yet listening is a skill that is not taught in leadership studies nor is a subject in leadership books. Leadership is perceived to be about personality. However, just as communication is about people, so too is leadership. Leaders are often surprised when they find out that their peers or subordinates consider them to be poor listeners. People have a dim view of poor listeners.

Human relationships trade on attention. If you can’t give someone your attention because you are distracted or your listening quotient is low, you run the risk of eroding or even losing the relationship. Conversely, because attention is the currency of all relationships, listening is an investment that will pay you back in dividends.

Good luck.

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©2017— All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

What is the Impact of a Single Image?

September 30, 2017 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


Author’s Note: The photos in this story may be distressing to some viewers.

The strength of an image lies in its ability to quickly create a strong emotional connection with a very broad audience.

childlabor5In the early 1900s, child labor was still extremely common in the United States. It was not unheard of for child laborers to work 19 hour days with just a one hour break. The National Child Labor Committee wanted to end the practice but statistics weren’t having the effect they had hoped. So, in 1908, they enlisted the help of Lewis Hine and his camera to spread the word.

Hine was perhaps the earliest example of an investigative photojournalist and documentarian. Over the course of the next ten years, he surreptitiously photographed exploited children in disguise. At various times he went undercover as a bible salesman, postcard salesman, or as an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery. His fifty pounds of photographic equipment was harder to conceal and when he was unable to win his confrontations with management, he simply waited outside the canneries, mines, factories, farms, and sweatshops and photographed children as they entered and exited the workplace. It was these photos, along with the detailed captions, that ultimately ended child labor in the United States

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In 1936, Dorothea Lange took up a job for the federal Resettlement Administration, documenting rural poverty and the exploitation of migrant laborers. When her car broke down on the way to work, Lang spotted Florence Owens Thompson and her children. She snapped just a few shots, one of which resulted in arguably one of the most iconic photographs of all time. Migrant Mother, as it came to be known, became synonymous with the Great Depression – a symbol of an era. The image is remarkable because it simultaneously depicts the dignity of the subject concomitant with victimization of her by class.

VULTUREIn the latter half of the century, when South African photojournalist Kevin Carter captured a single image showing a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture, he won the 1994 Pulitzer for feature photography. The photograph, raised a lot of money for relief agencies. The photographer, on the other hand, came under very heavy criticism by the public for failing to intervene. Carter had been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting hoping that the bird would take flight. When it didn’t, Carter scared the scavenger away and watched as the child continued its crawl to help. He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept. Subsequent research revealed that the child survived but died 14 years later from malarial fever. Carter on the other hand, tormented and broke, took his own life in July 1994, writing, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.” In this instance, the impact was also on the photographer.

gettyimages-591717242_custom-f98328fcdb082ecc3bee9051d117dcdfb523e988-s800-c85In the age of social media, scale is everything. In 2015, when the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a sandy beach in Turkey hit the newswire, it woke up the world to the Syrian refugee crisis. Similarly, the 2016 image of Omran Daqneesh, a bloody faced 5 year old little Syrian boy covered head to toe in a thick layer of dust after he was rescued from a building in Aleppo hit by an air strike. His bare feet dangling over the edge of his orange chair, he looks stunned and dazed.

After these images surfaced, international humanitarian groups saw a surge in donations and their impact has since become the focus of a research study examining just how a single image could have more impact than statistical reports, charts, and graphs combined.

The human brain is wired for images. It processes images 60,000 times faster than text. In fact, 90% of information transmitted to our brains is visual.

And Images are immensely powerful. They have the ability to shift public opinion. The sear social issues into our consciousness. They offer glimpses into other people’s worldviews, cultivate empathy, and they have the power to galvanize public support. Indelible images like those showcased above can make someone remember a cause or campaign for years.

In the age of viral photos and memes on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook images range in their power from increasing your web traffic to increasing your social impact. If you consider that you’ll generate up to 94% more post views by adding compelling visual content, images make common sense. Since the use of images and visual storytelling, simply defined as a narrative that is told through the mode of visual media, is cheaper and more accessible than ever before, the question has to be: why are you not incorporating visual storytelling into your nonprofit’s media strategy?

This post is dedicated to the work and memory of Kevin Carter.799_images