Improve Your Leadership Communication and Build Influence by Harnessing Your Brain Power

LeadershipLet’s face it–In a hyper connected and crazy ‘do it now or otherwise it will never get done’ world, communicating from the perspective of the other person is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Well-meaning leaders can derail in times of stress, because other priorities take precedence and fuzzy communication concepts such as courtesy and consideration seem impossible to apply when they are most required.

The issue with ignoring basic communication guidelines is that one often creates a bigger mess which takes an even longer time and energy to mop up. Often the scars run deep and the ‘victims’ strike back at surprising moments. Suddenly, it becomes clear that by spending an extra five minutes in crafting a communication message sensitively, could have saved a day’s worth of clarifications and meetings. The extra five minutes could also have helped the leader in building greater influence within the organization and standing out from the insensitive crowd.

So, how are we supposed to go from nonchalant to committed to a positive outcome in those five minutes you ask? I suggest that we use those minutes by talking to our rational brain and ignoring our lizard or reptilian brain. You might be skeptical about this solution and I can try to alleviate your concern in two ways.

First, I have been using these brain strategies for years and whenever I have messed up, it has usually been because I allowed the lizard brain to take over. So, these techniques have a personal ring to them.

Second, there is considerable reading material out there that supports these methods. One book I loved reading recently was the The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. There are many practical tips to harness one’s brain power in this book. There are many more that you can read.

For the sake of this discussion, let us imagine that a peer sends you an email, ccing your boss, saying that he is disappointed with the delays related to a certain project and wants you to take responsibility for those delays.

How can you prevent this exchange from turning into a disaster?

Visualize Success Despite Challenges

A retaliatory strike could be devastating for your relationship with the coworker, your image in front of your boss, and your overall self-esteem.

By visualizing the purpose or end goal of this communication, you can calm yourself down and reply in a more rational and controlled manner. Visualization typically involves vivid imagery and seeing things clearly in one’s mind. Prior to visualizing, try to breathe deeply and transport yourself mentally out of the current situation.

By imagining a completed project where everyone is happy, and quickly thinking of the possible action- steps (these might change) that can be taken to get to that point, you can confidently suggest an in-person meeting. It is important to get the face-to-face connection done quickly and work out actionable steps to resolve this situation. Left festering, it is likely that this situation will worsen.

Let Compassion Work Its Way

The person who sent this email, might be having a really bad day at work. There could be many factors bothering this individual: home situation, personal problems, illness, job issues etc. Since it is impossible to ignore this email, we need to build into our toolkit different methods to achieve our goal of a successfully completed project. Compassion is one of them. Maybe we do actually know of what is bothering this person. Thinking about what we would be like if we had the same problem, might enable us to put on a different hat and respond to this situation in a better way.

Take it in Stride

Say to yourself– stuff happens, let us move on to the next step. By developing mental resilience you can overcome hurtful situations such as these. It is important to note that this is not the end of the world. This technique is difficult to apply when one is already reeling with too many deadlines and stressors, but recognizing that one should always have mental space for such derailers will help you channel your thoughts more productively.

 Think Positive

Train yourself to convert negativity to positive thoughts. You have heard of looking at the glass half full. Well this is exactly what this is. What is the flip side of this email? This person is reaching out, there is an unresolved issue that you were unaware of, isn’t it great you found this now, before it was too late? What a save!

When you use these techniques before you communicate with others, you will find that your communication will be more productive and your influence will grow as a result of your calm and composed disposition. I think you will be happy with the outcomes of these techniques. Do let us know what you think.

The Honor System

I recently went to a restaurant to meet a client for lunch and something interesting caught my eye.

While I was waiting for my client to arrive, I saw a TO-GO shelf near the entrance of the outlet. The shelf was meant for  customers who had pre-paid to pick up their order quickly and avoid the long lines at the cashier.

Honor System

Honor System

This concept is similar to the hold feature at the libraries in our area. Once a person enters the library, he/ she can simply collect a pre-requested book from the hold area and personally check it out with the help of a library card. This process beats looking for the book and waiting in line— two activities that are cumbersome for the time-strapped.

The examples given above refer to an Honor System which according to The Business Dictionary is an ” Unsupervised arrangement in which customers or users help themselves to goods or services and are relied upon to pay for what they take”. In academics, the Honor System refers to appropriate academic conduct such as no cheating or fabrication.

For the Honor System to work properly, people are expected to be inherently honest and not defy or abuse the system in place. Unfortunately, the solutions in this article for the time-strapped are difficult to apply in many places because of the low priority or importance some societies put on trust and honor.

If we could apply the Honor System in all societies around the world, life would become so much easier and simpler. One would not have to wait in lines for many small tasks and would be able to use that time much more effectively. Organizations that use the Honor System also communicate that they trust their customers and build stronger bonds. It is quite possible that customers feel more connected to such organizations and will frequent them.

Some more examples of the Honor System:

Biggby Coffee

The Vault

Farm Stands

Honor Marketing Book

If you have come across an honor code or system in your area, do share it with us. It would be great to see how other countries or cultures are overcoming societal limitations and taking this concept forward. We would love to hear from you.

How Summarizing Can Save You Time, Money, and Build Your Credibility

Summarizing Can SaveHas this ever happened to you?

You listen to a list of tasks assigned for the day and start the work right away. You do what needs to be done (or so you think) and hand over the project with a big grin on your face.

No more worrying about ‘rocks’ because the boring part is over.

Ah maybe now you can choose between taking a coffee break or just relax for a little bit at your desk. Once the task assigned is complete you want to move on to something relaxing.

The visions of a happy state come to a screeching halt when you are informed that you did not complete task one as requested. You were assigned a sales presentation which required a slide on recommendations. You skipped the recommendations because you thought you had heard incorrectly–typically recommendations were the responsibility of the supervisors.

This time it had been delegated to you and you had not clarified and summarized the discussion. With your reputation on the line, you feverishly work to deliver on time. No coffee breaks for the day. At least not yet.

You probably do not identify yourself with this particular story, but might have had experiences related to misunderstandings of this sort.

The reason I share this mini disaster with you is to highlight the fact that too often we get caught up in our attention deficit worlds to understand what is really required of us.

When we summarize, we obtain agreement about the tasks we are expected to perform or the actions we we are supposed to take. Not only does summarizing save us time (in this case going back to finish task one) and money (possible promotion which might now hang in the balance), but it also has an amazing effect of lifting a burden of uncertainty from our shoulders. The words “What if I am working on the wrong track?” might haunt as one works on a project assigned by the boss.

Securing agreement during the summarizing process is the key to a fruitful communication process.

In my opinion, the two best communication mediums for summarizing are face-to-face or phone because feedback is in real-time. E-mailing back and forth to build consensus annoys people.

If communication in your workplace is mainly through e-mail, just pick up the phone, get the agreement, and then send your understanding of the requirement through e-mail. If there is an issue with your interpretation you will probably get a response.

If you don’t get a response, chances are that the boss thinks you are on the right track and further clarification is unnecessary. The first round of summarizing and agreement, however, should preferably be through a medium where you can get immediate feedback.

If you have never given summarizing much thought before, do try it. You will be pleasantly surprised at its time, money, and credibility saving impact.

Let us know what you think of this tool. We look forward to hearing from you!

 Written by: Warda Zaman, CEO, ParaConnect Communications LLC.










Podcast #1: How to Become a Moderator and Be Good at It–Conversation with Wasif Mazhar

Wasif Mazhar, a powerful moderator and part of the Human Capital Development Team at Telenor Pakistan, joins us for a podcast on moderatingevents and shares what goes on behind the scenes to deliver a successful moderating session.

Wasif has worked with participants from companies such as LUMS, TRG, Mobilink, Ali Akbar Group, Crescent Bahuman Limited, Gourmet, Pioneer Cement, Mezino Technologies, Serena Hotel, and Almab Chemicals. He is a core team member and a wing lead at Pakistan Human Capital Forum (PHCF), a forum for HR Professionals.
Resources Wasif Mazhar uses:

Books-The Wisdom of Ants, How the Mighty Fall, Built to Last, Who Moved My Cheese, The Winning, What Color is Your Parachute?,,,

Lessons from SHRM 2014 (1/8): ‘The end of average’ and what this means for OD Professionals

SHRM 2014 was a wonderful experience for me. I have never been to a conference this size or an event that was so well-organized to the tee. It was truly above average: from the mobile app which helped me seamlessly navigate the event and take notes to the SHRMBOT who answered questions; from the amazing and well-learned speakers who truly engaged the audience to the diverse and happily charged audience; and from the ubiquitous volunteers in green shirts to the well-thought out game plan every step of the way–they had thought of everything! Above average for sure.

The reason I talk about end of average or above average in this article is because this was a topic under discussion during the conference. During one of the General Sessions, Mr. Thomas Friedman, a NY Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, spoke eloquently about the demands of the new workplace and how we will all need to step up our game NOW. As I listened, I thought of the following: what about the people who have not prepared for above average, how does one even go about becoming above average, and how much time do we really have to make this transition? Tough questions, no easy answers. Then I thought of myself as an OD Professional trying to bring about effective change in organizations—how do I become above average in a rapidly changing world—in a world where Facebook was born just seven years ago?

I think there are three ways OD professionals like myself can accomplish this: We will need to continuously practice OD skills, develop the ability to learn and retool ourselves by actively soliciting feedback, and work smarter by using the right tools for our work.

Practice makes perfect and OD professionals must try to find ways they can practice their craft regularly. This means that even when there is no project, OD professionals should use OD tools and techniques in other life situations. As an example, OD professionals can work in their communities and volunteer for an OD project . If we are interested in current affairs, we can  think of way we can solve a world problem through OD. The application of OD is everywhere. We just need to look for it. To stay current in the field, books, certifications, peer discussions, journals etc. are very helpful.

Second, getting feedback from peers and clients is an extremely powerful way of learning about one’s weaknesses. I also suggest attending networking events organized by  local OD chapters to meet experts in the field and learn from them. The ideas gained from these sessions often help generate solution to the problems at hand. Networking sessions can be whatever you want them to be. You can either just go to these events and listen to the discussion or come back rejuvenated and start creating something new from that experience—the choice is yours.

Last but not the least, are the tools you will use. An OD practictioner must experiment and work with the ones that deliver the best results. At one of our local events, a participant was amazed with the power of the fishbowl technique. After the session, the interviewee who had many years of experience in OD stated that this technique was one of the most useful reflection tools he had ever experienced. In this technique the interviewee sits in the middle of the group with the consultant asking questions and sitting face-to-face with the interviewee. The other stakeholders look on. During the Q & A session, the interviewee deeply reflects about his/her challenges and comes up with solutions to handle them. There is greater ownership in this process. A simple interview in this situation may not have yielded the same results. Therefore, OD practitioners need to know how to use the right tools in the right situation to get the best impact.

I had many interesting insights from the SHRM 2014 conference and thought of the different ways OD professionals can apply the information shared in the conference to their work. I hope to share my observations with you in the coming months. In the meanwhile, I would like to engage with all OD professionals on the topic of how we can improve ourselves and make ourselves better in this field. I look forward to hearing from you. Together we can embrace the coming challenges that the world faces as one. Do share your thoughts and connect with me at

Article first published on June 30, 2014 at: 



Assessing if an Executive Client is Coachable

Effective coaching involves a tremendous investment of time and effort on the part of the coach and the client. In Executive Coaching, there is often a push to see results quickly, and to avoid unnecessary delays during the coaching process, both parties must clarify expectations from the start. Without this step, the coaching relationship might suffer and it would be difficult for both parties to observe the desired results of the coaching effort.

Even though a client may express the need for coaching, it is necessary for the coach to ascertain that the client indeed is coachable before embarking on the coaching journey. To determine this, a short survey is usually administered by the coach to prospective clients to gauge their level of interest and readiness in receiving the coaching. A summary of the areas explored during such a survey are given below:

Is the client assertive about the outcomes of the coaching sessions?
Clients need to specify what they wish to achieve from the coaching sessions. The coach might have other ideas or recommendations but the client is the better judge of the situation. Without a knowledge of clear expectations from the client, the coach will be unable to deliver the required results.

Does the client feel comfortable in taking initiatives?
For some people taking decisions is difficult and they remain frozen in time and space. Clients must be comfortable in making the changes necessary and if they are not, they should first work on developing that skill before entering a coaching relationship.

Is the client open and honest with the coach?
An extension of assertiveness, clients need to be very forthright with the coach. The relationship is based on trust and part of this trust means that the client should feel comfortable about sharing apprehensions or difficulties with the coach. If this level of comfort or trust is lacking, the coaching relationship will be difficult to continue.

Does the client ask for feedback and suggestions?
Some people are hesitant to ask for feedback or suggestions because this information can be difficult to handle. Coaches need to give feedback because this is an integral part of moving forward in a coaching relationship. If a client is unable to accept feedback, the coach will not be able to give a full review of successes and mistakes during the coaching relationship and this will ultimately affect the performance of the client.

Does the client network whenever possible? 
Many clients, due to the shortage of time or other reasons, are unable to network within and outside their organizations. The networking process is critical because it helps build key insights about the organization and the changes taking place within it. If the client is unable to network, the client will find it difficult to implement the suggestions because very often the recommendations involve help from others to move ahead.

Does the client clarify and monitor the objectives?
It is one thing to have objectives and it is another thing to clarify and monitor those objectives along the coaching journey. Sometimes insights develop along the way and the objectives may need to be revisited. Clients should be fully engaged during this process and be willing to modify objectives if the situation requires them to do so. Monitoring whether objectives have been met will help the client stay committed during this process.

Does the client take responsibility? 
Any change requires ownership, responsibility, and a desire to implement changes. Clients who assume that the coach can work miracles without support from the client are setting up the coaching relationship for failure.

By keeping these tips in mind, the coach will be working with clients who want to be a part of the change implementation process and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve success. This will make the coaching relationship a more fulfilling one in which results will be easier to see and measure.

Originally published on on June 15, 2014

Changing the Conversation on Conflict Through One Question

How is this working for you?

This is a question I heard someone recommend as a conflict resolution tool during a training meet up recently. What a powerful way of encouraging reflection on conflict and changing the way we think about our problems.

As busy individuals we are involved in ensuring that our deliverables are met and we work very hard to ensure that our ‘ducks are in a row’ before we execute our plans. We also try to convince others along the way to help us in achieving our goals but every so often we come across those who deliberately try to hamper our efforts.

The big question we all have at this time revolves around why? Why is this person doing this to me? What is this person’s motivation? What can I do to change the situation?

If you notice, unless you know the real reason behind the conflict, these questions are inadequate because they are being posed to only one person in the communication loop, they assume that the person who is asking these questions has all the answers, and that they have a big potential of making the conflict worse when the answers cannot be found.

The conversation on conflict can be altered by posing a question to the person creating the hurdles. Let them engage in the reflection and think about how the conflict is adding value to them; let them explain how the conflict benefits them and then you can provide your counter arguments to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

Incorporating ‘How is this working for you? ‘ in your conflict resolution repertoire will need some practice. Your body language and your tone are important considerations. Also important is the audience that you are posing this to. A manager who is creating hurdles would need to be asked the question in a subtle way to ensure that the manager does not get offended.

Our aim in life should be to work towards solutions and stress less about the problems that confront us. I have come to believe that there is merit in adages e.g. the glass is half full. Positive approaches to conflict resolution are also a useful step in this direction.