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Category: PR skills

Tabling the conversation

Once upon a time, in the magical world of Pixar, there was a long, skinny table. This table, the silent observer of countless meetings, had a secret power. It shaped the dynamics of the discussions that took place around it.

The folks at Pixar, led by the visionary Ed Catmull, believed in the power of unhindered communication. But they soon realized that their table was playing tricks on them. Those sitting at the ends felt like their voices didn’t matter, while the ones in the middle seats seemed to have an unfair advantage. The table was creating a hierarchy that was contrary to Pixar’s core belief.

Ed decided to challenge the status quo. He replaced the long, skinny table with a more intimate square version, where everyone could interact equally. And just like that, the table lost its secret power, which was a great thing. The conversations became more inclusive, and the ideas flowed freely.

But old habits die hard. The place cards, symbols of the old hierarchy, still adorned the new table. It took the audacious act of Andrew Stanton, one of Pixar’s directors, to finally break this tradition. He shuffled the place cards, declaring, “We don’t need these anymore!” And with that, the last vestiges of the old hierarchy vanished.

This tale from Pixar’s early days is telling of how our environment subtly shapes our interactions. It also teaches us that solving a problem isn’t just about addressing the main issue. It’s about uprooting all the smaller problems that sprout from it.

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Success comes from where? – part 1 of 2

In his book “Give and Take,” Adam Grant makes a powerful argument for the impact of generosity in achieving success. According to Grant, our success often hinges on our interactions with others, and those who are willing to be generous and giving are more likely to achieve their goals.

One example that Grant provides is the story of David Hornik, a venture capitalist who goes above and beyond to assist entrepreneurs even when there’s no direct financial gain for him. Hornik’s willingness to help others has resulted in a network of successful entrepreneurs who are happy to work with him again in the future.

Another example is the case of Adam Rifkin, a thriving entrepreneur who spends a significant amount of time mentoring and advising others. Rifkin believes that by helping others succeed, he’s also helping himself succeed. His generosity has rewarded him with a strong network and numerous prosperous business ventures.

These examples demonstrate the power of giving and helping others in achieving success. By being generous and offering help without expecting anything in return, we can cultivate meaningful relationships, gain valuable experience, and ultimately accomplish our goals.

The road to success isn’t always linear the way we often expect it to be. Sometimes, the key to attaining our objectives lies in helping others achieve theirs. We could hence strive to be giving and generous in our interactions with others, and see where it takes us.

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Salesy

Sales is super hard, but super important. Every action of ours done in public is nothing but sales in a way. Every word we utter is sales – of ourselves. We are the product.

But even for sales as a profession, it is a great teacher.

In my job, when I need to sell something, I’m selling that something which I did not create. I also do not control it or it’s creator.

In a room with potential buyers, I need to extol the virtues of not just the product, but of its creator too. Imagine if my ego were to get in the way – no chance of closing the sale then. All focus on the product and it’s inventor only. Who thought sales would double up as a good practice ground for spirituality!

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VIP

Everyone wants something. The world indeed does run on incentives only. In the very funny and niche TV series called Clarkson’s Farm, Jeremy Clarkson, the famous ex-host of Top Gear runs into some trouble with the local villagers.

As an aside, when they said “villagers” on the show, I thought of villages like those in India. But boy were those villages in the UK so modern and citylike. No skyscrapers, but everything looked so nice! Anyway, back to the point. Jeremy ran into trouble because the villagers didn’t like the fact that him farming and selling his produce and recording all this into a TV show was bringing too much traffic and noise to the otherwise quiet village.

So he decides to setup a meeting with the village community. Everyone brings up some issue or the other. Jeremy patiently replies to each one, saying he will try his best. But the clincher? Someone asked for a VIP pass to his farm-to-fork restaurant, and a special discount for the villagers. Everyone chimed in. And when Jeremy said “yes of course”, everything was sorted out instantly – meeting over! It’s all about “what’s in it for me?” ????

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Leadership Secrets – part 1

Everyone knows leadership is a crucial skill. Probably the most crucial one in a work setting. And everyone wants to be a leader, or at least be seen as one.

But what does it take to be a leader? Are there any identifiable and repeatable traits?

On a very cool new podcast by Harvard Business Review, the featured a guest named Guy Raz. Guy is the host and co-creator of his own podcasts “How I Built This” and “Wisdom from the Top,” where he regularly speaks (700 interviews!) with the who’s who of the business world (aka leaders). Here are the 3 most important things for leadership, in his own words:

"The first is, they all create a culture of collaboration, all of these leaders. Full stop. The second thing they do is they encourage risk-taking, and then the opposite side of that coin, which is the third thing they do, which is they allow for failure."

More insights tomorrow!

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Please Seat Down

That oh-so-famous interview question? “Tell me about yourself”

Came across a crisp video about how to answer this well, instead of starting with where one was born and what the temperature was on that fateful day!

It’s called the SEAT principle. The interviewee must make sure to cover:

S for skills one brings to the table

E for experiences or educational qualifications

A for the key achievements so far

T for the type of person you are and what gets you going

Pretty simple stuff, but so well formulated! Even outside of formal interviews, it’s always good to have this framework at the back of our minds. It can be used in pretty much any context where one has to introduce themselves. Who knows, that conversation could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime!

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El Genioso

Everybody wants to be a genius. But not everyone is. Most aren’t. Wikipedia actually doesn’t even have a proper definition. It says there’s no way to quantify any thresholds on who makes it to genius and who doesn’t. IQ 200, and hence confirmed genius? Nope, no such thing.

In a podcast hosted by author and optimist Simon Sinek, he talks about how the word genius was originally not even a trait. The word came from ancient Rome, where genius was actually a good spirit that every human being was thought to be protected and guided by. So it was never “you are a genius” but that “you have a genius”. Along the way of course all this got corrupted.

Simon also posted this once:

The genius at the top doesn't make the team look good. A good team makes the person at the top look like a genius.

There’s no need to be a genius and lose sleep over it. Instead, it’s more important to be ge-nice, i.e. a nice human being.

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The essence of Krishna

Krishna tells us to do and follow a lot of things via the Gita. But here’s how Krishna himself followed these (suggested) rules in such a cool manner:

  1. He is always cheerful. His life has been one chock a block full of problems – demons, enemies, asuras, his own people, his birth itself into a poor family etc. But he is ever smiling, even on the Kurukshetra battlefield!
  2. He has zero expectations. Why did the Pandavas fight the war? To get back their kingdom. Why did the Kauravas fight the war? To retain the kingdom they had usurped. Why did Krishna fight the war? Only for dharma, as he would have got no material possession either by winning or losing the war.
  3. He exemplified non-attachment. He was born in Mathura, raised in Vrindavan, lived later in Dwarka. He never kept cribbing that he misses his home town and that he wants to go back. So many people come and go from his life but he was always unattached.
  4. He personifies love. Never once would he not come to the rescue of his devotees.

Krishna led by example. We must only try to follow whatever little we can.

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National Sales Stats say THIS!

Came across these insane stats in a book recently. The stats are from the National Sales Executive Association.

  1. 48% of salespeople never follow up with a prospect
  2. 25% of salespeople only make a second contact and then stop
  3. 12% of salespeople make more than three contacts
  4. 89% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact

The first 3 stats taken together, and then seen in the light of the 4th one… Wow, quite the mindblower!

What does it mean? That most people never follow up, and even if they do, they simply take ‘no’ for an answer and move on.

But a salesperson has got to be persistent and consistent, and that’s why nearly 90% of sales happen between the 5th and 12th contact. Isn’t this not just remarkable, but also applicable to all of us, no matter whether we’re in sales or not?

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More and more

The other day, I came across a book in a bookstore (yes those still exist!).

It was partially covered, and so I only saw half the title.

The words were “Ask For More”.

I thought to myself, “What a weird title!”, and then proceeded to pick up the book out of interest.

Turns out, the title was actually “Say Less, Ask More”. It was not ‘ask “for” more’. That was just my mind playing tricks on me. Not just tricks, but working in its usual ways of wanting more and more.

The book instead was on how to lead effectively. By listening more, saying less, and asking more questions so that learning improves. Nice isn’t it?

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Chanakya Neeti – part 1 of 3

Just a few lovely takeaways from The Real Chanakya! (a book published by a Dheeraj Publications, and it does not name an author)

  1. The tongue is the greatest war monger. Silence is another name for tolerance, and a guarantee for peace.
  2. There is no question of putting faith in a bad friend. Even a good friend should be kept away from your personal and business secrets. These secrets can be used against you anytime.
  3. One must always assess oneself frequently. This practice will help the person take corrective actions in time to avoid any crisis.
  4. Troubles should be feared till they don’t come in front of us. Make efforts to avert them. But if they come, forget fear, and fight instead.
  5. A frank person can’t be a cheat because cheating needs secrecy and double talk. Polite talking needs cleverness cultivated through education.

Some more brilliant Chanakya thoughts tomorrow!

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Upside warrior

There’s a very interesting book I’ve been reading called The Way of the Wall Street Warrior by Dave Liu (link). It’s got some amazing tips and tricks on rising up the corporate ladder – quite possibly the best book that exists on this specific topic. While the title has ‘Wall Street’ in it, the book can arguably be useful in ‘Whatever Street’, as the author himself suggests.

We’ve all heard of Michael Corleone’s “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” super statement in the epic movie The Godfather.

Dave goes one step further, and integrates his own learnings, i.e. there’s no point having enemies. Instead, have only two buckets: friends, and very good friends!

Why? Because having enemies is hard work. You’ve to constantly watch over your back. And tackling one enemy might not seem daunting. But what if they all gang up on you? Scary story. Besides, as the author asserts, having enemies means substantial downside and zero upside. But having friends? There’s only upside, even if it may not be immediately obvious.

So then, how does one go about winning friends? We’ve seen the solutions many times here on ForeverHappyNow. The smartcut from Dave? Be nice; listen more; be genuinely interested in others; try to help others – easy isn’t it?

Do read the book. It is very cool and very funny (and this is not a paid endorsement) 🙂

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In the well

Many conversations today go like this.

“Hey man. All well?”
“Yes, all well. And you, all well?”
“Yes, yes, all well here too.”

Could there be a more banal way to communicate? I’m probably the guilty-est of such conversations. Even just calling these ‘conversations’ itself is doing the word a disservice. 🙂

As anyone who has mastered the art of forging deep connections will tell you, the trick lies entirely in asking the right questions, and then sitting back and listening. That’s what makes an outstanding conversationalist. The ability to ask and listen, and not the ability to speak. Counterintuitive, isn’t it?

That is indeed the true power of questions. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Don’t try to be interesting, try to be interested instead.”

Can we perhaps substitute “All well?” with: “How are you?”, “Where are you from?” (nice and open ended!), “What are you working on these days” (everyone is working on something), “What’s changing in your life?”, or “What are you learning these days?”. So many options!

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Critiques

Author Dale Carnegie of the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People says “Criticize in private, but praise in public.” We saw this nearly a year ago here.

It might seem like obvious advice, but do not be fooled by its simplicity. Just recently, I was part of a call, which had one senior person pulling up several others for something not done by them. The big boss of many of those being picked on was also present on the call.

To be sure, the person pointing the finger was by no means wrong – he had his facts straight – the accused had been tardy, they had not done their work well, they had not informed their superiors about gaps in the information and so on.

But did any of that matter? Not one bit. The call quickly morphed into a verbal brawl, with people supporting themselves, and proving why they were right and then heaping accusations back and forth. Could have just had some nice popcorn on the side and …

But really, it is so hard to put this advice into practise I suppose. It might seem like it takes longer to have 1-on-1 calls with five people rather than just lambaste 5 people on one call. But the negative effects of that one badly organized call can be far worse, as was the case. Preferably, never criticize at all, but if it must be done, then it can be done with empathy, in private, with examples from one’s own life as well, and also leading by example. That would be true leadership.

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To listen or to speak?

Both Dale Carnegie and my Guru cannot overemphasize the importance of listening as a skill. We are all accustomed to talking non-stop especially in social situations. We love to hear the sound of our own voices. And onc they topic shifts to anything even remotely of self-interest, then the words just don’t stop rolling out!

But listening allows us to win over other people, because if everyone likes to talk, then someone must be there to listen? Listening also builds patience, maturity, concentration and empathy over time.

There is one scenario I’ve seen though, where people love to listen and completely shy away from speaking. This is on the stage. Any formal stage, be it big or small – we often hate the spotlight and the associated stage fright aka butterflies.

However, at least from a satsang perspective, there is no better place to speak – no not after the satsang, but as the main speaker! And the reason is very unique here. If we just listen to satsangs, we will get knowledge. But it may not convert to wisdom or action. In order to make that conversion, speaking is a wonderful tool. When we listen to others speak, we may feel like we are understanding concepts. But when we laboriously sit and prepare for a speech, read up copious information to demystify our scriptures, underline the various important points, search for interesting anecdotes and stories, attempt to figure out the ‘real meaning’ and ‘practical meaning’ and ‘deep meaning’, we will encounter on these abstruse topics some epiphanies that will never leave us for life.

Speak we must, at every satsang opportunity. But prepare we must, too, so that our speaking is easy listening for everyone.

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Open mouth please

Here is a common two-threaded problem we each face at some point. We just had a really rough week at work and want nothing more than to plunge into a soft bed with head hitting a even softer pillow. But your spouse or significant other has just told you that they plan to take you out for a romantic candle-lit dinner. Normally this would be an awesome plan, but not today – all you want is to bury your face in that feathery pillow!

What to do then? Maybe you could go along with the spouse to dinner. But that could leave you totally exhausted. Or else, you could take a rain check. And that could have consequences – partner dejected, you feeling guilty etc. It seems like there are only two choices, and that both are suboptimal.

But are there really only two choices?

No, there is a third. This is called Hamlet’s quandary, i.e. to share or not to share. We often get stuck in this quandary. Instead of trying to resolve this problem on our own, the third option would be to name the dilemma. “Darling I really want to go with you for dinner and I really appreciate you planning this for me on the back of my really rough week, but I’m super exhausted today. Could we figure out something that will work for both of us?”

This third more communicative choice, is likely to open up a new range of possibilities and outcomes. This is useful not just at home, but even in the workplace. Like when we have too much work already, but the boss wants us to work on the weekend. Or a client has asked for some important information, but we do not have the resources yet. The bottom-line is this, sharing more with people can increase our vulnerability, but that could potentially result in a much deeper connection with the other person. And this third choice is often overlooked.

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The one formula for success

In his amazing book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie (DC) shares some amazing lessons on how to … well exactly what the book titles says!

It’s not a very large book, but it is divided into 6 parts, and a total of 37 chapters, each addressing one specific focus area for introspection, improvement and application.

Out of all these, DC himself says in part 4 chapter 8, that if there is only one thing that we take away from the entire book, then it is this one formula. Here is that paragraph reproduced verbatim.

If, as a result of reading this book, you get only one thing - an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person's point of view, and see things from that person's angle as well as your own - if you get only that one thing from this book, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping stones of your career.

Just imagine that. We think success is all about us, our hard work and meeting our targets and what not. Sure these are important, but there are millions of people doing all these things already – but they rarely rise to the top. Because they are too often focused only on themselves. DC has the solution. We only need to implement.

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Scales

We are often faced with situations where we need good constructive feedback.

Maybe you’ve written a poem or an article, but don’t know how well it’ll be received. Or you’ve got an idea – which you plan to discuss with the higher-ups, but are not sure if it’ll fly. Or maybe you just want to know if the dress you’re planning to wear is good. Perhaps we just want to know if the way we spoke at an important meeting was alright.

The reasons for seeking feedback could be many. But the challenge of receiving it is the same. Most responses will just be, “Yes, it was good.” or “Yes, it was nice.” What does one do with such generic feel-gooders?

I came across a nice hack which I feel is very useful. Instead of asking people whether they liked something or not, ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. And tell them that 7 is not an option. And also ask them what it would take to get their rating up to a 10. You’ll be surprised by how much more specific and constructive the feedback can be!

One word of caution though, if your wife tries to use this tactic on you, the right answer is always 11. Kidding! Or not! 🙂

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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