Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: 5 Ways to Keep It Simple!

In this seventh chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell states a practice that is true of all communication if you want to connect to other people:   keep it simple!

My favorite story in the introduction of the chapter is of a U.S. Navy ordnance officer who explained in great detail how guided missiles work.   One man who listened to the talk came up to him after the presentation and said, “Before hearing the lecture I was thoroughly confused about how these missiles work.”   “And now?” the officer asked.  “Thanks to you, I’m still just as confused, but on a much deeper level.”

As funny as the story it is, it does make the point that you should aim to oversimplify rather than to over-complicate.   This will depend on several factors:    how much time you have for your presentation, how familiar the average person in the audience is with your subject matter, and what their purpose is in listening to the information.   Are they there to be entertained, and get a glimpse of the subject matter?   Are they there to actual use something of the information you present in their everyday lives?    Or are they already conversant with the subject matter, but perhaps not from the particular perspective that you intend to share with them?   All of these questions should go into how much detail you should give in your presentation.

Here are 5 ways of keeping it simple …

1.  Talk To People, Not Above Them

When you are starting off learning how to be a speaker, your first impulse is probably to try to impress others–you should replace this with the desire to have an impact on them instead.    The direct and simple approach is usually best in all forms of communication–greater complexity is never the answer in communication if your desire is to connect.

2.  Get to the Point

You should start thinking about the reason for your communication before you begin to speak.   You need to ask the two questions:

  • What do I want them to know?
  • What do I want them to do?

In a difficult situation, where you have to give unpleasant news to an employee, from a problematic evaluation to having to let them go, it’s best to a) establish a connection with the person that you are trying to talk to, and b) tell them clearly the reason why an action or a recommendation is being taken.

Less is more when it comes to communication.    Thomas Jefferson once remarked of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, “I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor in any but the main point which was to decide the question.”    They not only said the minimum needed for effect, but they also chose the best moment to say it.

3.  Say it Over and Over …. Again

William Rastteter, who taught at MIT and Harvard, once said, “The first time you say something, it’s heard.  The second time, it’s recognized, and the third time, it’s learned.”    You should start of with your main point, illustrate the main point with examples, and then repeat the main point again.    The repetition takes your speech from prose and turns it into poetry, where lines echo and reinforce each other backwards and forwards throughout the speech, guaranteeing that they will be absorbed fully by the audience.

4.   Say it Clearly

Professional speaker Peter Meyer says that when you are trying to put a puzzle together, you put the boxtop of the puzzle next to you so that you have a clear picture in front of you to compare the pieces with in order to figure out where they should go and how they should connect to each other.   Likewise with a speech, you should have no more than three main ideas (the boxtop) if you are doing a talk that lasts an hour, with all of the illustrations coming after the presentation of the main ideas like the pieces of the puzzle.

5.  Say Less

You should always aim to end a little on the early side.   So if you are scheduled to do a 5-7 minute speech, don’t write a script which takes you 7 minutes on the dot to complete in rehearsal.   When you get to the real thing, you may have added gestures, pauses, or stage directions that take time from the “ideal” timing you had in rehearsal.   Rather aim for the 5 minute mark.   Don’t forget time for pauses BETWEEN the main points of your speech.   This will signal to the audience that there is the equivalent of a new paragraph starting.   It will also give them some time to digest what you have just gotten through saying.

As Winston Churchill once said, “the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.

The next post will conclude this chapter.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Keeping it Simple

The seventh chapter of John Maxwell’s book contains the third practice out of five on connecting, namely, keep it simple!

Let me tell you a story of when I was studying physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign back in the early 1980s.   There was an international physics conference and one of the U of I professors was writing an equation on the board.   He realized he didn’t have time to show how to solve it in the short amount of time he was allotted, so he just wrote down the solution and said, “here’s the solution–it all comes out in the wash.”

One Russian physicist asked a question at the end of the physicist’s presentation through an interpreter:   “what means ‘answer comes out in laundry’?”   Using a slang or colloquial expression in English turned out to be a perilous prospect when it came to interpreting into Russian.    This is why you should always keep it simple–especially if you are speaking for an international audience for whom English may not be their native language.

Let’s start out the chapter by sharing the four criteria that John Maxwell gave to his professional “finder”, Charlie Wetzel, who comes newspapers, magazines, and (now) the Internet to find interesting material for John to illustrate the points of his talks.

1.   Humor–something that will make people laugh

Telling jokes that pertain to a particular topic is a good way to get people’s attention.   However, just remember that humor that depends on word play may not translate well to an international audience.    Funny stories about characters or situations, however, translate more readily across cultural boundaries, but even there you have to be careful.

2.  Heart–something that will captivate people’s emotions

Remember the four communication preferences:   ideas, people, action, and process.   Those with a “people” communication preferences tend to influence what people “feel”, and one way to do this is to tell a story that gets you emotionally involved.

3.  Hope–something that will inspire people

You are going for an attitude here, a way of looking at life with focus on the positive, and, even more importantly, transfer the negative INTO a positive.

4.  Help-something that will assist people in a tangible way

One time I gave a technical presentation on Integral Theory and did it from the perspective of an intellectual trying to convey an idea.   However, several people in the audience who were engineers came up to me and said, “I didn’t get it!   What am I supposed to do with all that information?”   They were the ones who had an action communication preference, and I needed to include them in the picture.

In all cases, you are dealing with perspective and transformation.    Being able to see a situation from a different perspective involves a transformation of your consciousness.    But explaining this in an intellectual way may not work for some people, and it will certainly not act quickly.    Rather than explaining it to your audience, lead them to experience it themselves through a story that has humor, heart, and hope, and then gives them something to take home that will help them take that transformation and apply it to their lives.   When you pick material to illustrate your points, do what Charlie Wetzel does for John Maxwell, and use the four pointers above to give your presentation more power–in a simple way!

The next post discusses the five ways of practicing the art of simplicity when you communicate in order for you to connect to others.

5 Ways to Prepare to be a Vice President Education at Toastmasters

So you’ve just been elected to be the Vice President Education for your club at Toastmasters.    If you want to be successful at your club officer role which starts on July 1st, you need to start TODAY to prepare for it.   This post is designed to give you advice on how to do this, based on my previous experience at three different clubs, both in the Founders District in Orange County, CA, and here now in District 30 in the Chicagoland area.

1.   Register for the Toastmasters Leadership Institute

The Toastmasters Leadership Institute (some other Districts make call it something different) is where club officers are formally trained.   When I say formally, this means that you are given formal credit towards your club’s Distinguished Club Program for having 4 out of 7 officers trained.    However, every club should have the goal of having all 7 officers trained EVEN IF they have done the training before in a previous version of the TLI.

Don’t stop with your own registration–ask all of the officers to confirm that they are going to a TLI session sometime in June.   The way it works in our district is that there is a “main” TLI that takes place on June 14, and there are “satellite” TLIs that take place in other areas of the District in the following weekends in June (21st and 28th) in order to accommodate those who either have some conflict with the June 14th date or who want to go to a TLI that is closer to where they live.

Make it easier for the other club officers to attend the TLI and car pool.   Be sure to mention that, although TLI is an all-day affair, that doesn’t mean that each officer has to attend all day.    There is only a one-hour training session that is required for the club officer to attend, and most TLIs have a morning and an afternoon session to accommodate those with a busy schedule.

There is a Plan B, and I’m not just talking about the additional satellite TLIs.   Each Division Governor should coordinate with the Area Governors to make available to each area a make-up training session in July so that every club officer has an opportunity to be trained, even if they can’t make any of the TLIs.

2.  Read the Club Leadership Handbook

Once you’re registered for the Toastmaster Leadership Institute, then go to the following web page at the Toastmasters International website and download the Club Leadership Handbook


You should read at least the section on the Vice President Education role.

3.   Read about the Distinguished Club Program (DCP)

You should read the following document, which outlines the Distinguished Club Program–it can be found at the following web page at the Toastmasters International website.


One of your most important duties to be performed at the beginning of your term as Vice President Education is to consult with the President and to determine what the club goals will be in the upcoming Toastmaster year.    One way to do this is to look at the Distinguished Club Program, and determine which level your club will try to achieve, which in turn is based on how many out of the 10 possible Distinguished Club Program or DCP goals your club will be able to obtain):

  • Basic Qualification (either 20+ members or a net increase of 5 members)
  • Distinguished Club (5 or 6 out of 10 DCP goals)
  • Select Distinguished Club (7 or 8 out of 10 DCP goals)
  • President’s Distinguished Club (9 or 10 out of 10 DCP goals)

Each club should at least try for the basic qualification and the Distinguished Club level of achievement.    Here’s a list of the 10 possible goals of the Distinguished Club Program:

  1. Two CC awards
  2. Two more CC awards
  3. One ACB, ACS, or ACG award
  4. One more ACB, ACS, or ACG award
  5. One CL, ALB, ALS, or DTM award
  6. One more CL, ALB, ALS, or DTM award
  7. Four new members
  8. Four more new members
  9. A minimum of four club officers trained during each of the two training periods
  10. On time payment of membership-renewal dues accompanied by the names of renewing members for one period and on-time submission of one club officer list

4.  Determine the Educational Record of the Members of Your Club

Your end goal should be the creation of a Club Success Plan, which outlines how in particular your club will reach each of the 10 goals above.    The first six out of the 10 goals, however, have to do with the area you are in charge of, namely, the educational program of all the members of your club.

In order to determine how many of the six goals your club can achieve, you have to see how many members can realistically get the CC, CL, or advanced awards needed to fulfill that goal.   You can only do that by knowing where the members are NOW.    Don’t wait for July 1st:   contact your outgoing Vice President Education and determine if he or she has an educational record, which shows

–how far along each member has gotten on the educational track, and

–how far along each member has gotten on the leadership track

If the Vice President Education has no such document, then you need to have him or her CONTACT all club members to ask them how far along they are.    Most will be able to tell you how many speeches need to be completed to fulfill their CC or advanced communicator award; few will be able to tell you how many roles or projects need to be completed to fulfill their CL or advanced leadership award.   In the latter case, you may have to ask the Vice President Education to remind members to bring their CL manuals to the club meeting so that he or she can look through their members’ manuals and determine which out of the 10 projects need to be completed.

5.  Create Club Success Plan

The Club Success Plan is important not only for your club, as it is the road map of how your club will achieve its goals successfully, but it is also important for your Area Governor, because it will be the road map that they will monitor your club’s progress towards that goal.

The Club Success Plan is contained in the same document listed above, namely,


If you print this out  now, you will be able to take the goals discussed at the first Executive Committee Meeting of your club called for by the Club President, and start planning out who is responsible for whatever activities need to be accomplished to get there.   This creates accountability for all club officers and knowing this at the beginning makes everybody buy into the plan that you set up.

If you follow these five steps, and start NOW, you will have a headstart on your journey to being a successful Vice President Education, and through your success, to help your Club achieve the success that it deserves!


5 Ways to Prepare for Being an Area Governor in Toastmasters

A couple of weeks ago, I was informed by the incoming District Governor Donna Weston that my nomination as an Area Governor was approved.    Today the Area Governor training takes place, and I wanted to give some advice passed on to me by the previous Area Governor for my area, Felton Armand.

1.   Be an Assistant Area Governor

What if you are not an Area Governor now, but would like to be some time in the future?    The best way to prepare is to become an Assistant to the Area Governor.    It’s not an official position in the sense of getting credit for it towards your DTM, like you do when you are an Area Governor.    What you do is you essentially shadow the Area Governor, f0llowing his or her lead when it comes to

  • Reviewing Club Success Plans for the various Area Clubs
  • Creating an Area Success Plan
  • Visiting Area Clubs and filling out Area Visit Reports
  • Conducting Area Speech Contests and assisting with Division Speech Contests
  • Following leads for new clubs in your Area

Each club has a Club Success Plan, which essentially picks a goal for the club to make the designation of Distinguished Club by the end of the Toastmaster year.    This is achieved when a club gets 5 out of 10 points in the Distinguished Club program.    If the club gets 7 out of 10 points, then it is Select Distinguished, and if it gets 9 out of 10 points, then it is President’s Distinguished.

The Area Success Plan is built from the building blocks of the Club Success Plans.   If 50% of your club base in your area is Distinguished or higher, then you are a Distinguished Area.    If MORE than 50% of your club base in your area is Distinguished or higher, then you are a Select Distinguished Area.   If MORE than 50% of your club base in your area is Distinguished or higher, AND you start a new club in your area, then you are a President’s Distinguished Area.

Here’s an example.    Our Area, S56 in the South Division of District 30, had 4 clubs.   So in order to make Distinguished Area, we had to have 2 clubs that were Distinguished Clubs or better.    In order to make Select Distinguished Area, we had to have 3 or 4 clubs that were Distinguished Clubs or better.    In order to make President’s Distinguished Area, we had to have 3 or 4 clubs that were Distinguished Clubs or better PLUS we had to start a new club.    We were fortunately able to have 3 clubs reach their goal of being Distinguished Clubs or better, AND we had a new club open in our area, so we made it to that goal.

The Area Success Plan for next year which have to show which clubs are going to go for which level of Distinguished Club designation, and how they are going to achieve it.

Once you have helped the Area Governor run Area Speech Contests as an Assistant Area Governor, the process isn’t so mysterious, and you can essentially use the best practices from the previous year as a springboard on how to run your own contests when you become new Area Governor.

2.  Get to Know the Division Governor

Usually the Division Governor puts that “hat in the ring” to become the Governor starting around the time of the Spring Contests, so if you have a chance to meet a prospective Division Governor, especially one that is running unopposed, get to them early on and indicate your interest in being an Area Governor.   In that way, if more than one person wants to be the Area Governor, it is the Division Governor who ways heavily in the deciding vote by the District leadership.

Indicate to the Division Governor that you are just there to make sure your own goals as Area Governor are fulfilled, but you are there to assist other Area Governors in the same division, particularly with club contests.

3.  Get to Know the Other Area Governors

This is important because when it comes time to look for Chief Judges and regular Judges for your Area Speech Contest, it is easy if each Area Governor agrees to be a Judge for all the OTHER Area Speech Contests.    It is the most painless way of getting the requisite amount of judges or other assistants for your own contests.

Also, if you miss a District Executive Committee meeting, you can designate another Area Governor to get a copy of the meeting minutes and other documents discussed, with the understanding that you will do the same for them if they have to miss a meeting.

4.  Get to Know the President and Vice President Education of Each of the Clubs in your Area

If you have a President and Vice President Education who are unresponsive to your requests, it can make your job a lot more difficult.   But looking on the bright side, if they ARE responsive, you can get a lot of the Area Visit Reports done BEFORE and AFTER the area visits, leaving the area visit for networking, establishing relationships, and close observation as to how the club is doing.

You need for them to set up a Club Success Plan as soon as possible, so that you can in turn set up your Area Success Plan.    This needs to be done BEFORE the area visits.

In addition, setting up a regular monthly meeting with the President and Vice President of each Area, particularly when it comes to time for the Area Speech Contests, is an excellent way to make sure they are continuing to follow the Club Success Plan.   If problems regarding membership levels starts to occur, you can address the issue proactively rather than waiting for a club to require a Club Coach.

5.   Search for your own Assistant Area Governor

This will serve two purposes, it will reduce your work load, but it is also a good risk management strategy, because if you are transferred due to a job change or promotion that requires you to move to another District, or if there is some personal matter such as the death of a parent, spouse, or child that requires your attention for months at a time, you can rest assured that the Assistant Area Governor will continue getting the work done as required by the position even if you are temporarily incapacitated or permanently removed from the position due to circumstances beyond your control.

If you establish vertical relations (to the Division and District leaders going upwards and going downwards, to  the club Presidents and Vice Presidents of Education) and horizontal relations (to other Area Governors), and get to know the previous Area Governor as well as grooming an Assistant Area Governor to take over your position in the following year, you will make sure that your Area does well and that you achieve the maximum growth not only of your Area, your Division, and all the clubs in your Area, but of your professional development as a leader within Toastmasters.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Connecting with Individuals, Small Groups and Large Audiences

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

In the final section of his chapter on finding common ground, John Maxwell gives some pointers on connecting with various size groups, from a single individual, to a small group, to a large audience.

1.  Connecting with an Individual.

Ask questions with an eye towards common interests and experiences.    When you find that common ground, then share your emotions, tell stories, and offer lessons you’ve learned.

If you really want to gain insight in a hurry into someone’s heart, ask the following question:

  • What do you dream about?
  • What do you sing about?
  • What do you cry about?

2.  Connecting in a Group

Although you can’t focus on a single person, you can focus on a single purpose or goal for which the group was assembled.   Ask “What brought us together?”

If you are having a planning meeting for a project, then ask the two key questions, “What are we trying to accomplish?” and “Why?” This will bring both the execution of the project and its strategic goal into focus, both the business need for the project (from the standpoint of the ultimate user of the product, service, or result that the project is going to create) and the strategic goal (the benefit to the organization creating the project).

If your group achieves a goal, then celebrate that win together!

3.  Connecting with an Audience

People come to hear someone speak because they want to learn something that will help them or inspire them in their everyday lives.    There are some in the audience who are eager to hear what you have to say; there are others who may be more hostile, and need to be convinced to hear what you have to say.    You have to make it worth their while.   Tap into this desire on the part of the audience to benefit from your speech by using the following pattern of four F’s:

  • FEEL:  Try to sense what they feel and acknowledge and validate their feelings.
  • FELT:  Share with them that you have also felt the same way.
  • FOUND:  Share with them what you found that has helped you.
  • FIND:   Offer to help them find help for their lives.

You create a sense of reciprocity with the audience this way.   It reminds me of the way the Indian musical instrument called a sitar makes music.    There is one set of strings that are flat and never played; there is one fret of strings that are curved over the other set and are always played.    Why this arrangement?    When the second set of strings is played, they set up a sympathetic vibration with the first set of strings, which is why the instrument has this sing-song, echoing quality to it.

You are pluck your own strings with your speech so that it sets up a “sympathetic vibration” with the people in the audience.    And together, these two sets of vibrations will make a wonderful piece of music!

The next chapter, chapter 7, will be covered in next week’s posts.   Chapter 7 is about Connecting by Keeping It Simple.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: 4 Pointers towards Becoming a Better Connector

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

After discussing on what the various barriers are to finding common ground with others, and suggesting various qualities that connectors have, John Maxwell in the last section of his chapter discusses four pointers towards improving your ability to connect, no matter how good or how ineffectively you connect at the present time.

These four pointers take the common theme of “Connectors Go First”, meaning that you have to take the initiative and make the connection first in order for you to become more effective at connecting.

1.  Ask “Do I Feel What You Feel?” BEFORE Asking, “Do You Feel What I Feel?”

You cannot drag people on a journey, you have to connect with them and lead them to where you want to go, so that they do so of their own volition.   Why would somebody want to go where somebody else tells them to go?   Because that person took the time to describe that destination in such a way that the others WANT to go there.

Before they want to go there, however, you have to find out where they are NOW.   And this involves understanding their feelings, and connecting with them on an emotional level.

2.  Ask “Do I See What You See?” BEFORE Asking, “Do You See What I See?”

Many leaders think, if others could see the future the way I see it, then we could move forward.    However, that would only be possible if others are standing in the spot you are standing.   What does that future look like from where they are standing?    Would they be even able to see if from their vantage point?    Are there obstacles in their way to seeing it?    Is there debris on the ground that would prevent them from getting from where they are now to that future you are imagining?    The more you ask yourself these questions, the better you will be able to let people you understand the magnitude of the journey you are asking them to go on, a journey which is made easier by the fact that they are not going to be going alone, but with you along the way.

3.  Ask “Do I Know What You Know?” BEFORE Asking, “Do You Know What I Know?”

If you are trying to resolve a conflict between two people, you must ask each of them what the situation is from their viewpoint; the order of who goes first to tell the story doesn’t really matter.   But if that conflict of the other person is with you, you must FIRST ask them what the situation is from their viewpoint before you tell your side of the story.   Often times, you will be able to locate the source of the conflict in a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what you have said, rather than a conflict of personalities (although that is certainly a possibility as well).

If you are just having a conversation, remember what Abraham Lincoln said, where he said one-third of his mind is thinking about himself and what he is going to say, but two-thirds are devoted to thinking about the other person and what he is going to say.”    You cannot just rehearse your next response, because it might change depending on what the person is now saying.    So don’t stay in your own head, but enter that of the person you are talking to, and the communication will turn into a connection.

4.  Ask “Do I Know What You Want?” BEFORE Asking, “Do You Know What I Want?”

You can know a lot about a subject and not really understand it.    If you explain it to someone, and they don’t understand it and ask questions, this gives you a chance to try another way of explaining it so that they will.   I owe the readership of this blog on the subject of project management because the posts came out of a series of study groups I did for people studying to pass the certification exam for becoming a project manager.    I love math, so in explaining questions about earned value management, I would naturally write equations.   I found out soon that not everybody shares my love of mathematics, so I had to draw diagrams for those who preferred learning visually and I told stories for those who preferred learning aurally.    By approaching a subject with different learning styles in mind, I found that most of the people in the study group would understand what I was saying on any given topic.   It was an example of not giving them what I wanted, but my giving them what they wanted.

In the last and final post for this chapter, I will discuss three key questions that John Maxwell says give the maximum amount of insight into a person’s character in the shortest amount of time.    Use these if you are on the express train to being a connector!

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Cultivating Common Ground

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

In the last post, I listed four traits that end up being hindrances to building common ground with others, namely:

  • Assumption (“I Already Know What Others Know, Feel, and Want”)
  • Arrogance (“I Don’t Need to Know What Others Know, Feel, or Want”)
  • Indifference (“I Don’t Care to Know What Others Know, Feel, or Want”)
  • Control (“I Don’t Want Others to Know What I Know, Feel, or Want”)

After that material on what NOT to do, John Maxwell gives a list of positive ways to cultivate common ground.

1.  Availability–“I Will Choose to Spend Time With Others”

Availability requires time, of course, but it also requires intentionality.   You have to plan in time to be available to others.     If you have blocks of time to yourself, make sure that you let people know when your “office hours” are so that when they contact you during those hours, they can rest assured that you ARE available.    The rule is, you don’t have to give your team members 100% of your time, but when you give your time, you should be 100% there for them.

2.  Listening–“I Will Listern My Way to Common Ground”

Listening requires letting go of your own internal dialogue and your own preconceptions, so that the words people are telling you fall on fresh ears, not deaf ones.    If you are willing to listen to others and figure out how to fulfill their needs, you’re on your way to reaching common ground.

3.  Questions–“I Will Be Interested Enough in Others to Ask Questions”

The key to asking questions is having a sense of curiosity–about various topics, but also about people and what makes them tick, what motivates them.   Ron Puryear invented the acronym FORM, which stands for the standard questions you should ask team members to get to know them better:

  • F:   Family
  • O:   Occupation
  • R:   Recreation
  • M:  Message

4.  Thoughtfulness–“I Will Think of Others And Look for Ways to Thank Them”

If you have a team member who is not performing the task he or she has been assigned within the deadline provided, you should approach that person and not berate them, but befriend them.    Do they have everything they need in order to get the job done?    If they don’t have the time to get it done, is there something that is less urgent that can be delegated to someone else so that the team member can concentrate on the higher priority task.   If you are a person who helps them obtain solutions, rather than somebody whose chief preoccupation is assigning blame, then they will be more willing to come to you when they are having problems rather than you have to find out by going to them.

5.  Openness–“I Will Let People Into My Life”

Sometimes people shut themselves off from others, whether it is because they are introverts and sense that they need some alone time to recharge their batteries, or because they don’t want or they even fear people getting closer to them.   Usually this is because they are afraid of being rejected if people got to know the “real” person.

The problem with this is that the wall that people sometimes build to keep others out takes a certain amount of psychic energy to construct.    If you can find a way to tear down your inner walls, you will not only find yourself better able to connect with others, but you will be surprised how much you will WANT to do so, because the energy you used to use constructing and maintaining those walls can now be used more constructively in engaging other people.

6.  Likeability–“I Will Care About People”

People will like you if you genuinely like THEM, which doesn’t mean you have to BE like them.    I have friends who have different political beliefs or religious beliefs than I do, but because they do not take themselves too seriously, we can find a conversational “demilitarized zone” in which we can share the things we DO have in common, whether it be the kind of books we read, or the historical figures we admire.     So you don’t have to be all things to all people, you just have to genuine like all people for being themselves.

7.  Humility–“I Will Think of Myself Less So I Can Think of Others More”

Humility does not mean denying your strengths, and just admitting your weaknesses.    You can acknowledge your strengths, but as long as you recognize that these strengths are gifts, then you can use them on behalf of a higher purpose.

There’s an observation I invented regarding the Toastmasters organization:   there are three stages of being a Toastmaster.

  • In the first stage, you’re afraid to get on stage.
  • In the second stage, you’re afraid to get off stage.
  • In the third stage, you know when it is time to get on, and when it is time to get off stage.

In the first stage, you are nervous and unsure of yourself, and this is why many people don’t connect with the audience at first, because they’re so busy worrying about “hey, am I doing this right?”

Well, then you graduate to the next stage, and when people start giving you compliments on how well you speak, you let it go to your head, like the Little Jack Horner of nursery rhyme fame:

“Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I!’

Well, you can be impressed with what a good boy (or girl) you are, but this is also an eg0centric stage, because you are no longer afraid of speaking, you want to speak, but FOR THE WRONG REASON, to show everybody how clever you are.    What’s lost are two things:   your message and the audience.

You need to graduate to the third stage, so you can get on stage when it is your to deliver your message, but then you get off stage at the appropriate time and let others give you feedback, or on a different occasion, you listen to the speeches of others with rapt attention.

8.  Adaptability–“I Will Move From My World to Theirs”

If you are aware of a gap between you and the people with whom you are trying to connect, you must try to move to their world mentally, if not physically.    When I studied Japanese at the University of Illinois as part of graduate studies program in Asian Studies, I met a Japanese guy named Atsuki Tofukuji, and we became good friends because he was working at a manufacturing company, and I was fascinated by manufacturing because of my undergraduate engineering background.    We found we shared a lot of interests in common, including a love of science fiction.

When I graduated, unbeknownst to me, he had conferred with his home company in Japan and had asked if there was a position for someone like me who was studying technical translation to be of use to a Japanese manufacturer like the one I worked for.    It turned out there were looking for exactly that type of person, and with his introduction, I got an interview, which I aced and then it dawned on me that this job was going to be in Japan, a country I had been studying about for the previous three years.   It was literally a dream come true.

Many Americans who live in Japan like to live in neighborhoods with other Americans, lest they become too homesick.   I wanted to live in a traditional Japanese neighborhood where I was the only American.   This would force me to not only speak Japanese, but learn about Japanese customs, etc.     I learned a lot in the five years I worked there.    Not only did I, of course, become fluent in Japanese to the point that I could read and write it as well as speak it, I became valuable to the company after I moved back to the United States, because I understood perfectly both the American business world and the Japanese business world.    My role model was my boss Mr. Hase, who was perfectly at ease in both worlds as well, but after having gone the other direction and having moved to the United States and lived there for five years.

The amazing thing is that, when I went to Japan, I had quite a bit of “culture shock”, but I also had quite a bit of “reverse culture shock” when I came back to the U.S. after living in Japan for five years.    My father would relate how when I talked to my boss on the phone, I would bow my head instinctively at the end of a sentence, especially if I was agreeing to a request.    When he told me about it with a bemused look on his face, I told him I honestly didn’t realize that I was doing it.    When I sat in the apartment, I sat on the floor and not in the chair because that’s what I did when I was in Japan.   It took me a while to adjust, but here’s the benefit of having lived in both worlds:   you not only appreciate the world of the other more because you have lived there as much as an insider as you possible could, but you also appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of your own world even more for seeing it again as if for the first time.

In the next post, I will discuss four questions you should ask yourself in order to become a better connector.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Barriers to Finding Common Ground

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

In the last post, I discussed the fact that finding common ground is often the basis for international diplomacy, so the principle works on the largest stage there is.   It also works on the stage you are going to be standing on to give your speech, and this post discusses the barriers often encountered in trying to find common ground with your audience.

1.  Assumption–“I Already Know What Others Feel and Want”

It’s unwise to make assumptions about people based on their background, profession, race, gender, age, nationality, politics, faith, or other factors.    People’s idiosyncrasies often contradict one’s assumptions, because these are based on generalizations.    A person is neither an average nor any other kind of statistic!

Stop the judging and start paying attention to what people say, how they think, and above all, what they do.   Then you may find common ground with someone who has a different … background, profession, race, gender, etc.

2.  Arrogance–“I Don’t Need to Know What Others Feel, or Want”

It’s one thing to assume that you know what others feel or want.   It’s even worse not to CARE what others feel or want.   This kind of person thinks of themselves as being not just different in degree, but in kind from others.   Losing empathy for others is the first step towards being a complete sociopath, for whom people are mere commodities or objects.     Slavery was a horrible institution because treating people like things takes you down that path.   The first step on that path is arrogance, so don’t take it.

3.  Indifference–“I Don’t Care to Know What Others Feel, or Want”

The people have no desire to know others are a puzzle to me.    I am filled with such xenophilia, love of that which is different from myself, that people who show no desire to learn or experience the outside world are a challenge for me to understand.    It is a form of selfishness because it says that the present horizon of my experience is all that I want to experience.   It implies that you have already grown enough and in a way are already perfect.    If you focus on yourself and your own comfort you will not be able to put yourself in the shoes of others to glean what they want and need.

The development psychologist Jean Piaget said that children typically move through various stages of development.   From two to seven years old, they are in Pre-Operations Stage where they are egocentric.    One test of this is to show a child a ball that is painted yellow on one side and blue on the other.    The tester shows both sides to the child, points the blue side towards the child, and asks “which side do you see?”, and the child answers “blue”.   Then the tester shows the yellow side towards the child, and asks “which side do I see”?   If the child has passed out of this stage, it will answer correctly, “blue.”   If it is still in the Pre-Operations Stage they will answer “yellow.”   Because they are egocentric, they are incapable of taking the perspective of another person than themselves.   The sad thing is that,  those adults who exhibit the indifference mentioned in the previous paragraph are, in a way, emotionally equivalent to those 2-7 year olds.

4.  Control–“I Don’t Want Others to Know What I Know, Feel, or Want”

In order to make a connection, you not only have to understand others, but you have to open enough for them to be able to understand you.    When I was working at Mitsubishi Motors, there used to be a saying prevalent among the American employees.    “The Japanese give information to the American employees on a  need-to-know basis:   meaning if you are an American, you don’t need to know.”    I didn’t agree with this saying, because I was fluent in Japanese and English and could understand what they were saying without any difficulty and my ability to understand Japanese meant that there was no barrier I perceived in getting information.

However, it bothered me that some people felt that:   that must mean that that perception exists, whether or not it is based on actual reality or not.    That got me started on contemplating how a global project should be run, when there are different languages spoken by the various participants, and the necessity for a global communications plan to reduce the risk of miscommunication.

If you are a leader, don’t isolate yourself, and don’t keep your employees in the dark.   Inform people, make them a part of what’s going on, and include them in the decision-making process whenever possible.

Now that you’ve learned what not to do in order to find common ground, the next post will discuss what you should do in order to cultivate a common ground mindset.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Finding Common Ground

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

I will introduce the subject where finding common ground with one’s adversary was literally a matter of life and death.


1.   Introduction–The Cuban Missile Crisis

There were two weeks in October 1962 when the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was in danger of becoming a very hot war indeed.    How hot?   Oh, a couple million degrees, because that’s the temperature in the center of a nuclear explosion.   You see, we almost had a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At that time, John F. Kennedy was the president of the United States and Nikita Khrushchev was the Premier of the Soviet Union.

The United States had deployed nuclear missiles in Turkey that were capable of reaching Moscow, and so in a sort of global chess game, Khrushchev conceived of a plan to counter this by deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba that could be pointed towards the U.S.

On October 14th, 1962, their plans were found out.   A US spy plane on a reconnaissance mission over Cuba took pictures of seemed to be a missile base construction site.

The CIA analyzed the photographs identified the objects as being medium-range ballistic missiles.   These were the rockets that would carry nuclear warheads to their targets in the U.S., but they did not see any warheads themselves.    So they assumed that the warheads had not yet been delivered, and that the Soviet Union would soon be sending ships to deliver them to Cuba.

The President was informed of the existence of the missiles in Cuba and he held a meeting with members of the National Security Council, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military.    There were three options discussed, diplomacy, a limited blockade to prevent the warheads from reaching Cuba, and a full-scale invasion.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that the only option to remove the threat was a full-scale attack and invasion.   They figured that since the nuclear warheads were not yet in Cuba, the Soviets would not be able to stop the U.S.

The National Security Council preferred the blockade option, which Kennedy accepted,  but the military was directed to prepared for the full invasion just in case.

Meanwhile, on a beach in Miami, Florida there was a little boy who was playing with his grandfather.    He and his mother had flown from Chicago to spend a vacation there.    That night they saw President Kennedy on the television who announced that Cuba had missiles aimed at the U.S. and that the U.S. would launch a blockade around Cuba.

The Soviet Union now gave its response, saying that it would view a blockade as an act of aggression and that their ships would defy the blockade.   The situation was now at a stalemate; the U.S. raised its defense level to condition red.   There is only condition beyond this, condition white, which just happens to be the color of the center of a nuclear explosion.

That night, the boy who staying with his grandfather heard the voice of his father on the telephone calling to tell him that he loved him very much.    You see, the father was a reporter who knew the seriousness of the situation, and knew that his son was in a place that would very likely be a target of a nuclear attack in the case that war broke out.   He wanted to memorize the sound of his son’s voice in case he never heard it again.

At 6:00 PM on the night of October 26th, the State Department received by teletype a very long and emotional letter written by Khrushchev .

“Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of a rope in which you have tied the knot of war.   Let us take measures to untie that knot.  We are ready for this.”

Tommy Thompson from the State Department,  a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, was sitting at the elbow of the President reading what he referred to as the soft, diplomatic message which he said had come directly from Khrushchev.    Just then, another message that came in that was more threatening and it was the message that had written by the hardliners in the Kremlin.

The crucial question now was:   which message should the U.S. respond to, the soft message or the hard message?

Tommy Thompson had knowledge of the Russian language, but even more importantly, because of his time as ambassador to the Soviet Union, he knew the Premier personally.   He could empathize with him, and knew exactly what the Premier was thinking.   He said that the Premier was being pushed by his hardliners into a military confrontation and he wanted desperately to find a diplomatic solution that would allow him to save not only the Cuban people from invasion, but to help him save face politically.   President Kennedy finally understood exactly how the Premier felt.

President Kennedy listened to Tommy Thompson, and made a deal with the Soviet Union.   You pull out the missiles from Cuba, and we will remove ours from Turkey.    Khrushchev agreed, and the crisis was now over.

In 1992, it was discovered that the CIA had made a mistake.    Remember how they had assumed there were no warheads in Cuba?   There were over 160 nuclear warheads already in Cuba.   So the blockade accomplished nothing.    But more importantly, if Kennedy had listened to the military, who based their strategic plans on what the CIA had told them, the invasion would have failed and nuclear war would have resulted.

And I would not be standing here today.    Why?   Because that boy I mentioned in the story–was me.

In the documentary The Fog of War, the former Secretary of State Robert McNamara listed several lessons to be learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis, among them 1) be prepared to re-examine your reasoning, which you can see by the fact that the CIA made a mistake regarding the warheads, and 2) empathize with your enemy, which was the key to Tommy Thompson’s diplomatic breakthrough.

In the case of Tommy Thompson, he allowed President Kennedy to see that, although Premier Khrushchev was politically on the other side, in reality they both were in the same position vis-a-vis their military.     The military on each side was overly optimistic about the chances of success in a military confrontation.   In the case of the American military, it was born out of a false premise.   In the case of the Russian military, it was underestimating the willingness of Castro to actually engage in a nuclear war on his own soil, knowing full well the ruination it would wreak on the island of Cuba and its people.

But by seeing the two leaders as follow politicians who not only wanted to resolve the crisis but do it in a way that would be acceptable to their own people, Tommy Thompson paved the way for a solution to the crisis.

That is why, to the lessons proposed by Robert McNamara I would like to add a lesson of my own.  We can learn from Tommy Thompson and use the power of language to engage the language of power.   It is the power of language, and its ability to be an window of understanding, and through that window, to be an instrument of peace, that has motivated me throughout my life.   Why?   Because it allows you to explore the common ground you have with others with whom you speaking, or negotiating.    Peace is found on level ground.

Sacred Communication Workshop: Lead, Follow, or Get out of Your Own Way

Yesterday I attended what must be the sixth in a series of workshops held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Park Forest on the subject of Sacred Communication.    Although the title sounds like it is talking about the way one addresses the divine, the actual subject matter is how you address yourself.

When I moved here to the Chicago area last year, it was with some trepidation because I had lived in the area for decades.    Feeling a little bit like Rip Van Winkle, I wondered if it was possible to generate an entirely new network of friends and colleagues.    I was looking for work in my new career of being a project manager, and while doing that, I was also trying to recast myself not just as an employee of a company, but as a leader, in such a way that would gain me success that had so far eluded me where I used to live in Orange County, CA.

But you know that saying, “lead, follow, or get out of the way?”   Sometimes the biggest factor that prevents us from being successful is within ourselves.    The Sacred Communication, which is like spiritual gardening, promised to help me not get in my own way, so to speak.   When I say “spiritual gardening”, I mean it is analogous to planting a garden.

First you till the soil, then you plant seeds, but you also remove weeds, prevent bugs from eating the fruits of your labors, and there is a lot of constant work that needs to be done so that the new plants get enough sunlight, water, and nourishment from the soil.    In a similar way, you have to till the soil (do introspection), plant seeds (visualize your goals and make concrete plans to achieve them), and then monitor the growth.   Weeds (thoughts whose origin is fear) can choke off the growth of the seeds, so you have to remove them, not just once, but CONSTANTLY.

In this latest workshop, the leader of the workshop, Henrietta Byrd, asked two important questions.

1.   What do you wonder about?

People responded with something that was of paramount concern to them–for example, I was wondering about what my next success was going to be after I completed the project I am currently working on.    However, after we named our individual areas of concern, she said, “now, when I said ‘wonder’, did you interpret that to mean what you ‘worry’ about or whether you ‘wonder’ in the more neutral sense of ‘speculate with your imagination’?”

Because if we were WORRYING about the outcome of a particular situation, then this is essentially taking the form of “IF something negative happens, THEN how will I deal with it?”    Now, this does not mean that you shouldn’t plan for the future so that you have a plan B to fall back on if plan A doesn’t materialize.    However, planning for a possible negative outcome is not the same as DWELLING on it.   If you dwell on the negative, your mind will create ways for that negative outcome to happen.

So if you dwell on the positive, your mind will likewise starting thinking of creative ways of how you can get from here to there.   Once you have fixed a positive goal in your mind, and you are doing all you can to achieve it, then LET GO and trust in life that the goal will materialize.

So I am concentrating on doing what I am doing and achieving the goals I have set out for myself, but with an attitude of wonder and not of worrying about what my next project will be.

2.  What have you had enough of?

What are you so sick of in your life that, if you had a chance to, you would get rid of it and have no more of it from here on out?    I don’t mind sharing that, in my case, it was “excuses”, which translate for me as the belief that the reason for my not achieving my goals is something or someone outside of myself.

Once Henrietta asked this, she then said, “okay, so you want to get rid of that.   What concrete steps are you going to take to do so?”

There are some problems which because they are difficult to solve, I find myself avoiding because of the emotional charge I attach to them (“I can’t solve it because I am not good enough/smart enough, etc.”).    Once I realized that I was using this as an excuse not to solve these problems, I realized I needed what I call an “ego-bypass operation”, meaning that I need to make it less about me as a person, and focus instead on principles that will help me deal with the problems.

So I came up with a little slogan to help me out:  “I’m eager to go to the problems that scare me, and treat them instead as puzzles that dare me.”   This slogan has two parts to it:   going to the problems that scare me, which means that I will no longer tolerate avoidance behavior.    And then when I go to the place that scares me, I will use the calming techniques that Pema Chodron recommends in her book “Go to the Places that Scare You”, because this allows you to face reality and detach yourself from fear.   And if you detach yourself from fear, one thing you can do to propel yourself in the right direction is to attach yourself to the same problem, but with a different emotion, that of curiosity and delight.    How can you delight in problems?

Well, for one thing, I LOVE puzzles:   logic puzzles and cryptic crosswords being some of my favorites.   If I approach a puzzle I can’t solve, I don’t go away in anger or in self-recrimination.   “Oh, gosh, I’m so stupid!”   No, if I were stupid, I wouldn’t even TRY to solve such complicated puzzles.    If I solve the puzzle, yes, I do feel a little bit of an ego boost.  But if I can’t solve it, I don’t just give up.   I put it aside TEMPORARILY, after I have made a decent attempt.   And then I come back to it–and it is amazing how what the solution to what was though to be an unsolvable problem now taps you on the shoulder and says, “here I am!”    That’s because your subconscious often times continues working on the problem after your conscious mind has temporarily thrown in the towel.

Well, why not deal with the various problems of my life like puzzles?   Rather than eagerly avoiding them, I would start eagerly tackling them.   Not just because I want to solve the problems, but because the process is FUN and makes my mind sharper for having done so.    So this is an example where I am trying to get out of my own way, and work towards solutions that will propel me forward.

And if I do that, I have trust in life that I will be rewarded.   This is not just blind faith, either:   I started these Sacred Communication Workshops about one year ago when I had NO accomplishments here in Chicago under my belt.   Now, in the one year since then:

  • I volunteered as a project manager for the Chicagoland Chapter of the Project Management Institute’s Professional Development Day Project for 2013, which was a very successful event for the chapter.
  • I got a part-time project management position in November 2013 which ended in April 2014.
  • I then got a full-time project management position as a Chief Project Manager for the Professional Development Day Project for 2014 (based on my work last year).
  • As a Vice President Education for my Toastmasters Club (Homewood-Flossmoor Toastmasters Club #1451), I helped our club achieve the highest level of achievement at the club level, the President’s Distinguished Club award, for having achieved all 10 goals in the Distinguished Club Program.
  • As an Assistant Area Governor for Area S56, I worked together with Felton Armand, and helped our Area achieve the highest level of achievement at the Area level, the President’s Distinguished Area award, for having more than 50% of the clubs in our Area achieve the level of Distinguished Club or higher AND having sponsored the growth of a new club in our Area (Richton Park)
  • I have been selected as Area Governor for my area for the upcoming Toastmasters year (July 2014-June 2015).
  • I have been elected as President of my home club Homewood-Flossmoor Toastmasters Club, and have been elected as the Vice President Education for my second club, the PMI Chicagoland Toastmasters Club.

I have been asked to be in a leadership position both professionally and at my church; I am applying for those positions, but will not mention what they are specifically until I actually achieve them.   But these opportunities are coming unexpectedly, and so I am truly in a position of not worrying about success, but simply wondering, what direction is it coming to come from?

And I achieved this by, as the title suggests, getting out of my own way and not preventing my own success.    I hope you can ask yourself the questions Henrietta asked us, and take some quiet time out for reflection.   As Maya Angelou said in her last public statement on Twitter before she passed away, “listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”