The Circular Truth by Charles Henderson

Charles Henderson is Managing Director at Turner Harper & Associates in South Africa .He is an Executive coach and mentors and speaks worldwide on Leadership, Personal Development and Customer Service excellence.

The Circular Truth is a simple model that expresses a fundamental philosophic principal; things are not always what they initially appear to be. Our views on things evolve and change over time as we become more knowledgeable and experienced. For example, there was a time when the common perception amongst most people was that the earth was flat. New knowledge from developments in mathematics and science along with experimentation has changed this view so that most people now believe the earth is round or spherical. Everett Dirkson once said “the only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums who can’t and those in cemeteries.” Most of us change our minds about something all the time. As children, some of us believed in Santa Claus, the Good Tooth Fairy, etc. As we grew up we learned that these were just fairy tales far from the truth. We changed our minds. Even as adults there are things we once thought were true that we no longer believe in. Hence, the old cliché, “knowledge is power,” rings true. But power to do what?

Knowledge gives us the power to more accurately define the truth of a matter, whatever that truth may be. It also gives us the confidence to change our mind when we obtain new knowledge that contradicts our current view of the truth. When we are open to changing our minds it takes us off the defensive and enables us to minimise conflict and find common ground where differences of opinion exist. We can see this from our example of the shape of the earth and our childhood beliefs. We also see this as adults in our professional life.

A manager tasked with improving customer satisfaction ratings is much more capable of doing so after having read up on the subject, talked with customers and perhaps taken a course on it. In other words, she is more capable of identifying the “true” cause of service problems and a more feasible solution than the manager who has done little to no research on the topic. This same manager’s view of the best way to solve service problems may also change as her knowledge of the problems evolve and she receives input from her staff. If a staff member who works with customer’s daily questions the manager’s ideas on service delivery the manager can simply say “help me understand how you think we can improve on what we are doing.” Through active listening, the manager encourages her staff to contribute to solving customer problems and improving service without feeling the need to get defensive. The manager can then take this new information she has received from her staff member and make changes to improve on what is already being done. It is the potential for changing one’s mind and subsequent actions that makes the truth circular. Her view of the true nature of the service problems has now moved to a different point on the circle. Moreover, being open to the possibility that her view was not necessarily the best enabled her to receive the staff member’s new ideas without getting defensive and incorporate them into the service improvement strategy. In addition to increasing customer satisfaction, she also gained the trust and respect of her staff member by encouraging and accepting her participation in improving service standards.

The Truth About Values & Beliefs:
If you want to know the truth about why you make certain choices and behave in certain ways you must first understand your values and beliefs about yourself.

Often our view of what is right or wrong, good or bad, true or not true is based on long held values and beliefs. Is it true for example that Jesus was the Son of God or a Prophet? Most Christians would say he was the Son of God while a person raised in a Muslim tradition may argue he was a Prophet. The Christian uses the Bible to support their view while the Muslim uses the Holy Koran. More blood has been spilled, and lives lost, over this argument than any other in the history of humanity. If we can recognise when our view of the truth is based more on our values and beliefs than on a rational thought process we can be more flexible and tolerant of the views of others. We may still not agree but we can at least “agree to disagree.”

These values, religious for example, are generally established during childhood. I go to church primarily because my parents took me to church and taught me the importance of having God in my life. If I go to the Mosque, or the Temple to express my spiritual self, chances are my parents introduced me to it. The choice I make is to go to church. The value is Religion. The childhood experience is my parents took me there and emphasised the importance of it. Other examples of how our values influence our choices are summarised in the
following chart:

In addition to values, my beliefs about myself also determine my choices and behaviour. In his book “The Truth Option” Will Schutz explained that all human beings express three fundamental types of behaviour, each of which, is driven by three feelings we have about ourselves:

These feelings about self are driven by self-beliefs also developed during childhood. Schutz calls this our self-concept; how I see myself. For example, Annette, a participant in one of my LEAD workshops spoke of how her parents often argued when she was growing up. When they noticed her listening to their arguments her father would shout at her saying “what are you looking at? Go to your room now until I tell you to come out!” Her way of coping with this was to “hide” from her parents in her room where she felt safe and could avoid being scolded during their arguments. As a result, she never developed her social skills, became an introvert and felt awkward and insignificant in the company of others.

If my father often scolded me during my early years for making mistakes, called me stupid and gave me a slap I may grow up believing that I am stupid and feel incompetent. This feeling of incompetence may lead me to set low goals for myself and choose not to go a University and study. This choice is generally preceded by a choice in high school not to study hard because I really don’t believe it will make much difference.

On the other hand, my feeling of incompetence may lead me to go to extremes to prove my competence. My own experience of not doing well in school as a youngster and being expelled from high school created a belief in myself that “I am not good at school.” After being rehabilitated from my drug addition and earning a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), which is equivalent to a matric, I enrolled in a small college, studied long hours and endured great amounts of stress to “prove” my competence. Graduating with an Associates degree from Community College at the top of my class was still not enough to enable me to overcome this feeling of incompetence so I enrolled at the Wharton School to study finance and later in Harvard Business School’s MBA program. In my eyes both schools were the best for what I wanted to study. Both were “Ivy League” and highly competitive. And both required extreme sacrifices on my part in terms of study time and stress for me to successfully complete my studies and graduate. The belief that I am not good at school lead me to a feeling of being incompetent in school and drove me to the make the choices I made regarding my education. The benefits of completing degrees at two of America’s finest Universities are numerous. However, on the other hand, the feeling of incompetence could lead one to spend their life stressed-out trying to prove something to others, never taking time to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Ultimately I learned that the truth is that I am a whole lot more competent than I once believed and I really have nothing to prove to anyone, including myself.

Following is a summary of Will Schutz’s model of human behaviour and some of the accompanying self-beliefs:

Whenever we get angry or emotional over a disagreement it is a good idea to ask ourselves why. In fact, being aware of our values and beliefs is the first step to being able to control our anger or emotions. Self-awareness and self-control are the first two components of Emotional Intelligence according to Daniel Goleman, author of the best selling book “Emotional Intelligence.”

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the Circular Truth:
Daniel Goleman’s research on EQ has shown that EQ is more important in determining success in life than both IQ and technical skills combined. He lists five broad components that make up an individual’s EQ:

1. Self-Awareness
2. Self-Control
3. Motivation or Drive to Succeed
4. Empathy
5. Social Skills

Self-Awareness & Self-Control:
The more aware we are of our values, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses the more able we are to accurately define the truth of a matter and manage the emotions associated with such.

A friend named Sipho had an interesting experience with his girlfriend, Beauty, who showed up at his house one Monday after work unannounced looking for the newspaper she had left over the weekend. When Sipho returned home later that evening and was told what happened by his housemate he was immediately overcome with a feeling of anger. “How could she decide to stop by without calling first” he thought?
That evening and the following day he reflected on the incident and came up with an explanation for his anger.

Sipho’s parents divorced when he was eight. His father remarried and his mother had an emotional breakdown and tried to commit suicide. She became angry, and Sipho became the target of her anger and aggression in the form of frequent beatings. As a result Sipho felt “trapped” in his home and promised himself that as an adult he would never allow his “freedom” to be compromised again. When his girlfriend showed up at his home that day he interpreted that as “disrespecting his private space” which in some way compromised his highest personal value, “freedom.” Beauty did not see it this way.

As a child it was common for neighbours and family members to visit Beauty’s home without being invited. They were generally offered tea, coffee and biscuits, and if dinner was being served they were asked to join the family for a meal. Beauty saw nothing wrong with stopping by Sipho’s home to collect the newspaper. In fact when Sipho raised the issue she wondered if he had “something to hide;” another girlfriend perhaps? This could have easily set the stage for an argument but Sipho’s introspections enabled him to explain his feelings at a much deeper level.

Beauty’s suspicions were quickly laid to rest after Sipho shared his early experiences growing up and explained how this affected his current views on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of stopping by his home without letting him know first. She gladly agreed to respect his wishes and Sipho also agreed to be more flexible on the issue. The matter was settled amicably.

Sipho’s awareness of how his early experiences led to his feeling of anger enabled him to exercise control over the emotions he was experiencing and openly communicate not only how he was feeling but also where those feelings came from. The truth about why he was angry had less to do with his girlfriend stopping by than it did with the experiences he had as a young boy. Here we see how knowledge about self gives us the power to more accurately define the truth regarding our emotional state. This in turn gives us the power to control these emotions and engender trust and respect from others.

Motivation or Drive to Succeed:
We have seen how the saying “knowledge is power” comes to life in the Circular Truth. The degree to which I seek to acquire this knowledge in many ways indicates the degree to which I am motivated or driven to succeed.

The highly motivated person sees learning as a lifelong process and is always interested in broadening their views of the truth about their work, hobbies, health, relationships, etc. The person who sits back and “waits for things to happen” as opposed to “making things happen” exhibits a lesser degree of Motivation. Often times we don’t try because we don’t believe it would make much difference. Our beliefs about ourselves and what we can and cannot do must also be examined when trying to attain a heightened degree of self-awareness.

In his book, The Human Element, Will Schutz further develops how our self-image begins to develop when we are children. As children we receive messages from parents, teachers friends and family members about what we can and cannot do. A child who is often chastised by his father and called stupid for making mistakes may begin to believe he really is stupid and as a result set low standards in school for him or herself.
At the same time, a child who is raised by their parents to believe they can achieve anything with hard work may reject messages from others that contradict this self-belief.

Schutz purports that as we grow into adulthood our self-image is further defined by our experiences with failure and success. Eventually we develop a perception of how we see ourselves and compare this to an image of our “ideal person;” who we want to be. The larger the gap between the two, the lower will be my self-image, self-regard or self-esteem. This low self-esteem can manifest itself as frequent bouts of depression, the inability to control one’s temper, sporadic mood swings, defensive behaviour, unwillingness to accept constructive criticism, tendency to take things “personal,” becomes a work-a-holic or over achiever, blames others for their problems and ,may have a low motivation or drive to succeed.

A person with a low self-esteem often uses the words “I can’t”. Some of the “I can’t” statements that are often mentioned in my workshops, and to me in confidence by workshop participants are, “I can’t do maths,” or “I can’t stop smoking” or “I can’t stop drinking” or “I can’t give my boss feedback.” During my drug addiction years I used to say “I can” stop using drugs anytime I wanted to but I kept using the drugs even though I knew they could ruin my life. Saying I can is simply not enough. To continue a self-destructive behaviour while saying “I can stop it” is another sign of low self-esteem.

All of this can be overcome by persistently “confronting our fears” and “acting as if” we had the ability to succeed until we begin to “feel as if” we can succeed. If we persist at changing negative behaviours to positive one’s we will begin to see improvements in our life circumstances, and with that comes a sense of confidence that we can accomplish more. “Success breads success.”

When I first moved to South Africa in 1993 I met a young girl from Jabulani Soweto named Matsidiso. She was studying for her matric at the time. When she failed the exam she was devastated and wondered if she would ever be able to realise her goals and dreams in life. After a long talk we pinpointed some of the potential reasons for her failure and developed a new study regimen. Matsidiso re-entered high school the following year with a renewed determination to pass.

She increased her study time from two hours a day in front of the TV set to six hours daily and no TV. She also discovered she could get help with her two most difficult courses, math and science, by renting videos and hiring a tutor. In order to raise the money to pay for the tutor she mobilised a group of her classmates to share the cost. They organised tutorial sessions at the school on Saturdays and public holidays sacrificing time for social activities. In 1995, the following year, she defied the odds and passed her exam with an exemption putting her in the top 5% of her class. Two years later she was accepted into the law program at Wits University and in 2001 her dream of travelling abroad was realised when she became the only black South African accepted into the Camp America program.

Matsidiso’s school had no science laboratory to carry out experiments and the math teacher was deemed to be incompetent and replaced at the end of the school year. There were no windows, doors or heat in the school building and students needed a blanket to keep warm in the winter. Without the drive to succeed she may have accepted her circumstances and became another casualty of the “poor educational system” of the time. And although she may not have initially believed that all these additional hours of studying would ultimately land her at Wits University and enable her to travel abroad, she decided to “act as if” it would and it did. Her self-esteem increased and she now has the confidence to meet even greater challenges and overcome the obstacles along her journey through life.

Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes;” to feel what they are feeling and see things from their perspective. Daniel Goleman says listening is the key to empathy.

Asking a friend who disagrees with you to “help me understand” why she disagrees with you, and then listen to what she has to say, shows you are genuinely concerned about what she thinks and how she feels. This minimises the potential for conflict and maximises the potential for us to gain trust and respect from workmates, friends and family. The more I understand why you see things differently from me the more likely I am to come closer to your view of the truth. The more willing I am to come closer to your view the more likely you are to compromise and come closer to mine. In this way we find common ground and possibly discover a new truth based on the new knowledge and understanding we have acquired from each other.

This was the case with Sipho and his girlfriend Beauty. Beauty’s willingness to listen to Sipho’s story about his childhood experience with his mother enabled her to understand more clearly why he was upset about what happened. With this new knowledge of his background she was able to “put herself in his shoes, ” empathise with him, see the issue from his perspective and discover a new truth. Sipho was also able to compromise on his own view of the truth and come closer to Beauty’s view by agreeing to be more flexible on her need to stop by his house from time to time on her way home from work. There was no conflict between the two and their trust and respect for each other grew as a result of the experience.

At work, managers are able to gain the trust of their workforce by listening and showing empathy. Some managers make the mistake of thinking they can completely separate human emotion from the working environment. Emotions are an integral part of what makes us human and when managers ignore this, their organisation suffers losses in productivity and profitability. Its competitive position is ultimately compromised.

At South West Airlines former president and CEO Herb Kelleher said one of the most important aspects of his job was making sure the people who work for him feel “loved, respected and well cared for.” In fact, South West became known for
saying it is the “airline that love built.” Showing people you care about them is central to job satisfaction. In his book, “The Service Profit Chain,” Harvard Professor Earl Sasser shows how job satisfaction is key to worker productivity, customer loyalty and profitability. His research proves that organisations cannot sustain high levels of customer satisfaction with unsatisfied employees.

Empathy and listening to employees and customers form the foundation of the South West organisational culture and its competitive edge. Listening to employees and responding to their needs has led the airline to be sighted as one of the ten best places to work in the United States with the highest rate of employee retention in the industry. The high level of satisfaction has enabled South West to lead the industry in worker productivity. In addition, South West was the only major US airline to return to profitability in the fourth quarter of 2001 after the September 11 World Trade Centre terrorist attack.

Social Skills:
According to Daniel Goleman, “social skills is friendliness with a purpose; moving people in the direction you desire.”

Your ability to build strong relationships at home and at work is based on your social skills. And the more diverse your knowledge and experience, the easier it will be for you to establish the relationships that ultimately lead to happiness at home and success at work.

Years ago I was shy and had difficulty striking up conversations and socialising freely with others. Over time I realised that the one key to getting a conversation started with a stranger or acquaintance was to identify something I had in common with that person and talk about it. The greater and more diverse my knowledge and experience was, the easier it became for me to socialise. So I set a goal to read more, travel and broaden my experience.

As a sport I took up running, biking and weight training. At a presentation to an executive team of one of the large South African mining companies I was able to win the trust and respect from an executive named Rudy who was obviously not enthused with what I had to say about Leadership. During the lunch break I decided to use my social skills and sit next to him in the hopes of gaining his respect. At one point the topic of the Comrades Marathon came up and I indicated that I was training for a shorter marathon (42km) and ultimately wanted to run in the Comrades race. Rudy perked up and indicated he had run over 15 Comrades Marathons and was also a tri-athlete. I began asking him questions about how he trained and what advice he would give a novice like myself. By the time lunch was over Rudy gave me his business card and told me not to hesitate to call him if I needed some support in developing my training program. That afternoon Rudy was one of the most active participants in the workshop.

So what was the difference? We found “common ground” and it was there that we could easily socialise and begin establishing a relationship. Although I may never know why Rudy was so reluctant to embrace me the important thing is that he ultimately did and the presentation turned out to be a big success.

The common ground I am able to find with my students and workshop participants varies from one situation to another. On another occasion I was delivering a workshop to a group of young black South Africans in Eskom‘s Leadership Development Program; most under the age of 25. On day one they were all quite energetic but reluctant to take the learning opportunity serious. On the morning of day two, of a four-day course, I began to reveal more things about myself. It was when I spoke about my experience of being initiated into the Khuzwayo clan through the traditional Zulu ceremony known as Umsebenzi and given the name Nkosinathi Khuzwayo that they really became excited. One of the comments was “why didn’t you tell us you were one of us when we first started?”

“One of us” was the comment that really stood out for me. They embraced me because they found common ground between us. From that moment until the end of the workshop they called me by my Zulu name, Nkosinathi. They even went so far as to introduce me to Mrs. Qwabe, one of the secretaries in the training centre, who they said was my sister. In Zulu culture the Khuzwayo’s and Qwabe’s are said to be like cousins bound by historical experiences that brought the two clans together. Had I not embraced the opportunity to get to know Zulu people and their culture it would have been much more difficult to establish a relationship with that group of young black South Africans. Again, the workshop was a huge success and all the participants indicated that it was the most valuable course they took in the Leadership Development Program.

I was able to use that experience to help the workshop participants see how they could use the Circular Truth as a tool as they worked to develop their leadership skills. In that example, the group was not prepared to open their minds to the knowledge available to them because of a preconceived notion that because I was so “different from them” I could not understand them and hence could not teach them much. They learned that every time they meet someone who is different and may have different views of the world and come from different cultures they must open their minds and say “help me understand” what you know that I don’t know.” Knowledge is Power and the more of it I have the more power I have to tell right from wrong, good from bad and truth from “non-truth.” Empathy also comes in to play here for if I was not genuinely concerned about the development of that group I would not have been able to gain their trust and respect. Showing people you care and that you are willing to “put yourself in their shoes” is central to building social skills.

But this is not always enough to avoid potentially explosive situations with tempers flaring, fists flying and at times people dying. This is when managing conflict and emotions becomes a key social skill.

For example, on occasion I come across people in my workshops and lectures that are resistant to my message before they even know what it is. This is generally based on some preconceived notion, or stereotype, they have of me. In a lecture at Milpark Business School on diversity one of my students, Johan, commented, “every time I hear the term African American it makes my blood boil! Black Americans are not African. Most have never been to Africa and they know very little about Africa!”

How should I respond to that comment as a lecturer, who is also African American? In only one way, “help me understand why you see it that way Johan” was my response. His truth is obviously different from mine, and most African Americans. Perhaps he has a point that I have not considered. Perhaps there is a lesson I can learn here. This is what makes the Circular Truth so powerful. I no longer have to argue my point of view. I do not need to convince Johan that he is wrong and I am right. That is no longer my goal. The goal now is to gain greater understanding of why Johan feels the way he does and help him to understand why I feel the way I do. Hopefully the two views will come closer together even if we can’t come to a common understanding.

The lecture was not an appropriate forum to debate this issue given the time constraints but we did share our views and their origin. Johan’s view was based on an experience he had with an African American he met that offended several years ago. His father also had strong feelings on the issue and influenced his views.

My view was based on growing up in the U.S. in a highly politicised and racially polarised community. My “Zulu brother”, Buthle Khuzwayo, also believes I am not an African American. In his eyes I am now a Zulu American. Today I am quite content simply calling myself a Human Being from the planet Earth. That pretty much simplifies the issue and makes all of us humans brothers and sisters. In the end, we “agreed to disagree” and that was ok. The students benefited from seeing how easy it is to avoid conflict by simply not getting defensive and saying “help me understand” even when the two parties can’t agree on one point of view.

But this is not so easy if I take Johan’s comments as a personal attack and respond aggressively or defensively. How I respond is to a large extent based on my own self-awareness, self-control and self-esteem. Our earlier discussion on self beliefs and it’s effect on our behaviour and the choices we make can also help us to further clarify the importance of the circular truth in improving social skills. Here, it is once again appropriate to consider the research of Will Schutz on self-esteem and self-beliefs. Let me give you another example.

A workshop participant, Jan, in one of my LEAD courses spoke of his long held desire to drive a truck. As a child he was fascinated by trucks and dreamed of having his own one-day. In one of the workshop exercises participants are asked to present a “personal collage” to the group using pictorials that express who they are and what they value. When Jan made his collage presentation the first thing he spoke of was a striking magazine picture of a Mac Truck. Before he could get ten words out of his mouth he was overwhelmed with emotion and had to pause for a moment to compose himself before continuing. The group of twelve were so moved by what he had to say I had to pass a box of tissues around to soak up the tears of compassion we were all feeling for Jan at that moment.

He related a story of when he was a young boy telling his father he wanted to be a truck driver when he grew up. As he told us this story the tears streamed down his face. “That’s a Kaffir’s job and I don’t ever want to hear you say that again” his father responded. That was the last time Jan ever dared to mention to his father he wanted to drive a truck. In fact, he had never spoke of this incident to anyone before the LEAD course. This was the childhood experience that caused him to feel incompetent and unlikable. He ultimately came to believe about himself what his father taught him; “I’m not smart enough to determine what I want to do with my life “and” you probably won’t like me if you knew I wanted to be a truck driver.” So it is not surprising that Jan developed a low self-esteem. The gap between who he wanted to be (a truck driver) and who he was (a clerk) was huge, and he hated himself for it. The resulting behaviour was one of anger, aggression and defensiveness.

If anyone said anything to Jan that conflicted with what he thought was right or wrong he was prepared to argue and even fight to prove his point. Instead of seeing the difference of opinion as an opportunity to learn he took it as a personal attack. Because he had such a low self-esteem it was important for him to always be right.

If I have a positive self-image and am close to being the type of person I want to be than it’s ok if I’m wrong. Being wrong doesn’t necessarily make me stupid. In Jan’s case, his father made him feel like something was wrong with him for wanting to drive a truck. Jan’s way of coping with this was to shy away from building relationships. Not socialising with people and never telling anyone what he really thought or how he really felt was the behaviour or choice he made. He could avoid the hurt and pain of rejection by never opening up to a loved one. Deep down he felt “if I am not close to you, you cannot reject me the way my father did.”

He could avoid the humiliation and embarrassment of being wrong by either not making decisions or defending himself when someone suggested he had made a mistake. Again, by defending himself Jan could avoid the feelings of embarrassment and humiliation he experienced in his relationship with his father as a child. It is important to recognise here that what Jan is feeling in the present is directly related to what he felt as a child. He must make that connection before he is able to control the way he acts on those feelings.

Once Jan became aware of the impact his childhood relationship with his father has made on his life as an adult he decided to change. He realised that he was angry with his father and blamed him for robbing a young boy of his dream. This anger and bitterness spilled over into Jan’s other relationships to such an extent that he no longer felt he could trust anyone and had “no friends.” Once Jan became aware that his life was miserable because of the “choices” he made based on “past experiences” he was able to “control” his behaviour and make different choices. He began to open up more and make himself more approachable. He focused on arguing less and “listening more.” Ultimately the positive feedback he received boosted his self-esteem and he became more sociable. His social skills actually improved. Will Schutz comments that “it is my experience of doing and being something I formerly did not feel capable of that leads me to feel increased self-esteem.”

Significant Emotional Events (SEE) also affects our social skills and the degree to which I am open or closed. Some of the more common SEEs mentioned in the LEAD course are divorce or the break up of a close intimate relationship, the death of a loved one and being a victim of a traumatic crime such as rape, car hijacking or a robbery.

A workshop participant named Jackie commented one day, “I’ll never trust another man” after she found her boyfriend, Joey, in bed with another women. Five years later Jackie found that she had not been able to establish a meaningful intimate relationship. She realised that her experience with Joey was causing her not to trust men in general so she was reluctant to socialise with them at parties and social functions. Once she became aware of this she was able to greet each guy she met with an open mind and not blame him for what Joey did.

In another workshop a participant named Sibongile learned that she was “distant, cold” and a very “closed” person. This came out in the feedback exercise called “SOPI” or “Significant-Other Perception Inventory.” In this exercise participants give 14 SOPI forms to friends, family and workmates asking for their feedback on how they see the participant. The consistent message to Sibongile was that she seemed to “keep a distance” between herself and others. Even her boyfriend said “I hardly know you after two years” of dating. When she made her presentation to the group on this feedback Sibongile broke down in tears. She couldn’t speak for almost 30 minutes. I had to take a break from the workshop to give her time to sort through her feelings. When we returned from the break she was able to speak. This is what she said:

“During the Soweto uprising and the years that followed many of my friends were being killed by the security police. I found myself going to funerals almost every week and every week there was another friend or family member being buried. It was so painful I decided I would never allow myself to go through anything like this again. I felt if I never allow myself to get close to anyone I’d never experience the pain of loosing someone I love.”

What’s interesting is that this pain had been buried for so long Sibongile was not even aware of what she was doing or why. In other words, the feedback and the LEAD experience helped her increase her awareness of her behaviour. After some serious introspection and soul searching she made the connection to what had happened 20 years ago and her behaviour today. Then she decided to change.

A year later I received a call from Sibongile thanking me for helping her to see how to change her life for the better. She was engaged to be married and happier than she had ever been. She changed positions in her organisation to one that was more suited to her “new self” and was using the skills she learned in LEAD to help others see how they could improve the quality of their lives. She was far more friendly and open and her social circle was expanding. She is now looked up to as a leader in both her personal and professional lives.

In the case of Sibongile we can clearly see that knowledge about self gives us the power to tell the truth about who we really are and how we really feel. This is the first step to increasing our social skills and building strong relationships.

Knowledge + ACTION = Power:
Over the years through my experience lecturing and facilitating workshops I have come up with several things we can do to boost our chances of improving the quality of our personal and professional lives. Knowledge is Power only when we act on what we know. Knowledge without action is dead. At times Action means we must take risks and that requires courage. Following are some of the things that you may want to consider using in your quest for success and happiness.

The first and most important thing when increasing self-awareness is to ask for feedback. Knowledge of how others see us, and acting upon that knowledge gives us the power to tell the truth about our performance at work. Try the following:

At Work:

? Ask your boss, subordinates and colleagues what you are doing well and what you can do better. Do this regularly. I do it after every meeting with a client or potential client and during and after every workshop. This can be done at monthly departmental meetings and by using 360-feedback performance evaluation.

? Formal or informal employee satisfaction surveys are another way of getting feedback.

? Establish a culture of giving and receiving feedback and observe the guidelines for giving and receiving feedback.

When giving feedback, give it in the spirit of caring, directly to the person concerned and in a timely manner, the good and the bad and focus on the individuals behaviour (i.e. what they did) not the person (i.e. who they are), and at a time when they are most receptive to it (not when you know they are having a bad day.

When receiving feedback the only appropriate comments are “thank you for your feedback.” You may also ask questions for clarification if the feedback is unclear and for examples the feedback if you are still not sure what the giver of the feedback is trying to say.

At Home:

? At the end of every month have a monthly “House Meeting” where everyone in the family comes together over a meal. Each family member must take turns saying what has gone well for them and what could have gone better for them in the house. Again, it is important to observe the guidelines for giving and receiving feedback. It is also important to focus on the positives and not turn this into the monthly “complaints meeting.” Family members should become comfortable thanking each other for support or help they’ve received from one another and complimenting each other on achievements at work, in school and extracurricular activities. It is also important to use the words “I love you.” Why is it so hard for us to tell our loved ones we love them? Do it often while they are alive and you won’t regret not having done so after they’ve passed away. Hugs and kisses should follow giving a family member praise. Frequent expressions of emotion and compassion in a relationship are like water and sun to roses in your garden. Without it the rose does not blossom and remains no more than a prickly bush.

? Prior to the House Meeting it is also a good idea to have a “Lover’s Meeting.” Carve out an evening with your partner to give each other feedback on how you are both feeling about the relationship; what you are doing well and how you can make it better. In the beginning the discussions may be focused more on what could be done better since you are new to this. But over time, with a concerted effort from both partners, things will begin to improve and you will find that there will be fewer and fewer problems in the relationship.

Self Control:
Loosing one’s temper or patience is one of the most common problems discussed in my workshops. No wonder there is so much road rage. I see it almost on a daily basis. Some of the solutions for controlling anger are:

? Take a deep breath when you get angry and count to ten. Take another deep breath. Marshal arts like Tai Chi focus on breathing as a means to good health in both mind and body. You will be amazed at how breathing deeply brings a feeling of calm over you and relaxes your body. Do it now. Focus on the area of your stomach beneath your belly button and breath deeply. Do it again. Take notice of the tensed up muscles in your body and relax them. One more time; deeply. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself on your favourite beach or travel destination. Can you feel the difference?

In my lifetime I’ve experienced low motivation for two reasons. I am either not interested in what I am doing (i.e. I’m in a job I really don’t enjoy) or I am suffering with a low self-esteem. To build motivation or drive to succeed try the following:

? Think of your current position in your organisation and ask yourself, “is this really what I want to do?” If the answer is yes fine. If it is no, then you must begin to look for other opportunities in your organisation. When I was at Otis Elevator Company in the HR department my primary job was in management recruiting. Although I didn’t really mind recruiting what I really wanted to do was training. So I had lunch with one of the training managers and expressed my interest in training and offered to help out in my spare time. To make time I often found myself working on my primary responsibilities as late as 22:00 or 23:00. I went to the library and began reading up on the types of training they were doing; team empowerment at the time. At one of their strategy meetings they were quite impressed with my “knowledge” of the subject. The opportunity came when they needed someone to facilitate a workshop and asked me if I could be available. Because my work was always of a high quality my boss said no problem and that was the beginning of my training career.

? Self-esteem is also a cause of low or high motivation. Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can you’re right. If you think you can’t you are also right.” If my self-esteem is low than I generally think I can’t which means I don’t try or don’t try very hard. So what must I do? You got it! I must try harder. You must not give up until you succeed and “success breads success.”

? Success begins one step at a time. Don’t try and change or do everything at one time. Focus on one thing at a time. If you don’t succeed the first time don’t get depressed. Tell yourself “I can do this.” Think about what you can do better and try again.

Listening and trying to see things from another person’s perspective is the key to becoming more empathetic. So how do I do this? Try the following:

? Call a friend or loved one or get together with them and tell them how much you appreciate their friendship and how much they mean to you. Ask them how they are doing and listen. Don’t give advice if they are talking about a problem. Rather paraphrase (repeat what they have said to you in your own words) what they are saying to make sure you understand and ask questions that will help them to clarify what the root cause of their problem is. Also ask questions that get them to focus on the possible solutions. You can share some of your own similar experiences with them to help them think through possible solutions but most important you must listen which means you are not talking much. When they are finished say “I love you” and tell your friend she should feel free to call you anytime she needs to talk.

? Say I’m sorry when you’ve upset a friend and ask that friend to forgive you; even when you think you were right. Remember, the Truth is relative. Tell your friend how much his friendship means to you and if you love that friend then say “I love you.”

? When someone disagrees with you say “help me understand” why you see it differently and then listen. Listening means you are not “loading your guns” preparing to shoot down your opponents argument while they are talking. Listening means you are genuinely trying to see their point of view always keeping the possibility in mind that you may change your mind regarding your own view. In other words you may be WRONG and that is ok too. If you are wrong or can change your view based on the conversation thank the person for helping you to see the situation more clearly. Also listen with your heart. Try and feel what the other person is feeling, especially when you disagree.

Social Skills:
In many ways social skill is an art. It is the art of building relationships and your ability to do this improves only with practice. This means you must be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. I have found the following ideas helpful in my own quest for building relationships:

? Be observant and compliment people. Here you must be genuine. Don’t tell a friend her hair looks nice when she knows she’s having a bad hair day. But if you notice her new shoes and how the colours match her purse and how her earrings are coordinated with her necklace and hair pin that will certainly put a smile on her face. People like to be complimented when they look good or when they have done something special. Remember when you were a kid and your parents, teacher, athletic coach or friend of the family told you what a good job you did at something and how good it felt? Well guess what? It still feels good and people like to be around people who help them to feel good about themselves.

? Be observant and notice what people like. Then give it to them. If I invite you to my house for dinner and serve you my favourite red wine, Morgenhoff Merlot Reserve 1998 and you have the same wine at your house when you invite me over for dinner how do you think I am going to feel? I’m going to be feeling as happy as a boy who just met Santa Clause on Christmas day with a bag full of toys. Find out what people want and give it to them. This is what we call the Platinum Rule. Treat people the way they want to be treated not the way you want to be treated.

? When you meet someone for the first time use what I call the “interview technique.” Most people don’t mind talking about them selves so if you ask questions that begin with “so where are you from and what is it like there” you have the basis for beginning a conversation. The more questions you ask the more information you will get about that person and the easier it will be for you to make a connection. You are trying to find “common ground.” Once you find common ground the conversation will flow naturally. Common ground could be a common interest in sports, health, music, books, art, movies, fashion, work or a number of other things. We often have more in common with people we meet than we think and that is because so few of us take the time to get to know each other.

? Smile and have a sense of humour. Most people love to be around the person with a positive attitude and a pleasant smile versus the person who is always upset, angry or depressed. Learn a few jokes that you can tell to lighten up the mood. Don’t take yourself to serious and also learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes or do something “stupid.”

? Receive feedback in a positive way. Always apologise when you do something wrong or hurt someone and don’t make excuses.

? Find “Win-Win” situations in your professional and personal relationships. By always asking myself “what’s in it for you” as well as me, I develop the habit of satisfying the needs of others. If I can satisfy your needs you will enjoy my company and our relationship is more likely to flourish.

There are hundreds and even thousands of strategies for success you can come up with on your own and also by brainstorming ideas with family and friends. My ideas are only the “tip of the iceberg.” Feel free to try them out and if they don’t work for you try something different. The most important thing is to “do something now!” There is no substitute for action. Good luck on your journey and may you always be blessed with love, health, wisdom and prosperity.