Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Exercises in Mastery Part 2: Them

Self-Mastery is the corner stone of success. It gives you control over yourself, instead of you being a passive result of your environment and situations. It is almost a necessary condition before you can achieve mastery over others. As a master who commands respect and exerts meaningful influence, you:
  • carry a certain credibility and respect with the people
  • can easily and quickly build rapport
  • are a master of empathy, which together with rapport, helps connect with people  
  • can steer people’s thoughts and emotions in a productive direction
  • instinctively know what to say, when to say, and how to say something to make an impact, and equally important, you also know when you remain silent  
  • pull together different people and align them towards a common goal
  • can help your friends, family and colleagues realize their full potential

This Mastery over Them happens in three dimensions:
  1. Coaching, to help people realize their best
  2. Communicating, to make sure the messages sent and received are as desired, and
  3. Collaborating, to maximize the effectiveness of a group of people working together

Let’s explore each of these dimensions and look at some of the activities and exercises you could do to build mastery in each of these. As with the previous part, these exercises are not prescriptive but meant to demonstrate possibilities. It is up to you if you want to customize them or do them as suggested.


In an earlier article on Coaching, I defined it as “…a forward looking, co-creative process where the coach helps fully realize an able coachee's potential towards a well defined goal”. I strongly encourage you to go through the article to understand what is coaching, as I won’t cover its meaning here.

Coaching is not one skill, but several skills applied in certain impactful manner. And the ability to quickly build rapport is fundamental to all coaching endeavours. Let’s explore it further.

Rapport is a state of understanding, trust and openness between two or more people that “connects” them at a subconscious level. There are several aspects which influence rapport, but they almost invariably lead to “sameness” of one thing or another. For example, you have the same goal, speak the same language, have the same attitude towards a problem, have similar jobs, went to the same school, and so on. Naturally, a way of explicitly establishing rapport would need you to look at similarities between you and the other person. Mirroring (read about it here) is a technique often prescribed to increase rapport, but I believe it is important to understand real, deep, natural commonalities before trying to mirror postures or gestures. Find out as much as possible - which companies or departments did the person work for earlier? What is his favourite pastime? Does he follow sports, and if so, which one? Where do his passions lie? How does he normally like to dress? Food? Fashion? Philosophy? … the list can go on. Look for similarities with yourself- do you follow the same sport? Did you go to the same school? Do your hobbies match? May be, he travels a lot and so do you. Use the knowledge to break ice at the very beginning of any conversation. It establishes instant connect. And then you might use subtle mirroring techniques to enhance or maintain the rapport.

Another important connect-factor is priorities. If you share the same priorities in life or work as the other person, you will build rapport quickly and easily. You may not share all the priorities but you can certainly find some overlap. 

Exercise 1

  1. Think of someone in your professional or personal life with whom you would like to develop better rapport. Could be your demanding client, your tough manager, a difficult colleague, an uncertain boyfriend, or anyone for that matter.
  2. Now, close your eyes and focus on this person. Vividly, imagine him or her present in front of you.
  3. With whatever knowledge you have of this person, think of as many things as possible which might be common between the two of you. You might not be absolutely certain about everything, which is fine.
  4. Think of specific things you would say or do to show the similarity if this person was physically present.
  5. If you know this person well enough, think of specific mannerisms, like the tone of voice, body language, eye contact duration etc.
  6. What can you mirror, without making the person feel awkward or inconvenient? 
  7. Repeat the exercise with more people.
  8. You don’t have to do this every day as a religious routine, but you must do it often enough that it comes naturally to you when you meet someone in a party or a conference


Communication is crucial, and I have seen many people fail just because they couldn't communicate well. Or, well enough. Developing in this area is a lifelong endeavor, no matter how proficient one might get. And, like any skill, you are almost guaranteed to lose your magic touch if you don’t keep doing it. How to improve your communication skills is a very large topic in itself, so I will only touch upon a small but subset. For example, I won't talk about Listening skill, even though it is extremely important for effective communication.
As a speaker or writer, you must take responsibility for successful communication. If the other person misunderstood or misinterpreted something, well, don’t blame them and try to set your delivery straight first. In most scenarios, communication (both written and verbal) has to be
  • Comprehensive: covering all the items you wanted to cover
  • Concise: succinct, to the point
  • Clear: to the receiver, that is. Pay attention to your sentences, to ensure the message will be received as intended. So, pay attention not only to language accuracy, but also to content. For example, you shouldn’t use technical jargon when talking to non-technical people. And don’t use sentences that are too long. And so on
  • Timely: Most of the things you have to say lose their relevance, sometimes even meaning, if you don’t say it in the right time. Sometimes, that time is now. Sometimes, that time is later. But you must make a conscious decision on the timeliness of communication
  • Delivered right: Consider this simple word- “OK”. It could imply different things. Your tonality, and your body language determine if it is interpreted as a positive endorsement, or sarcasm, or even a subtle request for more information. So, pay attention to your non-verbal communication. Similarly, using ALL CAPS in a chat or inappropriate colours in a formal mail could change the way it is received. Pay attention to the “attitude” of your message, as it may alter the impact quite drastically

Exercise 2

  1. Take an email that you had sent to someone recently. Preferably, an important one with substantial content
  2. Critique it based on the above parameters, and any other criteria you deem necessary for effective communication
  3. What changes would you make to it now? Re-write the email (don’t send it, just rewrite it for yourself)
  4. Take another look at the re-written version. Can it be further improved?
  5. Iterate over this, until you are satisfied that the email is as perfect as possible
  6. Do this at regular intervals, using different email each time
  7. If you don’t have emails for this exercise, choose some other form of communication. You could reflect upon a verbal conversation, for example. Or an online chat. Or, a group presentation you made 


Collaboration is more than just working together. It is working together towards a common goal, resourcefully, amicably and keeping each other’s interests in mind. You don’t need to become friends to collaborate. You might disagree with each other. You may not physically sit in the same location, or country even, to collaborate. You just need to find a way to work together, productively and effectively. Effective collaboration is about three things done well:
  1. Clarify objectives, opportunities and challenges among each other
  2. Agree on a process that works for everyone concerned
  3. Communicate early, communicate often

If you don the leadership role of someone responsible for collaboration, then it is up to you to figure out how to get these three done. You also need to build rapport with the concerned people- something I covered earlier in the article.
So, how do you develop this skill? Well, honestly, experience is the best teacher. The more you work with different people, the better you get. But, here is an interesting exercise that I am sure will help:

Exercise 3

  1. Imagine that your task is to cross a deep jungle on foot, going through thick woods, a river and grassland
  2. You need to take three animals with you too- a carnivore (say, a tiger), a herbivore (say, a goat) and a bird (say, a parrot)
  3. Imagine that these are intelligent beings that can think and communicate like humans, but their basic survival instincts and dietary habits are intact
  4. You must ensure that all four of you arrive safely at the end of the jungle
  5. Cages and other physical constraints are not allowed
  6. How will you tame the carnivore’s temptation, the herbivore’s fear and the bird’s instinct to fly away to the destination by itself? What will you tell them? How will you keep checks? What systems will you create to force collaboration? Think creatively, and let your imagination run wild, making this an exciting and interesting game
  7. Repeat the exercise with different kinds of carnivores, herbivores and birds. Even assign human personalities to some of them (say, the goat is meek, a rabbit is clever, while both are herbivores; or an eagle is strong willed and adamant, an owl is wise, while both are birds...and so on)

This exercise is a lot more fun when done in a small group of friends or colleagues. If you can think of ways to make a vicious tiger, a meek-and-meaty goat and a flighty parrot work with you towards a goal, do you think you can now work with your team mates and co-workers, getting them to collaborate better? Once you are done with a couple of exercises, you will feel much more confident. Go on. Have fun. We will discuss mastering the environment next time.

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