Wednesday, October 18, 2006


What is one quality which if you improve, even by a small margin, will provide such a leverage that you reap benefits multifold?

Approachability. Sounds strange? If so, think how you feel when you have to approach some people with a request or a rebuttal. Tight knots in the stomach. Sleepless nights. What about some other people? Delighful.You look forward to meeting them even if you have to have a show-down on a issue. Now, you know that subtle thing which makes approaching certain people easy and enjoyable and others not. That is approachability.

Some people are naturally predispositioned to be approachable. They are cheerful. That shows in their words and in body language. Always welcoming. No hostility. Understanding. We pour our hearts out when we are with such people. Their biggest challenge is to make sure that people do not inadvertently misuse their goodness.

Many of us do not come across as naturally approachable. But, this is something we can change to a large extent regardless of how we look or how people see us. External features matter only to some extent as far as others determine our approachability.

You know, experts stress a lot on body language. We can mask our words, our facial expressions and other body  tell-tale clues. But, experts say body language is very hard or impossible to manipulate. It just broadcasts how your body (holistic and subtle) feel at any given moment. Body language is the strongest language and people are influenced mostly by it. So, if we can make our body language natural then we can manage how people perceive us.

But, body language can not be controlled. We just observe rd that. Then? But, you can think right thoughts and thoughts drive the feelings and feelings drive the body language.

Right thoughts for approachability are to always welcome people and interactions with them. Desire to connect with others is the strongest instinct we have. We may have tried to erode it for whatever reason such as privacy, solitude, family etc. etc. But, that instinct is already there. Just clean up the mess on it and it will glitter and that welcoming glitter shines all over you. Once you do that, you become naturally approachable.

Another way to keep the body language natural and neutral is to listen with full attention. Listen to understand and not respond. If we listen for a fraction of a second and then immediately start thinking how to respond, then our thoughts focus on the response and our body language becomes defensive even if we are nodding and trying to act as understanding. The other person notices it and feels uncomfortable that your approachability is decreasing.

Many people think acting unapproachable frees them from people asking for help, accommodations , adjustments etc. This is a sure recipe for career disaster. Despite your importance in your organization, none of us are God's  gift to humanity. People can get their work done with or without us. They may undergo some hardship without our direct help. But, they surely will get their work done. When more and more people work around your less than superb approachability, you are doomed. You are ignored and your days in that company are numbered for sure.

Another detriment to approachability is to treat every communication as objective and frank. It is not the message which offends or pisses people off. It's the way it is communicated. How often we have not received a terse e-mail from a coworker who either rejected our request or was  curt in refuting our theory etc. We feel much hurt at what we felt about the delivery of the message than what was rejected or refuted. Over the time we get over with it.But, people who think they are objective in communication, sooner or later realize that objectivity without enough sensitivity is worse than no objectivity at all. Of course, "trying to please everyone is the sure way to failure". We can deny someone's point but can do it as gently as possible without hurting anyone's feelings.

How do we say 'No' or 'disagree' without hurting feelings? First do not e-mail on sensitive subjects. Speak in person, speak in private. If not, call, Try some such direct means before firing off an e-mail. E-mail comes without context. It may be read when the person is in a bad mood and what not. IMO, more relationships become victims of miscommunication than anything else.

Stop by his or her place, take the person out, make appropriate and gentle body contacts and explain in clear clam voice. The person may still be pissed off. But, he would not feel that way with you. Then if you want for your records, send an e-mail with the summary.

Objective, frank, honest, no-nonsense communication has been taken too far by insensitive people. Do not fall into that trap. People can rude, abrasive, discourteous and still get somewhere for sometime. But, when they fall, they fall so badly that they may get seriously or fatally injured. All of us fall from time to time. Don't we? Then, does it not make sense to have a safety net? All this approachability that we built painstakingly is our safety net. When a manager is let go from a place, go and watch how people feel? If they are secretly enjoying, you know how approachable the person was. IF they feel bad for the person, these people may leave the company to work for this manager wherever he may start working.

You know, someone said it best. All these niceties, civilities are like the air in the car tire. Right amount makes the ride smooth. Not developing approachability is like driving an automobile with high strength steel wheel. Sure you can go for long without wheels suffering too much. But, your body will hurt so much due to all the rattle that you probably end your journey before 50 miles.

So choice is yours. Be nice or else?


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