An Ode to Wise Words From Ian Tuhovsky on Improving Communication Skills at Work and Otherwise

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Ian Tuhovsky’s Communication Skills book is more than the quotes on this page. He mentions tips and tricks for effective networking, creating a unique personality in business, remembering names, giving a great presentation, and so on. But more than all the how-tos, it’s his need for us to understand our fellow humans better, which truly resonated with me. He wants us to acknowledge the fact that everyone has a different mental model uniquely formed by their own experiences and that it’s not fair to judge them through our personal filters. Only a deeply empathetic person can write this way.

The most intriguing part of the book to me was his take on reading people’s eye movements to analyze their thoughts better. I have never tried it out, so I can’t really say for sure if it holds true. As we all know, non-verbal communication speaks as much (if not more) as verbal. By keenly observing others, we can improve our communication skills.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, stories, and thoughts from the book. They provide a lot of insight into how and why we need to communicate in a certain way at work or in our personal lives to achieve desired results.

We all are programmed to give and receive love, fulfilling our needs at the same time. When someone is not doing that and behaving in a way we don’t like, it’s not natural. They’re probably suffering and that’s what makes them hurt other people. The reason for that is they just don’t get it. They don’t have the skillset to cope with the situation, they don’t have the right tools or they don’t know how to use them. Very often, when you change your perspective, the things you look at literally change.

When you accept and understand it, you notice that every human being has a different map of the world. Eventually you’ll come to the realization that every person on this planet has different life experiences, different beliefs, different values and expectations. Interpretation of the same information may be completely different when made by different people. There is no one objective truth. Everyone is right according to their own map of the world.

What people say to you—it’s about them. When you say anything, it’s about you. It reflects who you are. It’s all about the way we are perceiving the events, the reality.

Anything people say to you doesn’t have any meaning except for the meaning you give it.

Our brain does not really recognize negations—a proposition not to think about pink elephants will end up with failure, because what you hear (despite the negation), the brain will process anyway. Next time, when someone tells you, “I do not want to get at you, but…” you will know that they most probably want to get at you. Instead of saying to your employee: “Don’t respond to a customer that way,” explain how exactly you want that person to respond. Rule number three: what you say must be positively formulated.

When someone isn’t seemingly very intelligent and has never acted too smart in many areas of life according to your opinion, then you can’t really transplant their brain, can you? However, what you CAN do is refer to their behaviors, because these—as opposed to inborn capabilities or personality traits—are quite easy to change. Additionally, it’s much harder to offend someone when relating only to their behavior. Instead of, “You are stupid,” say: “When you go to meet your client next time, please read much more about their company so you really know what you are talking about, okay?” Instead of, “You are so intelligent!” it’s sometimes better to say: “When you expressed your opinion about that book yesterday, it was so immersive and well-detailed, you really inspired me to read it!”

The problem is that when someone thinks they have done something wrong, they will not have the opportunity to empathize with your pain. They will allocate all of their energy into defending themselves. Therefore, there is no point in blaming others when we feel bad. It makes no sense at all on a practical level of reason. If we want to solve the matter constructively, we have to allow that person to understand what is going on inside of us, how we really feel. To express your anger wisely, it is worth it to restrain yourself from throwing swear words, plates, cutlery and photo frames.

The mere act of smiling, even artificially, causes the release of endorphins in the brain. Activity of the muscles responsible for smiling is so strongly associated with our well-being that it works both ways. So if you want to feel better in a second, just smile a couple of times, even if you do not have the desire to. Try it yourself, even now.

You should never look people in the eyes for more than seven seconds, non-stop. It’s a typical communication-newbie mistake, kind of a creepy thing to do, even though we’ve been conditioned to look people in the eyes in our Western culture. Also, remember not to open your eyes too wide (the same thing, sign of aggression…or psychosis).

Don’t treat people the way you like to be treated, treat them the way THEY want to be treated. That’s a big rapport take-away to remember!

In his book Introducing NLP, Joseph O’Connor writes: “A good speaker forms his message the way it fits the other person’s world. He uses language compatible with their metaprograms, changing the shape of information in advance and making sure that they will be able to understand it easily.”