Communication Skills | Relationship Advice


as•sess: 1. to determine the meaning, significance, or value of something. 2. to evaluate the pros and cons of a challenging situation in order to decide on an effective strategy for success. 3. as it applies to this book, the ability to observe and then determine the type of situation that you're about to face so that you can act in the most appropriate manner.

You're One More Step Closer To Unleashing The Winner Within! People often jump into conversations with little regard for the context or circumstances of the situation. However, it's not normally appropriate to be the funny man or woman at a funeral. It's also not a great idea to be the most somber person at a 4th of July celebration. One of your main objectives as a master communicator will be to assess situations accurately before launching yourself into any conversation. That way, you'll converse in an appropriate manner no matter what the state of affairs is.

Peyton Manning is the All-Pro quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts NFL (National Football League) football team. Manning set a record in 2006 for the most seasons with 4,000+ yards passing --- an amazing seven. His success as a quarterback has earned him several awards including the NFL's Most Valuable Player, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, and the 2007 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.

To watch Peyton Manning direct his team on a touchdown drive is a thing of beauty for football enthusiasts. More than any other NFL quarterback in recent history, Manning is particularly adept at assessing an opponent's defense and changing an offensive play at the last moment. Opposing defensive teams know that whatever they do to stifle the offense of the Indianapolis Colts will likely be met with smart split-second adjustments made by quarterback Peyton Manning.

Whether you're a quarterback playing in the National Football League or someone about to engage in a conversation with another person, it's important to assess a situation carefully before launching into your plan of action. When your assessments are accurate, the actions that you take will have a better chance of succeeding in any field of endeavor.


Doing a poor job of assessing a situation can lead to some embarrassing behavior which people will always remember you for.

I recall the day when my brother, Glen, got married to Ellen. My family is of Japanese decent while Ellen's family is of Chinese decent. For those of you who are not very familiar with these cultures, I'll mention that there has always been a long-standing and sometimes bitter rivalry between our two ethnic groups. As a result of this rivalry, Glen's "China vs. Japan" wedding was especially significant to my older relatives. I remember my Aunt Elsie pulling me aside to make a point of telling me to behave myself so that I wouldn't embarrass our clan. Evidently, my reputation as a silly cut-up was not something that my Aunt Elsie wanted me to bring to this landmark social occasion.
After a traditional Chinese wedding, an informal reception was held in the afternoon primarily for the benefit of friends and business associates of Glen and Ellen. Later that evening, a more formal dinner party had been scheduled for close family members. As a member of the wedding party, I was chosen to sit at the head table with my brother's in-laws. Glen's in-laws and extended family are influential members of the Chinese-American community in the East Bay area of Northern California, so my brother was hoping (or more likely, praying) that I would make a good first impression at this formal dinner.

Unfortunately, I didn't assess the situation very well at the time and thought of the wedding reception as a fun time to drink a lot and party. When the first course of the reception dinner was being served, I started grabbing the food with my hands and eating. Glen shot me a quick look and said, "Steve, would you please wait for everyone else!" Not only was it rude of me to eat before anyone else, but according to Chinese tradition it's particularly disrespectful to the elders in a family. It didn't occur to me at the time that Glen was fearful that my embarrassing behavior might cause his influential in-laws to think that our family had no class or even further that Japanese-American people in general didn't have any class either.

While my display of poor manners and inebriated state might have earned me some polite laughter, I lost the allimportant and more highly-valued respect of Glen's new inlaws. To this day, the relationship between the two families is only civil at best and my behavior at the wedding dinner party certainly didn't help matters. At least I didn't make matters worse at that dinner table by asking my brother's new father-in-law in my native Southern California surfer dialect, "Dude! How gnarly was that Peking Duck?"

The lesson here is to choose the proper social behavior for whatever occasion you find yourself in. That way, you'll build your key relationships correctly from the start with the ideal mix of admiration and respect. Sometimes, all the apologizing in the world can't make people forget about one poor assessment that results in inappropriate behavior for an important situation.


Sizing up situations is something I'm sure you already do in certain cases. For instance, don't you sometimes assess an upcoming occasion, such as a friend's party, to determine what type of clothes to wear? Well, we should make a similar kind of evaluation in deciding what type of communication style to use, as well. By doing some smart research beforehand, you can avoid wearing the wrong outfit as well as communicating in an inappropriate and potentially embarrassing manner for an important occasion.

To help you gain more skill in assessing social situations, here are key questions to sharpen your awareness:

Who exactly are you dealing with? Sometimes you will already be aware of someone's reputation or history, and this will give you clues for your interaction. Other times, you'll have to do some research in order to attain more precise background about who you're about to converse with. But in most situations, you will also have to seek first to understand how other people are feeling or thinking at a particular moment. Once you've gained a firm grasp of where people are coming from, you can adjust your conversation in a manner that is more suitable for the others involved.

How many people will be participating? The basic rule here is to allow about equal "talking time" for each individual in the conversation. So as a general guideline, if there are four people in the conversation, then each person should have ample opportunity to speak for about one-fourth of the time. When one person monopolizes a conversation, it's guaranteed to annoy the other people who don't get a fair chance to share. Just because other people in a group conversation don't speak up, doesn't mean that they want you to keep talking.

How much time do you have to talk? Sometimes people will be in a hurry and have more pressing matters to handle. These people don't have a lot of time to spend talking with you. If you're unsure about this, ask them politely at the outset, "Do you have a few moments?" That question will give the other person a chance to answer truthfully and they're usually appreciative of this considerate action. Oftentimes, people will enter into a conversation out of politeness before they realize that it's going to take more time than they initially anticipated.

Where and when are you interacting? There are certain places that are not conducive to talking for any length of time. Examples of this would be locations that are too cold, dark, noisy, crowded, busy, or uncomfortable in any way. In these environments, it's better to simply say "hello" and let the other person know that you'd love to talk to them under better circumstances. The same applies to the time of day. If the time is either very early or very late, you will probably want to check with the other person to see if it's okay to talk at length.

What activity will you be doing? The activity that surrounds your conversation will often determine whether it will be a formal or informal occasion. Certain activities will lean more towards being informal, like those centered on recreation and leisure. But other activities that are related to work and career can be more formal in nature. The style you pick for dressing appropriately for an occasion is sometimes a good indicator of how you should approach your conversation as well.

How should you act in a semi-formal occasion? Many people make embarrassing errors of judgment when the activity lies in the gray area between formal and informal. The key here is to separate the dominant behavior from the minor one. Let's say that you're attending a company Christmas party at a nice restaurant. This would be a more formal activity, but there are exceptions when the conversation can be more informal. The important point to remember is that inappropriate behavior at such an event may have negative ramifications towards your career. A classic example would be if you got too drunk at that Christmas party or ran your mouth with foul language in front of your boss. While this party may have been meant for you to have a good time, it didn't mean that anything goes like a wild night with your closest friends in Las Vegas.

How should you act in a semi-casual situation? We have all been in this kind of environment, but have rarely tried to identify it. As a result, we can misjudge the situation and make costly communication and relationship mistakes. An example of this semi-casual situation is when you go to a fun or interesting activity with people who you don't know yet. A lot of people have their guard up initially and it's important that you establish rapport before acting silly, stupid, crazy, quirky, or outrageous. A little bit of formal politeness may earn you some points in the beginning of any new relationship as a sign of respect towards the other person. It's a much safer and wiser way to behave than assuming that anything goes in every situation that appears to be casual in nature.

By sizing up the situation accurately, you will avoid costly mistakes in your communication. That will help you establish a fine reputation for yourself as someone who acts appropriately regardless of the environment, activity, or situation.


Think of a moment in the past when you were guilty of not sizing up the situation properly. Perhaps it was going to an after-hours gathering of co-workers, meeting new people through friends, or engaging in an activity that seemed somewhat foreign to you.

Now from the preceding discussion, pinpoint what caused your error in judgment. Did you overlook or make a wrong judgment about who you were dealing with? Did you fail to factor in how many people were participating, what time of day it was, where you were interacting, or how much time you had to talk? Or was it a simple matter of acting too casual for a formal event or being too formal for a casual event?

"Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied."

Pearl S. Buck Nobel Prize-Winning Author (1892-1973)

The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware during the social situations you face in your life. If you factor in all the variables mentioned in this chapter, it will help you anticipate the proper way to converse so that you can be more effective in all of your relationships with others.


Remember that in order to "talk like a winner" in the broadest sense, you must "assess like a winner" as well. All you have to do is follow a simple and powerful rule: Determine the type of situation you're facing. Once you appreciate the significance of this essential part of successful communication, it's only a matter of playing around with the ideas, practicing with a definite intention, and putting it to the test regularly in your own life until it becomes a natural part of you.

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