The Art of Communications can be learnt scientifically. Dr. Rakesh Godhwani and the Founder of the School of Meaningful Experiences, communications expert, offers a primer on communications that tells you who should learn to communicate better and why. He expands on Online Do’s and Don’ts, the 6 C’s of Success and takeaways for teachers and entrepreneurs.
Dr. Godhwani was formerly Adjunct Faculty of Communication at IIM Bangalore and IIM Udaipur. He talks to Sandhya Mendonca about how anyone can learn to communicate better in Episode 32 of Spotlight with Sandhya.
This interview is a 3-part video that you can watch here.
You can listen to the entire interview as a podcast here.
Sandhya Mendonca Talks with Rakesh Godhwani about Tips for Better Communication by Rakesh Godhwani | Spotlight with Sandhya – Transcribed by Devika A
Sandhya Mendonca: When I first started my company Raintree Media, we had the tagline “Let’s help you express yourself”. My guest today offers to help individuals do that as well. Rakesh Godhwani is a communications expert and the Founder of the School of Meaningful Experiences. Interestingly enough, he moved from a career in the corporate world to teaching.
Welcome to the show, Rakesh. So let’s begin by understanding who should learn to communicate and why?
Rakesh Godhwani: The largest activity human beings do besides breathing is communicating with one another and with themselves. Unfortunately we realise the value of this subject only when we are preparing to go into the corporate world and realising that our marks and the certificates that we spend so much of time on really doesn’t help us get things done. I started to realise this very early on in my life and my career and in my UG program that is one can spend all your time in the library memorising those answers to get marks and the second thing was you could find a way to get your marks set aside and swift through the system using variety of other techniques which are equally important to do in the corporate world. I started to invest a lot of time into reading and connecting with people. I found that a lot more joyful and meaningful experience which helped me shape my thoughts and the way I spoke. When it came to the interview in my final year, I think it was with Wipro. Wipro picks up the brightest students and these students are measured by the marks and the ranks. I was way down in my class but by some quirk of fate I landed in the interview.
The interviewer asked me five questions and I answered all five of them wrong but we had a very good conversation because I was able to ask questions and I was able to connect with this person. He(interviewer) said to me that I was the worst engineer he had seen in his life but I was a person who can handle a conversation with the client and with the colleagues which he finds missing in students because while bringing them into a corporate world they are very good at looking into some engineering problem and trying to solve it but that’s not enough, you have to talk and collaborate and convince others and he thought that I was the person who knows those skills better and he will make me an engineer in one month. This was the revealing fact of my life that there is something called communication which is about connecting with people, expressing yourself, shaping each other’s heart. I started investing more time on this and my career took a very good curve and I was very happy with that.
I started teaching it to others and thoroughly loved it way back in 1999 onwards. I had two jobs and I became like a weekday corporate professional and weekend teacher for anybody who wanted to learn how to speak. Coming to your question, I think this subject is very important in the 21st century because the world will become a very populated place and we are going to grow to 10 billion kind of earth in the next 30 years and technology will bring us together, ideas will be exchanged a lot more faster than what they were 100 years ago. In this dynamic, the ability of a person to think on their feet to connect with the other person, shape their ideas and change their perspective, so that your work gets done is a mission critical skill that everybody must have. In fact, if you ask the world on the top five skills, I won’t be surprised that the ability to communicate would be in those top five skills.
Can you tell us about some of the common misunderstandings that occur due to wrong or improper communication?
Millions of examples. That’s how I have learned and keep learning that this subject is so infinite like an ocean and the recipe exists but then the way the dish comes out and the audience the way they taste that dish and the way the chef has made it are very different. So, there is no guarantee that the same formula will work for everyone, which means you could do everything by the book but then in that room things will go wrong. There was this very interesting episode that I witnessed where people fought with each other just because the tone with which you spoke was a little bit questionable. A simple thing like how you say “What are you doing” can be interpreted in a millions of ways.
When you send an email to a person and emails are the worst forms of communication because the other person can interpret anything they want to. So your intention while typing those words “What are you doing” could be as follows:“What are you doing”(low/soft tone) a way of asking but when the email goes to the other person he will read as “WHAT ARE YOU DOING”(louder tone) and all hell breaks through and people start to justify, this becomes a conflict or becomes a fight and you lose relationships and the work doesn’t get done.
In many instances when I was in and after Wipro, Intel and Qualcomm, before I left and became a teacher, we worked with customers where the customers would understand something because of their culture and the way they thought and we would understand differently and it took us a lot of time. I worked especially with Japanese and Chinese customers and it helped that I was an Indian because the cultures are so similar and I was very close to my American counterparts as well. So, a very simple sentence that ‘sorry we can’t do this’ can be treated so wrongly by the Japanese and Chinese because those cultures can’t hear ‘No’ that easily as compared to a American culture. In America it’s very normal for people to assert themselves but in India, Japan and China we are highly power driven index organisations which means the power must get the ‘yes’ at all times.
So, how you say ‘no’ is an art in itself and I learnt it by saying ‘no’ and getting reprimanded and then somebody taught me that here when you say a better ‘no’ and I picked it up. I think the way you learn this subject is only by mistakes, which is a very classical problem in student life that the way we learn in many countries is by memorising and you cannot memorise communication as there is no one formula you have to just try it, see the feedback and if it works you learn something new and if doesn’t work, you go back to your drawing codes and try all over again.
When you say you teach people to communicate better, what does it mean and what exactly do you teach them?
This is the first point I believe in is a movie called Ratatouille, that anybody can cook and it’s a very fascinating movie. And I come from that philosophy that anybody should and can learn how to express themselves better especially in the oral aspect. All of us by nature are not designed to just stand up and speak. You know standing up and speaking is an extreme form of art, even having conversations is very difficult. Many of us are very comfortable being with ourselves and being with our best friends and just managing our lives. So, what I do is that I believe this subject is scientific that is very important and there is amazing literature that comes in as I have done a Phd on that so as to understand the science of how this subject can shape lives. In my classrooms I bring the science with assignments, with case studies, feedback and a lot of work is on feedback. So, we show people what they do, give them ideas on how they can wordsmith better and then slowly with time commitment, practice and results come.
I talk about this just like how you can be a great mathematician or an economist, you can be a great communicator. There is no reason as to why you cannot be a great communicator. The only point is it requires the time, patience and commitment which is what my classrooms are all about. One other problem I try to solve as this subject requires a lot of trust to be built in the teaching system. My role is not to be a powerful expert but a learner myself. The environment of trust is very important for learning because if you criticise someone, then the person will never learn. The subject requires encouragement, positive enforcement, self analysis and critical thinking by the learner. I do all of this and the results are very fascinating and that’s what my mission is as I want to take this subject to millions of people so that they can become more confident and communicate better.
From teaching management students and coaching startups and managers, why did you begin focusing on teaching school students?
I left the corporate world in 2008, started teaching in any classroom I could go in and I was fortunate that my alma mater of Bangalore that took me as the head of alumni and also after a few years let me teach as adjunct faculty. I consider myself very privileged by the way I get nice treatment from them which I don’t deserve honestly. But then what I started to see was that when I started teaching MBA students, I started to find out that the problems they face at the age of 23 to 25, the root cause is actually when they were at the age of 15 and 16 or maybe even younger. I experienced this myself as a learner that when we were kids maybe in the classroom we were reprimanded by the teacher because the systems are so different but that fear has caused me not to raise any questions anymore. I started to think that I have to take this subject not only to senior executives but also to young teenagers and pre-teenagers.
In 2016, it was the summer of April/May where you are fairly relaxed and enjoying the summer vacations. My neighbour came to me and said that his daughter needs to learn and I said alright why don’t I do a summer camp and jumped into summer camp without knowing how teenagers live, how they are and I had a teenage son at that time and now he’s becoming a young adult and I thought I would ease this because I know how to handle a 25 year old but it was disaster because these teenagers are so smart and that’s what opened my eyes that we assume that these kids don’t know anything but I was so wrong as they know things hundred times more than what I know.
What I learned was that my job is to shape their thoughts and not tell them what to do. This became the sowing the seeds for a school of meaningful experiences as I was assuming that we have to really teach teenagers and I was completely miscalculating, misjudging them as the they are very smart, have high IQs and lazy as I was like when I was a teen and even Aristotle said that in 350BC that these youngsters are very irresponsible, they don’t know what they are eating and they don’t take care of themselves. So, If someone said this in 350BC, the same thing applies today and what school of meaningful experiences that started to do was to create programs and that’s how we launched and it has been a fascinating journey because we now have created programs not only for 13 to 17 years of age but we have started from the age group of 9 to 12 years, 18 to 21 years, 21 to 30 years and now we offer programs all the way to CXO levels of 55 years .
SPEAK LESS, SPEAK SLOW – ONLINE ETIQUETTE
Very often, we rely on tone of voice and body language to get our meaning across. But we now live in a world where most communication is online and calls for different skills. As a communications expert, Rakesh Godhwani, can you answer how the shift to the online mode has affected the way humans communicate?
In the last 15 years, everything that we know about many subjects is devastated. I think as a researcher and a teacher myself, all the books written in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s are all gone, outdated and cannot use them to teach online communication at all. I think new research has to be brought in which will take time and we don’t know have answers yet. I feel that we are going through a massive transition of education, where we do not have enough answers on what to do in the online mode. So, we are trying our best to make the best of whatever we can. In this process, I have four or five minor suggestions for everyone and your listeners. I think we need to learn to slow down first of all. There is a philosophy called slow thinking which is exactly what I am trying to do on the internet.
Internet online has created an abundance of information and it can be very overwhelming and that overwhelmed person can speak a lot and confuse everyone. In the online world of communication step one is to reduce your content and speak very slowly. This is very counterintuitive because we are trained to speak more and say more because our thought is the more I share the better it is for my audience to make a better decision but because of the overwhelmed attitude of everyone because of WhatsApp, Signal, Facebook, LinkedIn and Insta, people are confused. Your job is to work harder, get your mind right, say very few words and say it very slowly.
The second thing is your way of facial expressions becomes very critical as well because this is something which is again very counterintuitive that I am talking to my boss and I have to look serious. But sometimes we forget that our boss is also a human being and a facial expression combined with a little bit tonality will only do better for your communication because this person will be more attentive to you otherwise from morning till evening he is looking at the cell phone, zoom call and google meet and it’s very tiring. Therefore we have to practice almost like theatre performances in the world of online.
The last is that people will google you and your executive presence is now a combination of what’s out there on the internet about you. I get very scared when I see people writing all kinds of stuff in the internet world. I would be very careful with the way things are and this is where just because I know that I can say something doesn’t mean that I must say it on every platform because everything is now connected. When do a google search and there is a debate going on and there is a comment you have mentioned in the fury of yours and this comment might be there for the rest of the life and you may feel very sorry about it as we go along and at some points our age dictates our communication. So, when we are younger we have to be a little bit more rebellious but I am now 45 years old and sometimes feel that how could I say such things when I was 25 years old because now I have to be a little bit careful.
In hindsight, the modern world of online communication will be a transition and it will stabilise after a few years as the new technologies will disrupt it. I have a feeling that we will have two lives, one is our physical life which is now going to become more indoors(thanks to events like Covid19) and there will be an online avatar. This online avatar is not 2021 but this has been envisioned in 2001 while I was working in Intel we used to envision a holographic communication platform.
In fact, Star Trek had holographic communication signals between Han Solo, Jedi and Princess Leia and so on as this was there for the last 50 years but this will become a reality today. You will have two or three personalities, which means this world will also mess up with our brains a lot. Hence, I am very worried with communication problems, mental wellness, health issues and our ability to have relationships which are all rolled into an online platform. Therefore I don’t have answers but I feel we should definitely talk less, speak slowly, listen more and leave it at that because this will change so fast that there’s no point in becoming an expert right now because within two years everything will be validated.