Communication:  Compassionate and Clear
Winter  2014
Dear Clients, Colleagues and Community,

At a New Year's evening gathering, my friend, Richard, gathered us around and shared some words spoken by Carl Sagan.  I was moved by their sentiment and want to pass them along to all of you as we enter 2014.  In essence Sagan expressed that we have the power to cherish our world and make it wonderful.

"Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997

In this month's newsletter I focus on sources of inspiration, perspective and methods of communication that will help us to build a a better and more compassionate world.

Happy New Year,

Mari Pat


Warmth and Competency 
What attracts others to our brand?

I began practicing yoga a couple of years ago.  Overtime, I've visited different yoga classes seeking one that would become my constant.  I tried out teachers, environment and of course, convenience.

I settled on a studio near my home and identified a favorite teacher, Catherine Lewan, of Chicago.  Just yesterday, as temperatures dropped and the snow piled up, I forged my way to Catherine's class.  When I first started taking her class it was a small group of students but now, Catherine's classes are so full that one should get there a few minutes early to be assured a spot.  I love Catherine's class and clearly the word has gotten around.  I wondered how she had built her following in such a short period of time.

I had been reading and an article by Chris Malone titled: The Human Brand:  How we relate to people, products and companies.  His work centers around what social psychologists have determined:  in primitive humans, the need for survival caused us to develop the ability to judge others almost instantly along the two categories of perceptions, which are known as warmth and competence. Malone says, "warmth and competence perceptions are the universal foundation for all human behavior and relationships."  All humans have a primal, unconscious ability to make these critical judgments with lightening speed to determine if we are safe or in danger.

When we perceive people as being both warm and competent, we tend to admire them and feel attracted to them.  But when we perceived people to be cold and incompetent, we feel contempt, disgust and a desire to avoid them.  The author shares that companies and brands have the same capacity to stir up these hard-wired primal passions as people do, and we engage with them on the same basis.  We experience feelings of respect and admiration for companies as well as the emotions that accompany the extreme opposite (and everything in between).

It dawned on me that Catherine and her class (the environment she creates) were great examples of warmth and competence in action.  Catherine is open, kind, gracious, generous, smart and very good at what she does.  That is why her class has grown to standing room only.

Think about the practitioners you do business with.  Think of the businesses you frequent.  Would you describe them as warm and competent?  Warmth and competence is another lens we can peer through to better understand how to create a beloved brand, how to attract more customers, or how to communicate in a more meaningful way.  Thanks for setting the example, Catherine!


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The AND in Leadership
Balance is the goal

In The Lessons of Experience by McCall, Lombardo, and Morrison, they share a William Manchester description of General Douglas MacArthur:  "He was a thunderous paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the most protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime...flamboyant, impervious, and apocalyptic, he ...could not acknowledge errors, and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks.  Yet he was endowed with a great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect.  For every MacArthur strength, there was a corresponding MacArthur weakness.  It is very true for all of us that any strength overused can become a weakness.  I may consider my enthusiasm a strength but if I overuse it I may be perceived as less than genuine, and perhaps even annoying. 

Each of us is contradictory, paradoxical, and a jumble of vices and virtues AND there is great wisdom in knowing those contradictions and achieving a balance between them.  Embracing our strengths and understanding our limitations.

In The Lessons of Leadership the authors share an interesting perspective on how we can be stronger leaders if we embrace the "yin and yang" of the duality in our nature.


Here are some examples of statements that balance these opposing perspectives.  As leaders, we must be adept at 

  • Acting alone and working with others
  • Making tough decisions and treating people with compassion
  • Having the confidence to act and the humility to know there are other views
  • Seizing opportunities and planning for the future
  • Taking control and accepting the inevitable
  • Persevering in the face of adversity, yet changing direction when you're wrong.

Strive toward balance and remember the "and" in leadership. 

Two men with one message

With Nelson Mandela's passing in December of 2013 and the election of Pope Francis as head of the Catholic Church in March of 2013 it was hard not to draw parallels between these two very different leader's ideologies. Politics and religion aside, their messages are about building a more compassionate world.  Their messages have inspired me.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  Nelson Mandela

"A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dream of."  Nelson Mandela

"Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."  Nelson Mandela

"A good head and a good heart are a formidable combination."  Nelson Mandela

"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one your are capable of living."  Nelson Mandela

"We all belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny.  This brings a responsibility for each to work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other in one's diversity, and takes care of one another."  Pope Francis

"We are also called to see the violence and injustices present in so many parts of the world, and which cannot leave us indifferent and immobile.  'There is the need for the commitment of all to build a society that is truly more just and united."  Pope Francis

Through the way we communicate and express what really matters we truly can have impact toward making the world a better place.


What Sparrow Skittering means
And the lessons we can learn

There is a bird feeder in my backyard that is a lifeline for a pair of cardinals and the neighborhood sparrows, finches and doves that have to endure Chicago's harsh winters.  Today - at the dawn of 2014 - I took a few moments as the snow fell to watch their behavior after I had filled the feeder.  I was observing how the sparrows would skitter at the slightest sound or movement in the environment.  One would initiate flying to the ground and almost instantaneously the others would follow.  Or they'd hear a branch break or a footfall and they'd all fly to the nearest and highest treetop in a synchronized swarm.  I began to realize that they scatter because they are skitterish and they are skitterish because they don't want to be eaten...which is why they live in big groups.  It is what is referred to as flock mentality.  When one goes, they all go.  Instinctually they adhere to group principles.  They all eat together, they sleep together and they've got each other's back.  Their society requires that they look out for each other.

We all want to be recognized as individuals and accomplish things with our signature.  Today, the term "flock mentality" is often looked down upon in favor of individual accomplishment.  I believe both can be true.  We recognized and appreciate individual accomplishment but never to the detriment of building the team, working as a community, and supporting the greater good.


Effective communication is a two-way street and involves give and take.  Strengthening your awareness and committing to fine-tune your skills will improve your interpersonal IQ, help you invite communication and build relationships.

If your goals, business initiatives or leadership developmental opportunities could benefit from message development, speech coaching, communication training or strategic meeting facilitation let's have a conversation today!
All the best,
Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.