Dear Jane…

Have you heard of Toastmasters International (TI)? Well, I hadn’t until November 2018 when the club was introduced at my place of work. Corporate TI clubs provide an in-house opportunity for employees to develop their leadership and communication skills. By sponsoring a club, companies benefit from better leaders, more effective managers, closer-knit teams and higher productivity.

I knew immediately it was something that would interest me. Over and above the stated benefits, I was aware of the need to be more open and share my life lessons, albeit to a small audience. What better way than to do this within a controlled environment where you can share stories with no-one judging you?

Our club was officially launched in February 2019 by none other than Rozy Rana, Chair of the East Africa Toastmasters Territorial Council. Ms Rana has been a Toastmaster since April 2005. She was the first Toastmaster in East Africa to be recognized as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), the highest recognition awarded by Toastmasters to any member globally. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the English language convinced me that it was a worthwhile venture and I quickly signed up, being the first person to give a prepared speech at our club.

It’s been an interesting journey since. But this post is not about TI, rather about a speech I gave today that I thought to share with you, my dear readers. TI uses a Pathways learning experience, an online curriculum that provide users with flexibility. Members can choose from eleven paths that teach more than 300 unique competencies. I am currently on the Visionary Communication path for which this speech was delivered. Read on…

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Dear Jane…begun the two-page letter from my 15-year old daughter that I found neatly placed under my pillow one evening in July last year. It was in the middle of a school term and the letter was a culmination of a tumultuous two-month’ period in my journey parenting this Gen Z teenager. After paying school fees and getting her ready for the new school term, my daughter had dropped a bombshell – she was not going back to school! She dramatically proceeded to lock herself up in the bedroom and no amount of cajoling, threats or even a visit to a psychologist’s office could change her mind. At my wits’ end, I resulted to the Silent treatment. Without any electronic gadget, I was sure that boredom would wear her down and she would come begging to go back to school!

How wrong I was! The letter came two weeks into the silent treatment therapy and rather than beg to be taken back to school, it detailed various reasons why she couldn’t go back. She further listed four schools she preferred, giving the pros and cons, complete with the fee structures for each! The young lady had clearly done her homework. As I read it, I marveled that she had so much to say yet every time I had tried to talk to her in the past, I had gotten only tears streaming down her face just one sentence into the conversation.

After getting over the initial shock of my own daughter addressing me by my first name (I am an African mother, after all!), I saw myself in her. You see, I communicate better in writing than in conversation, a trait apparently shared by many introverts. While words effortlessly pour out onto a page or computer screen; in conversation, it often feels like there’s a traffic jam in the pathway between my mind and my mouth!

Written versus Oral – that was my understanding of communication styles as I embarked on my Toastmasters Level 2 project that focuses on recognizing your preferred communication style and understanding how that style impacts interactions with others.

Toastmasters defines four Communication styles; DIRECT, INITIATING, SUPPORTIVE and ANALYTICAL. I completed the questionnaire provided and was not surprised that I scored highest on the Analytical style – I love working with numbers. What surprised me though, was the wide margin by which the other styles trailed behind that they may as well be non-existent. In fact, I scored nada, in the Initiating style!

To be sure that the tool used had credibility, I ticked off many of the phrases used to describe the Analytical style: cautious, precise, curious, disciplined, logical, structured, perfectionist, private, etc.  Yes, we are also the type that tend to be overly skeptical, requiring to see promises in writing!

And to be doubly sure, I checked the descriptors of the Initiating style – you don’t score a zero and not confirm where you went wrong, eh? These were sociable, enthusiastic, spontaneous, fun-loving, impulsive, gregarious…need I continue? They were all things I am not. Well, most of time!

Analytical communicators are one of the introverted personality types. Not particularly suited for dealing with others and would much rather work alone, dwelling on their thoughts undisturbed. But life specializes in throwing curveballs, which we must adapt to if we are to survive. Looking back at the example with my daughter, I realised I could have done better to prevent the loss of a whole school term and loads of heartache. By failing to build flexibility around my preferred analytical communication style, I failed to hear the important things she was communicating.

According to Mark Murphy, founder of www.LeadershipIQ.com, a major philosophical difference that separates the four communication styles is the extent to which one communicates with emotions or with data. Analytical communicators stress on the data. In my case, I focused on the money and time wasted, completely missing the Emoticon bus. I only caught on when she communicated to me rationally and logically. Talk of the child teaching the parent!

I will conclude by saying that my biggest takeaway from this project has been the need to learn to be a chameleon – whether its data or emotions, I must learn what appeals to others and what doesn’t – to help me effectively communicate. At the home front, I am making deliberate efforts to create a fun, lively atmosphere with new and diverse elements suited for my three Gen Zeders.

By the way, the young lady turns sixteen tomorrow. We finally found a school that piqued her interest, and where she is thriving. Of course she had to promise certain things – in writing! I have also kept the “Dear Jane” letter – it shall be revisited one day!

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In this COVID-19 pandemic era, TI has provided me an invaluable distressing chaneel as I get to hop from one online club meeting to another across the globe! Members have embraced the new normal and there is no shortage of humor and deep conversations as the world finds different ways to respond to the pandemic.

Find a TI club near you and thank me later.

4 thoughts on “Dear Jane…

  1. Dear Jane… I am so so happy for you that you finally got to using your incredible gift with the written word and wish you every success as you add on another cap – the spoken word! May you start shine, ever so bright!

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