Communication, emotions, and thoughts – these are the things that make humans who we truly are. It’s what separates us from gorillas and chimpanzees, it’s what make us unique. It’s the exchange and emotions of ideas that make us cry and laugh. Maybe it was some sort of genetic mutation somewhere along the line of evolution that planted the seeds of communication; now, it’s bloomed into the magical flowery of language.
Like me, a Japanese food enthusiast. She’s funny, witty, and certainly thought-provoking. (I think she might even have superpowers.) Oh, did I forget to mention that she’s the most incredible professor I’ve been lucky enough to encounter?
I had the privilege of meeting and discussing with Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy, the spearheading figure in the field of interpersonal relationships. During my Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies course, Decision Leadership and Negotiation, she taught us about what it takes to be a successful leader, and how to engage in effective interactions. Many of us were simply entranced by her incredible (superpower-like) charisma and groundbreaking ideas regarding communication—something we experience every day. In this blog post, I’ll attempt to convey some of the invaluable lessons I learned from Dr. Kahwajy.
First, let’s start from the basics. Our behavior is the combination of our actions and intentions; what really matters is the intention, as people will remember how we made them feel, rather than what we did or said.
Here’s a simple example: imagine that we are at a dinner table and you asked me to pass the salt. I could roll my eyes, slowly reach for the salt shaker, and chuck it to you, sighing “Here you go.” Or, I could smile, quickly grab it, and carefully hand it to you, chirping “Here you go” in a cordial tone. Both times, the actions were the same—I gave you the saltshaker—but the emotions inside of you were dramatically different. In the first situation, you probably felt that I was being rude, while in the second, I seemed a lot friendlier.
Next, there are two types of intentions: to judge or to learn. When we judge, we expect, and are unreceptive. Believe it or not, we’re being arrogant by trying to change the other person to achieve our predetermined goal. On the opposite hand, when we’re humble and ready to learn, we naturally send out the message to others that they matter. Instead of reaching the predetermined goal, we often can get an upgrade through collaboration! By sharing our goals in a clear, kind, and effective manner, we can get what we truly want, and more. An interesting way Dr. Kahwajy described it was by pointing a finger; when you’re focused on others’ flaws (as your pointer finger is), you don’t get as far as you would had you focused on yourself (as the other fingers on your hand are).
In order to have effective interactions, the best mindset is to strive to learn, like the other person (regardless of what they think of you), and make each interaction meaningful—this is called “Receiving Mode.” By thinking this way, we modify ourselves to make the most out of each interaction. Dr. Kahwajy often compared it to being ready to “receive the ball”. It’s like playing catch—by conveying to others what we want to catch and sending the message that we’re ready for the ball, it’s almost human nature that they throw it to us.
It’s also worth noting that we are affected by how other people feel, so it’s much more productive and helpful if we’re genuinely kind and proactive in building relationships through effective interactions.
That, my friends, is an exceptionally short and much less magical version of what Dr. Kahwajy taught us through her spellbinding discussions.
There was something about Dr. Kahwajy that seemed out of this world to me—maybe it was her unbelievably quick thinking, ideas that were so outside-the-box, or unrelenting positive attitude. Every time I met her, I felt more strongly that I wanted to become someone like her: headstrong, kind, and full of unique ideas.
An aspect that I resonated strongly with was her ideas on feminism. Dr. Kahwajy shared her experiences about sexism in the workplace, and at first, I felt flustered; however, she continued explaining to us how she dealt with these situations through clear communication, and it inspired me. I realized that if I continued to learn how to communicate effectively as she has, I will be able to knock down the hurdles of sexism, and motivate others to do the same.
In retrospect, I think one of the most incredible things about talking with Dr. Kahwajy was that, despite being an introvert, I left each one of our conversations more energized than ever. In my journal after one of our conversations, I reflected: “I felt a whole new wave of energy to have an incredible, ground-breaking woman encourage me to pursue my endeavors!” Perhaps this was one of her ways of communication that got people engaged, or maybe pure magic. She is, after all, the woman who reattained her seat on an overbooked flight, convinced a thief to return her stolen items, and got a taxiing plane to turn back so she could board it.
Dr. Kahwajy has inspired me to become a better person; one particular quote that stuck with me was “Focus on being the best for the world, not in the world”. I’ve always been so stubborn, but getting to talk to her has opened up my mind to what kind of communicator I should and want to be; I never realized how beneficial it is to alter my mindset to try to get the best of every interaction. Though she makes it look extremely easy, I’m determined to learn more of the difficult skills and tricks (or superpowers?) Dr. Kahwajy uses to harness the most out of interpersonal relationships. After all, who doesn’t want to learn some magic?