Steven Gaffney’s Communication Blog

Beware of the Halloween Principle!

Are there life principles that you used to live by, but now you don’t? Have you ever allowed someone to spook you to such an extent that you change your behavior? It’s natural to let someone’s bad reaction derail us from doing what we know needs to be done. I encounter this reality so often as I speak with people across the country about communication issues that I have a name for it: The Halloween Principle – because people get spooked, and then they start living according to fear rather than the life principles they believe in.
The sad part is we often do this subconsciously, meaning that we’re unaware of how much a past situation is affecting our present. If left unnoticed and unchecked, our changed behavior could even alter our future.
It often takes someone to point it out before we can say to ourselves, “That is so true. I know what needs to be done and I know certain life principles work, but I’m not living that way.”
To help you see whether you’ve been spooked, let’s look at a few life principles that most people believe in but have trouble living by because the Halloween Principle has taken over.
1 Honesty Is The Best Policy
Most people I meet believe that honesty is the best policy. They may even believe they live by it. But on further examination, they don’t. When they are upset, they stuff what they are thinking and feeling and tell others that things are okay. Or when people ask them for feedback, they spin their answers to sound nice and pleasant out of fear that if they say what they really think, that person will get defensive and react badly.
The result is that people don’t get their issues handled. In our personal lives this can lead to all kinds of trouble. Spouses fall out of love and get divorced. Kids fear telling their parents the truth or just don’t feel comfortable talking, so they stop talking with their parents and get advice and support from peers instead. Good friends get annoyed or angry, drop out of communication, and friendships slip away. When issues aren’t handled in our professional lives, program and project problems can escalate into bigger problems; good employees get fed up and leave, and clients and customers stop hiring us.
Considering all these negative ramifications, why do people continue to withhold, spin, and alter the truth when they know that honesty is integral to fixing problems? After all, someone can’t fix a problem if they don’t know about the problem.
When I ask people why they withhold or spin the truth, they often say, “I used to be more honest and straightforward. But awhile back, I was in a situation and …” And then they proceed to tell me how a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend got upset when they spoke the truth and took it out on them in one way or another. No wonder people get spooked.
2 The Law of Reflection
The Law of Reflection says that whatever we give out in life, we tend to get back. You may say it another way: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others, but it’s all the Law of Reflection.
Most people know this is a sound principle to live by, but few implement it to its fullest capability. For example, sometimes a person chooses not to give as much as they could because in the past they encountered someone who took and took – and kept on taking until they drained that person dry. So that person allowed someone’s selfishness to stop them from giving their heart and soul to others. In other words, they allowed the person to spook them and started to live by the Halloween Principle.
On further reflection, this person may realize that we all run into selfish people from time to time, even people so selfish that they’ll take advantage of others. But that is no reason to stop living the Law of Reflection – because there are always exceptions to the rule. In general, however, the more we give and help out others – whether that’s our boss, our co-workers, our employees, our spouse, or our friends – the better our life will work.
Choose to Overcome the Spook
No principle will always work out just right. But as a whole, these life principles do work and provide benefits to us and to others. For that reason, we have to stop letting people spook us. We need to make our choices and live by our principles rather than allowing others to derail us and dictate how we’re living.
When we become aware of the Halloween Principle, it gives us the power to choose a different course of action – the one we know is right for us.
Here are a few practical recommendations for disarming the Halloween Principle:
1. Separate: When you feel an internal disconnect between the way you want to live and the way you currently are living, try to remember when that disconnect started. Then ask yourself why you’re allowing that situation to continue to affect you. Maybe it is time to separate from the situation by forgiving and letting go. If you can’t let it go yet, implement some practices to work on it. If you are not sure of one, contact us and we can give you some simple recommendations that produce a profound effect.
2. Counteract: There are several ways to counteract the Halloween Principle. First, surround yourself with people who have the attributes you want to live by. If you believe that honesty is the best policy, make sure the people around you are willing to tell you the truth. If you want to live by the Law of Reflection, then choose to be around people who try to help out and give value to others. Another important key to counteracting the Halloween Principle is to read books and articles, listen to podcasts and radio broadcasts, and watch DVDs that provide information, advice, and encouragement to live by the principles that are important to you. Remember this: insights can happen in an instant, but sustained change takes effort, reinforcement, and reminders.
3. Model: In the future when you encounter someone who spooks you from being yourself, ask yourself whether this is an exception or the new rule. Remind yourself that every life principle has exceptions, but overall, they do work. Choose to live your life principles – modeling them for yourself and others – rather than being controlled by your reaction to an exception. Think about the situation as a valuable reminder of the importance of standing up for what you know is right and taking responsibility for your life.
Who have you allowed to spook you? Have you stopped living by any of your life principles? Now that you are aware of the Halloween Principle, what are you going to do about it?

7 Keys to Overcoming Any Negative Belief

Beliefs are the operating system for our lives. A participant in a session of mine once shared how when she was in grade school a teacher told her that you have to be twice as good to be successful. This person then spent the rest of her life constructing reasons why she was really not good enough. She had a negative, disempowering belief. We all have some of those, but we don’t have to continue to live with them and their ill effects. Here are seven keys to changing disempowering beliefs.

  1. Identify your negative beliefs. You can’t change something if you are unaware of it. If you don’t trust people, you have to be aware that such a belief is running in the background. Actively listen to the chatter inside your mind; when negative ideas repeat themselves, write them down. Awareness is the first step.
  2. Take responsibility. The good news is we create our beliefs; if you created negative beliefs, you can do something about them.
  3. Deconstruct that belief. Break it apart by examining what happened to create that belief and how you interpreted what actually happened. For instance, the teacher who said you have to be twice as good to be successful did say something to the student. That is a fact. But the teacher may have simply been trying to drive home the point that success requires hard work. She may have meant it as a positive encouraging point of view rather than as a hurtful statement that that particular child would have to work twice as hard. See your belief as an interpretation of what happened and not as the facts of what happened to create that belief.
  4. Brainstorm possible interpretations. What other interpretations of the belief-creating situation can you think of? Let’s say you grew up with divorced parents. You could draw a conclusion that relationships are tough. You could draw a conclusion that you are going to be lousy in relationships. But you could also draw the conclusion that divorce was the best thing that could have ever happened to your parents. You could also draw a conclusion that you know exactly what you need to do to have a successful marriage.
  5. Create an action plan. The idea is to develop a list of actions that will counter the negative belief and instill an empowering belief. If you are lacking courage in doing something, schedule an activity that forces you to confront and break through that negative belief. If you are afraid of doing presentations, sign up for a presentation skills class. Join Toastmasters. Read some books on the subject. Volunteer to help a co-worker with a presentation. If you have a hard time trusting people, share something that you might usually keep to yourself with a friend. Develop some new friends at work. Grab a cup of coffee with someone you don’t know. Get involved with some charitable organizations in order to meet some new people. Practice and actions can help us develop and strengthen a new empowering belief.
  6. Surround yourself with people who have the belief you desire. If you don’t trust people, surround yourself with people who believe that people can be trusted. If you are lousy in finances, surround yourself by people who are good at finances. If you believe that marriage won’t be successful, surround yourself with couples who have a successful marriage.
  7. Ask people for help. It is remarkable how supportive people can be when we just ask for help.

Beliefs can either empower us or limit us. No one should be hindered by a negative belief system. I hope you will put these seven keys to use and unlock the chains that are holding you back. Call if you need help.

Lessons from Great Communicators

One reason I love history is that it allows you to learn from the best. History offers many examples of great communicators, but these four particular leaders are touchstones for me. Consider what impetus they can provide for you in your quest to communicate effectively:

  1.  Martin Luther King had passion, faith, and selfless dedication to the greater good.

His “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in 1963, is considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches of all time. Martin Luther King had many characteristics of a great communicator, but in particular he could paint a picture with his words. This is tremendously effective, because people think in pictures for the most part. So when someone tells us a story or gives us an example, we grasp the point and can more easily retain the concepts.


If you ever feel tempted to spend more time on your slides than you do on your speech, remember that one of the most inspiring and memorable speeches ever was delivered without any PowerPoint slides. Be careful not to get hung up on the latest technology and instead use your words to paint pictures.


  1. Abraham Lincoln’s notable qualities include honesty, integrity, an ability to compromise and work the system to accomplish what needed to be done, and tenacity to stick to the objective.


His speeches are a great reminder that there is power in brevity. The Gettysburg Address, which he delivered in 1863, is one of the greatest speeches in American history and under five minutes long. Incidentally, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was only seventeen minutes. Sometimes fewer words say more.


  1. Mother Teresa was one of the greatest humanitarians of the twentieth century; her empathy and commitment to help impoverished people continues to inspire others.


Mother Theresa reveals a different side of being a great communicator, and that is the ability to communicate through actions. At the time of her death her Missionaries of Charity organization had over four thousand employees plus thousands of volunteers in 123 countries and all seven continents. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What we are speaks louder than what we say.” What are your actions communicating?


  1. Ronald Reagan is often referred to as the great communicator. Putting politics aside, we can probably agree about why he is considered to be a master of communication.


One of Reagan’s key attributes was his optimism, and optimism inspires actions. When he took office, the United States as a country was down. There was double-digit inflation and high interest rates. When he left office, inflation was under 5 percent, unemployment was at its lowest in years, and there had been six straight years of economic prosperity.


Early in his presidency Reagan remarked, “What I would like to do is go down in history as the president who made Americans believe in themselves again.” Isn’t that a great vision for all of us—to be the kind of communicator who makes others believe in themselves and (I would add) helps others achieve what they did not even know was possible for them to achieve?

  These great communicators have much to teach us. Hopefully Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Ronald Reagan can help pave the way for us all to be the great communicators we all have the capability of being. Do some research, and read (or listen to) their speeches. It pays to learn from the best.

WMB – Steven Gaffney “Embracing Honesty in the Workplace”


Steven’s in-depth interview includes but is not limited to:
• How to get others to speak their truth
• How to prevent and move beyond any mistake and challenge
• The biggest problem in meetings and how to fix it
• Working with Millennials and other generations as a whole
• The major mistake organizations do when launching initiatives and what to do differently
• The 3 signs of the health of any organization, team, or relationships and what to do about it

Tip Suggestion: Show this interview at your next team meeting to discuss implementing these critical strategies