Steven Gaffney’s Communication Blog

Top 2 Key Strategies to Manage Negativity

Do you feel like negative thoughts or people are affecting your confidence level? Is it impacting your daily life and job performance? This two minute video will highlight two key strategies to take control of these negative situations and turn them around for the positive.

What To Do When Things Go Wrong

Life can be hard to compartmentalize, and when something bad happens in your day—whether it’s a meeting, an interaction with a co-worker, or a call—it has the power to send you into a negative spiral that ruins your day and even impacts others. That awareness is half the battle. The good news is awareness allows you to do something about it. Here are seven tips to help you recover from a negative incident. You can use the tips in order or just pick and choose what you want to do based on your situation or available time:

  1. When something bad happens in your day, be aware of it. Don’t simply dismiss it and pretend it didn’t affect you. Most of us are lousy actors. Can’t you tell when you’re interacting with somebody who is having a bad day? Don’t kid yourself. Others can tell, so be aware.

  2. Take a break. Disconnect if you can. Just stop before you go on autopilot to the next agenda item. Just like a lot of things in life, we need a break to rejuvenate our mind and our spirit.

  3. Do something physical—not to someone, of course! Get out of your chair. Take a walk. Change your breathing pattern. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Doing something physical will help you disconnect from what just happened.

  4. Get it out. Call a friend and vent about the incident. When you let out that negativity, it can clear your mind. Another option is to write down what is upsetting you. This way you don’t have to spend any mental energy trying to remember what you are upset about.

  5. Think about something that makes you happy. You could write down five things you appreciate, or even share those on the phone with your friend after you vent. Focusing on what you are grateful for will help you to reboot and reframe your mind.

  6. If the issue lingers in your mind, stop what you’re doing and jot down lessons you can learn from the situation so that it will not happen again. I have found this tip to be incredibly useful. It helps me to not only get over the situation, but to grow from it.

  7. Surround yourself with good, positive people. Remember: Input drives output. Garbage in is garbage out. Rid yourself of the downers so they don’t infect your mind. Positive, encouraging people will help you to engage and look forward to what is next in your day and your life.

    No one can ruin your day unless you allow it, but sometimes it takes effort and focus to keep it from happening. Don’t let anyone derail your day. Use these seven tips to move forward and stay on track.

How to Build Trust with Anyone


The foundation of all relationships—at work and at home—is trust. Without it, things fall apart. There are three essential keys to building (or rebuilding) trust with anyone—your boss, your customers or clients, your coworkers, your employees, and even friends and loved ones. Implement these and watch your relationships improve:

1. Make and Keep Commitments without Checking In

In other words, keep your word with anyone without them needing to remind you. I once asked a client why she had hired me, and she said it was because she trusted me. I asked how she knew she could trust me, and she said it was because I called her at the exact time I said I would for all of our conference calls. Small things matter. If you say you are going to send something over by 5:00, make sure it is 5:00, not 5:05. This may sound inconsequential and silly, but it is not silly to many people—even if they never say anything about it. On the flip side, if you find yourself constantly checking in with someone or reminding someone of their commitment, it is probably due to lack of trust. Be up front and resolve the issues rather than developing a culture of babysitting and policing. I do believe in trust but verify—but not constantly verifying. Think of the money organizations spend and the tremendous amount of red tape and redundant processes they engage in due to lack of trust. This is why creating a culture of trust increases productivity, revenue, and profits.

2. Proactive Honesty

One of the reasons you know you can trust someone is that person proactively lets you know about a problem. The key here is the word proactive. Don’t wait for someone to ask. If you cannot deliver what you said you could or when you said you could, notify the appropriate parties as soon as possible. If something is due by Friday at 5:00 and you know on Tuesday that you are unlikely to achieve it, update those who need to know. When I have worked with companies to build a culture of trust where people are expected to be proactively honest, then people hear about issues and problems before they become huge challenges that waste company resources. They also hear about ideas and recommendations that help their organization be more innovative, move with velocity, and ultimately be more successful.

3. Be Honorable in How You Speak about Others

You can judge the character of a person, and the degree to which you can trust them, by how they speak about others to you. If they bad-mouth others to you and break confidentiality, they will bad-mouth you to others and break your trust when you’re not in the room. There is no justification or excuse for such behavior. Watch what you say and how you treat others, and never break confidentiality.

A culture of trust and honesty boosts morale and employee engagement, allowing the organization to move fast, fix problems, and constantly grow. Use these keys at work and home and watch your life take a quantum leap forward.

The Tip of the Iceberg: Putting an End to Complaints

Often I am asked whether there is any value to complaining and listening to complaints. After all, complaints allow us to be aware of what is on someone’s mind and the act of complaining gives the complainer the opportunity to get things off their chest. The answer is yes, of course. Complaining has its place, and venting can be useful to clear one’s mind. The trouble comes when complaining is recurring, because that’s a signal nothing is getting resolved.

If someone is continually complaining about their boss or their co-worker or, on the personal side, their spouse, problems are just not getting solved. Complaining gives the person the chance to blow off steam, which can actually reduce the pressure needed to take action. If left alone, this complaining can infect others, which leads to bigger problems. I have been brought into many situations where complaining and negativity polluted the entire culture of an organization, impacting morale, productivity, and even growth.

To eliminate and resolve complaining, you have to understand what drives complaints. The number-one reason why people are not able to stop complaining is because they are not dealing with the real underlying issue.

Think of complaints like an iceberg. The words people say are the part you can see—the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The largest part of an iceberg is what you can’t see—everything that lurks below the waterline. With complaints there are two things lurking below:

  1. Unexpressed or hidden wants
  2. Pent-up emotions

Let me give you an example. At a seminar, a woman shared how she was upset and constantly complaining that her co-worker was not pulling his share of the workload. After a bit of questioning it became clear the issue was that this woman had to stay at work longer to make up for her co-worker’s lack of performance. Therefore, she was concerned she was neglecting her family, her kids in particular. On the surface her complaint was about her co-worker; below the surface she wanted her boss to resolve the situation because on the emotional front she was concerned she was not being a good mother. After our discussion, this woman realized she needed to stop complaining and instead have a conversation with her boss to gain clarity around her job expectations and responsibilities. This way she could leave work without feeling guilty about not being a team player and get home to her family.

So how do you use this iceberg complaint principle and eliminate complaining? Just go to the true source of wants and emotions to look below the waterline of words by using the following two-step complaint-ending methodology:

  1. Acknowledge the complainer’s emotions. When you account for the complainer’s state of mind and appropriately acknowledge and reflect back their emotions by saying things like, “I can understand how frustrating this must be. I get how upset you are,” the complainer will feel connected to you and chances are their emotional level will come down. This is critical because when someone is highly emotional, they have a hard time listening, which makes it difficult to resolve the situation. This may sound obvious, but people often do just the opposite and instead invalidate another person’s emotions, which always leads to bad results.
  2. Facilitate a workable solution. You can do this by asking these questions: “What would you suggest?” “How would you like to resolve this?” “What would you like done?” You might even ask, “How can I help you?” By asking the complainer these types of solution-oriented questions, you are helping the complainer move from the complaint stage to the resolution stage. The complainer is now encouraged to start thinking of their true wants.

Let me show you how easy this is. If someone complains, “My boss is really hard to deal with,” then you could say, “I get how frustrated you are. What would you suggest?” The complainer may say, “Well, I want your help to address this issue,” to which you could respond, “Okay, I feel the same way. Let’s figure out what makes sense.” Or you might say, “I actually don’t have time to address this, but what if I helped you figure out a couple quick solutions that might help you?” Or you might actually have to say, “I’m not sure. Let me give it some thought and get back to you by the end of the day tomorrow.”

You may be wondering whether it is appropriate to give advice or if it’s better to facilitate the complainer to come up with the solution. Don’t worry. This two-step methodology will uncover the answer. For example, when you say, “What would you suggest?” if the person wants your suggestions or advice, they will most likely say, “Well do you have any ideas?” Then you can provide your ideas.

One cautionary note: If the complainer says, “No, I actually just want you to listen,” you will have to make a decision. Just listening may be appropriate, but if this is a recurring complaint, it might be time to challenge the person. For example, you could say, “I know you want me to listen, but I think I’m doing you a disservice because you seem to be constantly upset by this and nothing is getting resolved. So let’s try to figure out what can be done about it.”

When you hear complaints, remember to consider there is a lot more to it than the eye can see or the ear can hear. It’s the tip of the iceberg. Then implement the two-step complaint-ending methodology. Not only will you be helping the complainer, but you will be helping yourself—and all those impacted by the complaining will probably say thank you for resolving the real issue.

The Surprising Value of Unsolicited Advice


My mother can be a negative person. If I say, “Business is great,” her response is, “Well, what if the economy takes another downturn?” This is exactly why some people never listen to unsolicited advice—they don’t want to be bothered with what they’re not even looking for.

But if you only accept solicited advice, you may be missing a gold mine from somebody who has something to share. My mom’s warnings have actually served me well, especially given that I can be a glass-half-full kind of guy. Her rather pessimistic perspective has helped me to be better prepared for difficulties and has ultimately helped me to build a robust business. She has helped me see things that I would have missed on my own, and here’s the clincher: she has never run a business.

With this in mind, I am suggesting that you be a sponge. Accept all advice and wring out later what you choose to discard. Of course, this takes confidence and requires wisdom and judgment about what to retain. After all, some people do not have the best of intentions. They may have hidden agendas or may be acting passive-aggressively, so you need to be able to see through this and not get rattled. But honestly this should not be a big worry.

The big worry is just the opposite, in fact. Most people suffer from a lack of feedback rather than too much of it. It’s much more common to hear people complain about being surprised and blindsided; they wish others had told them certain things. We need to hear about what other people see, so we don’t end up with an unpleasant surprise.

Advice and feedback is hard for many people to give, so it’s unlikely you’ll be overwhelmed by too much anyway. If you set parameters like, “I’m willing to hear anything as long as it is said in a respectful manner,” you may miss out on some important feedback. Some people interpret “being respectful” as “not hurting your feelings.” Better to let everyone know you want feedback and deal with those results (maybe some hurt feelings on your part) than the alternative of not hearing what you need to hear.

If you live your life by only getting advice from those you solicit or deem worthy, you are closing yourself off from things that you don’t even know you could know. You even need to hear from those people who you might be tempted to say, “What do they know? They don’t even understand what I am going through.” Those are precisely the ones you need to hear from. They can often provide a truly objective point of view because they don’t know your perspective or back story.

Years ago, after listening to me ramble on about what I do, my teenage nephew said, “Uncle Steve, basically what you do is help people get along better.” And thus was born a key marketing message—from someone with no marketing or business knowledge at all.

People who are open to outside perspectives hear problems sooner so they can act on them before they become big problems. With feedback and advice, these people bounce back from setbacks faster, and they are always growing since they are constantly learning.

Be a sponge. Create an environment where all feedback is welcome. This way you get to decide what to retain and act on.

Key Strategies to Forming Strong Relationships in Any Situation

There are many reasons why people fear being open and honest. In this interview for a CBS affiliate, I discuss those fears as well as how to overcome those fears and Getting the Unsaid Said in any situation.

Watch below to learn about these key strategies and take the next step to forming stronger relationships.

“In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day” – What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had compared himself to others?

Imagine a world in which Martin Luther King, Jr. had been nothing more than a preacher with a sizable congregation, Bill Gates was nothing more than an effective manager at an IT firm, and Oprah Winfrey just a newscaster at a Baltimore television station. Suppose Warren Buffet was nothing more than a man who managed his money well in order to provide a nice life for his family. We probably wouldn’t know their names, yet by most standards they would still be deemed successful.

Yet I believe that true success is the degree to which we reach our full potential. By that standard, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet could not be called successful if they did not achieve what we all now know they were capable of. If they had been satisfied with comparing themselves favorably with others, they may have not been inspired to achieve what they achieved. Where would our society be without the contributions they have made? What would the landscape of twenty-first-century America look like without them?

Fortunately, they did not suffer what many people suffer from–Comparison Success Obstruction ™ (CSO). People with this affliction compare themselves with others to gauge their own success. Those comparisons can sadly set us up for mediocrity. If Warren Buffet suffered from CSO, he could have taken a look at his neighbor and been satisfied with the idea of building a bigger house, purchasing a nicer car, and sending his children to better schools. Oprah Winfrey could have landed her job as a Baltimore newscaster, compared herself to friends and colleagues, and decided she was doing quite well just where she was.

Many organizations suffer from CSO. They even go so far as to benchmark their achievements against other organizations. Perhaps yours does this too. While benchmarking can produce some good results, it can also chain your organization to the common results of others—restraining you from catapulting beyond the competition and producing breakthrough results.

Comparing ourselves to the competition begs the question — so what? So what if you can move widgets faster than Widget Movers Express? So what if you are the leader in a certain technology? So what if you are the highest in retention? Are those reasons to be content? So what?

Maybe your organization has untold “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” potential. Maybe there is a life-changing discovery or invention lurking within your organization — within the minds of your employees. Maybe it is within you! But this is unlikely to happen as long as you or others around you suffer from CSO.

I once heard an interview with John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach who won seven straight NCAA titles and nine titles in eleven years. The interviewer asked Wooden for his keys to success, and Wooden said that after each game – regardless of the score — he asked his players, did you play your best? Think about this. In professional sports, team dynasties result from an effective coach and a few outstanding players who are with the team year after year. But the make-up of teams in college basketball is constantly changing as new students join the team and others move on to graduate. But the changing roster didn’t hinder Coach Wooden. He built a dynasty in part by asking the ever-changing faces on his team, did you play your best?

Imagine if we were asked that on a daily basis. What would your answer be? Is it time to step it up, push ourselves, regardless of what others say? I think so. Not because we have to, not because there is something wrong, but because we can. After all, isn’t that what true success is all about?

That is why I believe we need to drop the judgments and comparisons with others. We need to stop looking behind us to see who is chasing us. Instead we need to run fast regardless of the others in the race and push ourselves to see what is possible. This is what striving for true success is all about.

Are you playing your best, or are you settling for what you think you can get rather than going for what you truly want? What are you willing to do about it? After all, the only person you can control is yourself. You cannot necessarily control what others do, but you are fully responsible for the way you respond and the actions you take to achieve the results you really want. Attaining perfection may be hard, but making progress is easy.

WARNING: If you choose to stop suffering from CSO and strive for what you can become, brace yourself and make sure you enjoy the ride, because there is an ironic twist that will come your way. The twist is that successful people often don’t think of themselves as particularly successful. If fact, the more successful they are, the more they recognize the gap between where they are and what they can become.

A while back, I saw a documentary about the incredible life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the many things that shocked me was that he was plagued by the thought that he had not yet done enough. Imagine that. As successful and accomplished as he was, he was not satisfied—not even close.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was chasing down a dream. He knew that there was always more to do. There was always more that he could expect of himself. He had a vision for the future, and that vision was not limited by comparisons or others’ expectations. True success is not about how we compare with others, but how we compare with what we truly can become.

Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet aren’t playing small either. They each have their own vision for the future, a vision that I would argue continues to expand as they achieve more and more. Who can they become? How about you? What dreams can you accomplish?

While others are fixated on comparing themselves with others or preoccupied with looking over their shoulders to make sure no one will overtake them, keep challenging yourself and those around you with what you can become.

Maybe there is “Martin Luther King, Jr.,-Bill Gates-Warren Buffet-Oprah Winfrey” potential in you and the people around you just waiting to be awakened and inspired. Think of the difference that that could make. It can begin now. It’s up to you.

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Here is a 6-Step Formula to Start You on Your Journey:

1. Recognize you may be suffering from CSO, and do something about it. Throw away the comparisons. They limit your potential.

2. Create a vision for the future that is not a reaction to the past or a comparison with others in the present. Spend some time reflecting on what you believe you can become. Dream. Brainstorm. Use what if? What if we had nothing stopping us? What if we could really accomplish our ideal product or service? What if we had the perfect economy?

3. Avoid dream crushers, vision smashers, and naysayers. Don’t be hampered by low expectations – your own or anyone else’s. Instead, search for people who dream big and believe in themselves and in you.

4. Execute the next step. No matter how big the vision, no matter how daunting the task, ask yourself, “What is the next step?” Then do it.

5. At the end of each day, reflect and ask yourself, “Did I play my best? What can I do better tomorrow?” This attitude is the key to long-term success.

6. Build your support network. Share this article with others. Pass it to others who have remarkable potential. The fewer people who suffer from CSO, the easier it is for you and others to accomplish breakthrough results.


How to Start the New Year Right

8 Ways to Jump Start the New Year

The following are 8 crucial actions you can take to Jump Start your new year and make it your most meaningful year yet. These changes, though initially very small, can help to put your life on a different path. Good luck to you and we would love to hear about your successes.

  1. Let go of the garbage that you are carrying. Reach out to someone you have written off (but still think about) or to someone you have given up on or with whom you had a problem. Talk to that person and do what it takes to reach some sort of resolution and put the situation behind you. Ask the other person, “What would it take for us to put this behind us?” Their input can help you create a solution that works for everyone. By reaching out and having a conversation, you are extending the olive branch. This can create a new beginning and trigger conversations and events that can ultimately change your life. Remember: forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.  Make this the year you give that gift.
  1. Stop negotiating things that are not negotiable. Are you suffering because you are being flexible and letting go of standards and principles that are important to you? Decide what is negotiable versus what is really not negotiable to you. If you are not clear, how can others be? Then let others know and take a stand. Many people get inspired when boundaries are set because clarity gives them power to focus their time and energy on areas of flexibility.
  1. Adopt accountability partners. What is one of your behaviors that you really want to change? The truth is that if you really want to achieve this change, you will. Set up accountability partners and consequences to help ensure that you will make that change. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly complaining about a particular issue and you want to stop being so negative, tell five people you are going to stop complaining about the issue. Every time you complain about it, give them each a dollar.  The point is to send a message that your promises are not empty and you are committed to changing the behavior. Being accountable is one of the most important ingredients in lasting change.
  1. Use your strengths. Your relationship with yourself and your talents is the most important one you will ever have.  Appreciating yourself and your strengths is at the core of your ability to create and enjoy the life you want. When you appreciate yourself, you are also more likely to take action and make changes on things that are important to you. Focus on what makes you happy. Don’t overlook your talents and make sure to maximize your full potential. If you’re good at something, why not become great at it? This year, if you remember to appreciate yourself and foster your strengths, you will be more self-empowered and confident to face anything to come.
  1. Choose a coach or mentor. Whether it is personal or professional, everyone benefits from someone who guides and advises them. Athletes don’t get better at their specific sports by simply playing on their own each day. They improve by employing a coach who challenges and inspires them to grow and achieve success. Athletes also don’t improve their skills by playing teams equal to or worse than they are. They advance the most quickly when they are challenged by a better team.  It is important for your mentor to be someone who may be wiser, more experienced, or more successful than you are to help you reach the goals you have.
  1. Apply your personal method of success to a current problem. What is the biggest problem you are currently facing, professionally or personally? Once you’ve identified that problem, change gears and take a moment to remember a specific moment of success in your life. What were the keys to help you achieve that success? Brainstorm a few ideas of why you think you were able to be successful in achieving the results you wanted.  Over a person’s lifetime, we develop a few “go-to” methods to help us achieve success in various situations. Many times, in problem areas, if you think about it, you are usually not applying one of your normal success methods to help you through it.  Now, return to that original problem. Of the ideas you’ve brainstormed, which are you currently not doing to help you tackle this issue? Apply them and you will see new direction to help you resolve it.
  1. Decide on your number-one goal and create a plan to achieve it. Make sure your goal is measurable and that there is a deadline for completion. You might think this is simple – and it is – but people often neglect to set clear goals or create so many that they do not accomplish any. I see this frequently with organizations that have so many goals that people do not know on which to focus. The result is they try to focus on many and often achieve little. Remember confusion causes delay and often failure. Clarity and focus gives us power and inspiration to achieve.
  1. Distance yourself from the dream crushers, naysayers, and negative influences.  Just like we are what we eat, we are a product of the people with whom we spend our time with and the information we digest from them. With whom are you surrounding yourself? Are those people negative or are they inspiring to be around? What kind of books and materials are you reading? How much are you dwelling on negative news stories?  I am not suggesting that we put our heads in the sand. I am suggesting that we fill our minds with the influences that empower us.  Take the time to clean house.


If you run into challenges and need help or have questions along the way, send us an email at or give us a call at 703-241-7796 and we will do our best to help you.

Two Key Questions You Must Ask for Honest Communication

Honest communication is not about being warm and fuzzy, nor is it brutal communication or sharing all of your deep, dark psychological secrets. Honest communication is about saying what needs to be said in a timely manner. It’s as simple and important as that.

But in many organizations honest communication is not happening. Leaders get surprised and blind-sided by issues that they were unaware of. In fact, a big problem is not what people say but what they don’t say. The trouble brews in all of the issues or details that are left out. This is why getting the unsaid said is critical to long-term organizational success. After all, you can’t fix a problem you don’t know about and you can’t implement an idea or recommendation that no one shares. This makes honest, open communication critical to success and to sustaining that success.

I have seen successful, growing organizations start to believe that they have all of the answers and they stop being attentive to open communication—the kind of communication in which debate and opposing viewpoints are encouraged. Instead, people stop challenging each other and soon they are starting to go along to get along and eventually the competition catches up and the company loses its market share. Don’t let this happen to you.

Here are two key questions to immediately ask yourself about your team and your organization:

1. How often are people asking questions and debating each other?
2. How often are people proactively sharing ideas, suggestions, and recommendations?

If the answer is “not often,” you might be unaware of a major train wreck that is about to happen due to a lack of open, honest communication.

If there is one common key attribute among my best clients, it is that they are attentive to honest communication. In fact, they know it needs to be built and worked on every day. Just like exercising and eating right is a never-ending process to good health, honest communication is vital to the continued health of every organization. How is your organization’s health and what is your plan to sustain it?

Turning Awkward Conversations into Easy Conversations During the Holidays!

The holidays can be joyful yet stressful at the same time. One of the main reasons is dealing with awkward conversations and relationships with relatives and friends. In this popular interview below, Steven reveals critical strategies to help make this holiday season the best yet.