Steven Gaffney’s Communication Blog

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.

mlk image

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.



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.