Cultivate the gift of the gab

Cultivate the gift of the gab

Politicians, corporate leaders, civil servants alike are now being trained to speak. The power of articulation has now become an ingredient of professional training. In fact, the ability to communicate is the pre-requisite to be employable in the modern workplace, which tests an individual\'s soft skills more than his or her domain expertise. 

Politicians, corporate leaders, civil servants alike are now being trained to speak. The power of articulation has now become an ingredient of professional training. In fact, the ability to communicate is the pre-requisite to be employable in the modern workplace, which tests an individual's soft skills more than his or her domain expertise.

Indian democracy is replete with examples to suggest how skills in interpersonal communication and public communication helped people to scale heights in the world of politics. The power to articulate reveals one’s state of mind, clarity of thought and power of expression. Amartya Sen refers it to as internal freedom. The internal freedom is defined as an ability to think rationally and express creatively.

This ability to articulate can help people to get out of difficult questions and situations with their lighter vein presence of mind.
I still remember my conversation with the BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1984. My question, I thought, was very provocative – “What is the secret of your decision to remain a bachelor?”

I am sure that had it been anyone other than the great man, I could have been put in an embarrassing situation. But, Vajpayeeji, with a twinkle in his eyes replied, “It was a great tragedy”. This nonchalant ability to handle even difficult questions endeared him to all and saw him emerge as the most acceptable leader at a particularly critical phase in Indian polity.

With your ability to communicate, you can put your adversaries in their place. Even the most humiliating of questions can be answered in a most dignified manner even as your resolute message stays intact. Let me quote the legendary Marxist EMS Namboodiripad, the first elected Communist chief minister of India.

EMS was a voracious reader and a prolific writer. But he used to stammer a lot. Once a journalist asked a mischievous question during a press conference – “Mr EMS, do you stammer always?” The gentle reply from a man, who steeled in the fiery furnace of the fight for freedom, was simple. "No, I stammer only when I talk". The arrogant journalist had to hang his head in shame.

The perseverance of a person gets reflected in the power of his speech. Distinguished Parliamentarian S Jaipal Reddy was once confronted with a dilemma. The Assembly was debating on a motion to condemn the reported attempt on the life of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Political circles were obviously skeptical of the happening.

The opposition more precisely thought it was a publicity exercise by the shrewd politician. But, there was sentiment. One had to choose on whether or not to condemn the reported incident. If one condemns it, he would be ascribing a sort of legitimacy to the claim of Congress. Otherwise, it would send a wrong signal because it involved sentiment.

Given his distinctive style, Jaipal Reddy handled the situation rather eloquently. He observed on the floor of the august House: A rationalist prayed to the God in the following words. Oh God (if God exists). Please save his soul (if soul exists). I condemn the attack on Indira Gandhi (if it has happened).

A contrast in speech can be an excellent way of putting across one’s viewpoint. Journalists asked Amartya Sen after winning the coveted Noble prize. “What is the difference between your economics and mainstream economics?”Amartya Sen, who dedicated his life and works for the study of hunger, narrated. "Mainstream economics deals with the success stories of the most successful people. But, my economics deals with those who could not do well."

In fact, this sums up the towering contribution of this outstanding economist. Similarly, JRD Tata was once asked to differentiate between his generation of capitalists and the next generation of capitalists. The icon of Indian industrialisation, who pioneered managerial culture in the country, said, “Both have commonality as they amassed wealth. But, my generation produced and amassed wealth. This generation is manipulating and amassing wealth."

This, in essence, captures the country’s economic transition from productive capital to crony capital. People with their effective communication skills defend the indefensible too. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar was once confronted by media with an embarrassing question. “You were known to be an ardent critic of emergency. But, what made you to compromise with your political values to become Prime minister, albeit for only a few days?”

This was in the wake of his seeking Congress support to form a government at the Centre. He replied that people who climb Mount Everest do not do so to settle there. Ability to articulate can also help in engaging oneself in polemics. There was a heated discussion between the then Union Home Minister Giani Zail Singh, who came from a humble background, and the then Marxist stalwart Somnath Chatterjee, who later became Lok Sabha speaker.

Chatterjee was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Zail Singh when accused by the Marxist leader of being pro-capitalist, the man, who was to become the nation’s President countered that he came from a poor background while this Marxist, in fact, came from an aristocratic family. Another Marxist member stood up and said, “It’s true. But both have deserted their respective classes.”

Master this art of expression to be effective in life. It helps you to win admirers. It provides you confidence to face even tricky situations. Effective communication and well-intended gift of the gab can be keys to success in the modern world where packaging gains an exalted status in professional life.

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