Witty and easy guide on personal skills


GENERALLY, I prefer American writers to British ones. 

This comes from having had suffered several British business writers whose fondness for lengthy sentences, impressive words and tedious description had caused me, on many occasions, to seek reassurance from my wife as to whether I was suffering premature senility. After she had read a passage or two to tell me, “I’m not sure what this guy is trying to say ?” that I was sufficiently reassured my mental faculty wasn’t impaired in any way. 

But Drop the Pink Elephant – 21 Steps to Personal Communication Heaven (Capstone Publishing) is well written. And like the saying “the taste of the pudding is in the eating”, the book certainly endorses author Bill McFarlan as a master of communication. 

After having worked more than 25 years in the media and having taught many people to improve their communication skills, McFarlan uses the concept of “Pink Elephants” in this book to point readers to any unnecessary and normally vivid, negative. 

As he explains, a “Pink Elephant” usually pops up when unprompted because it’s part of the mental baggage we always carry around with us. If we’re worried that somebody is thinking negatively about us, we say it before they do.” 

As examples of “Pink Elephants”, he offers former US President Richard Nixon’s words in a televised address to the nation in April 1973: “There can be no whitewash at the White House.” McFarlan points out that until that point, the American people had refused to believe that their president could have any prior knowledge of the break-in at the Democratic Party’s HQ at the Watergate Building. It was that one phrase, linking the White House with a whitewash, that reversed their thinking. 

This is why McFarlan laments that 25 years later, in January 1998, then-US President Bill Clinton still hadn’t learned anything for he chose to declare: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky.” Ten months after making that televised statement, Clinton had to apologise for misleading the American people. 

Hence, McFarlan writes that he has always urged his students and course participants to remember this key principle: “Always tell people what you are, instead of what you’re not.” 

As I had laughingly told my wife after reading this witty book, Clinton should have had attended one of McFarlan’s classes, and many politicians today could still find it not too late to learn from this book. 

The book comprises 21 chapters – hence, 21 steps – spread over five sections, e.g. Section one is about dumping the baggage and creating clarity, Section two on being principled in what one says, Section three exhorts one to positively assert oneself, Section four talks about thinking of the audience, and Section five explores creating deeper understanding. Each chapter is very easy to read since McFarlan’s lessons come across as most straightforward and he is also very candid with his own personal experiences in addition to the many offered examples. 

In a nutshell, throughout the book McFarlan offers the following pointers – spotting and dropping the “Pink Elephant”, getting rid of jargons, learning to speak in pictures, recognising when to apologise or thank people, and how to captivate an audience – for those who wants to sharpen their communication skills. 

As the book promises, readers will “discover a new you. Subtle. Intelligent. Persuasive. Witty. Engaging. Confident. And you will relish every opportunity to try out your new skills.” From what I have read, the book lives up to its promise. 

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