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Speechless conversations

Silence speaks. Non-verbal communicates. Words deceive. Expressions give away. Eyes talk. How many times have we read and said the above? Majority of the time. But how many times have we seen people and especially people who are renowned falter on them? Majority of the time. The art of not saying yet saying is a science. That science needs to be understood, followed and practiced. But that practice is not all about the right body language and tones but much more. Thus, while it is a science of communication and can be learned it cannot make up for many other flaws. As 2020 departs and 2021 sets in there are some interesting patterns developing in leadership conversations that have a silent voice.

Communication distinguishes the ordinary from the extraordinary. Communication distinguishes success from failure. Communication distinguishes the leaders from the non-leaders. As they say the challenge of a leader is not have an amazing vision but to be able to communicate it so clearly and compellingly that people believe in it, share it and co create it. This is true of a salesman selling his product or service, or a parent trying to convince his child to choose a particular career or a politician trying to campaign in the public. While speaking to influence is a tough science its toughness lies more in the non-verbal rather than verbal part. We have seen how words matter but we have also seen when and how words become meaningless. Leadership conversations start and end much before and after the speech and meet sessions. Factors most important for creating compelling impact are:

1 The Aura-The aura is the vibes and signals coming out of your body. Some people have a positive aura about them and others negative. This is the result of the energy emanating from a person. This energy is based on his or her thoughts and actions. Bill Clinton had a beaming aura about him that people felt even when he was standing far away in the room. Quaid e Azam had an aura of steely determination. His entry into the court as a lawyer used to draw respectful awe of lawyers, judges and experts present. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had an aura of passionate aggression. In the present leadership cadre Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have an aura of non-transparency. They do not appear to be what they appear to be. Their children on the other hand give vibes of being in no man’s land. They have been drawing crowds but more out of fascination than real pull as proven by the Gilgit-Baltistan elections and a Minar-e-Pakistan rally. Maryam Nawaz has an aura of frustrated outrage that is watchable but whether it can evoke die-hard following is the question.

2 The look- The leader has to look the part. He or she has to dress to relate to its people. Quaid e Azam was this immaculately Saville Row-dressed lawyer when he was fighting cases and negotiating with the British. The British were mesmerized by his persona. The elegance of his suits and the class of his accessories created an impression that paved the way for receptivity much before he talked. As Pakistan became a reality he started donning the national dress to connect to the common man. Similarly, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s change of dress from the formal suit to awami suit was his adjustment to the role of a people’s man. He would deliberately roll up sleeves to align his look to that of a labourer to whom he was appealing. Benazir Bhutto also started wearing white dupatta and a simple jacket over shalwar kameez after her father’s death. Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari in her short debut in Multan donned simple clothes like her mother and drew favourable comparisons. On the other hand, Maryam Nawaz is dressed from head to toe in designer clothes donning fur coats and branded shoes that make her look good but far removed from the ordinary person.

3 The Legacy-Perhaps the biggest talk is the story you carry. As they say your repute precedes you as what you have done communicates loud and clear before you open your mouth. Everyone’s legacy is being formed whether they know or like it or not. Your past performance and deeds have already biased people for you or against you. Quaid-e-Azam had a professional and political repute that was based on decades of excellence, integrity and hard work. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had worked harder to establish his political credentials. The problem with the present lot of leaders is that the legacy they have or have inherited is not conducive to the message that they are trying to communicate. Benazir Bhutto had the advantage of having her father’s legacy as a stepping stone. Bilawal Bhutto has a disadvantage of having his father’s legacy that shadows him all the way. Maryam Nawaz being a “key” player in the Panama Leaks finds it difficult to sell the revolutionary anti-establishment rebel role. She does not have a past that gives her the blind trust of her followers.

In today’s world of over-information every single move you make is being highlighted through social media. What you are must be in sync with what you claim to be. What you claim to be must be talked about by others in the same context. What you want to do must be backed by what you have done in the past. Borrowed legacies are sustainable to a certain point. The Bhutto legacy served Benazir Bhutto well but Bilawal is finding it hard to balance it with the Zardari legacy.

The biggest advantage that Prime Minister Imran Khan has is that he has created his own legacy of turning the impossible into possible. From the World Cup to Shaukat Khanum to Namal College to winning the election, he has proven his critics wrong. He and Pakistan face a tough challenge midway into his term-inheriting a bankrupt economy, the worst health and economic crisis of the century in the world and an opposition and mafias desperate to dislodge him. So far he has dealt with them well and positively. With so much piled up against the government, the PM’s hope of 2021 being an opportunity for Pakistan is being dismissed and termed as absurd by his opponents. But then as Albert Einstein said, “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible”.

Andleeb Abbas, "Speechless conversations," Business Recorder. 2021-01-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political credentials , Namal College , Shaukat Khanum , Bilawal Bhutto , Maryam Nawaz

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