Speaker: Jeannie Kahwajy

Getting the People Part Right

Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy is the founder and CEO of Effective Interactions, a firm specializing in personal effectiveness and organizational achievement.  She is an expert in the mechanism of interpersonal influence and focuses on applications in leadership, decision making, negotiation, and learning: how to be heard, how to turn around difficult situations, how to help people explore new ideas, and how to get others to want to follow you.

Whereas management consulting too often focuses on the "what" of business – strategy, execution, financial modeling, etc. – Jeannie believes that the key to unlocking individual and team potential is to tackle the "how" of interaction.  "If you don't get the people part right, nothing else matters."  Her approach is scientific, innovative, and counterintuitive, achieving breakthrough results with senior executives in major corporations on six continents.  She has also addressed 160 US Ambassadors and the top 50 at the US Department of State with the message of how we can create peaceful and profitable relationships through the language of leadership.

Dr. Kahwajy's research, teaching, and client engagements focus on specific ways leaders can transform their interactions to make those interactions – and themselves – more effective.  At the core, her work is about learning the skill to bring love and transformative participation into every interaction, though primarily in the workplace.  She believes it is possible for a single participant in an interaction to adopt behavior and successfully alter the communication dynamic, even when interacting with someone stuck in another mode.  This permits applicability of these techniques far beyond the traditional approaches which pre-suppose an alteration of behavior by both parties.

Her research interests flow from a few basic questions:  Why do we perform better in the presence of some people?  Or why do we give the benefit of the doubt to one person but not to another?  What causes us to WANT to hear, help, trust, or promote someone?  What creates goodwill?

“I was always curious about how when you’re talking to someone, magic seems to happen,” she says.  “Things come out of you and out of the other person that you didn’t even imagine.  So you both leave transformed.  There’s some magic that happens in the inner space between people.  One of my favorite quotes is that ‘The meaning of life is not what happens to people.  The meaning is what happens between people.’  And we are here to inspire people.  My dreams happen to be around the magic of interpersonal interactions.  And being surprised.  And trying to get that alchemy going in every situation we are in.  How my readiness to learn is the key to influencing and inspiring others.”

According to Kahwajy, “There’s something going on that’s very powerful and overlooked in the interaction between people. If you look deeply,” she continues, “what you can learn or see is that other people pull out your greatness and you pull out their greatness. It’s a skill.  It’s this force of receiving that elicits their greatness, and that’s really the mechanism.” 

That fundamental skill of receptiveness, according to Jeannie, is one that can be taught and learned.  If you want to be an exceptional communicator, she teaches, set people up to be better able to be receivers of information.  In other words, set people up to play a game of catch with you, instead of a game of throw at you (and them). “This is all accomplished by our going first, by our achieving a ‘state of receptiveness’ ourselves: ready to catch especially what we don’t expect or ready to learn what we didn’t know we didn’t know.”

Dr. Kahwajy holds multiple degrees from Stanford University – a PhD in organizational behavior and PhD Minor in social psychology, an MBA, and an MS in engineering-economic systems with a concentration in decision science, as well as a BS in systems engineering from the University of Virginia. She continues to advise executives and teach leadership and interpersonal dynamics inside companies and in top executive MBA programs around the globe.  Her Harvard Business Review article, “How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight,” has recently become an HBR Classic.

Before devoting her full-time efforts to private consulting through Effective Interactions., Dr. Kahwajy was professor of organizational behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, a management consultant with Strategic Decisions Group in Menlo Park, CA, and a member of technical staff at Bell Labs.  She has held positions in technical marketing with Bell Atlantic, worked on the equity derivatives trading desk in London with Banque Paribas and was on a USAID team that advised the Czech Minister of Privitization during their economic transition in the early 1990s.

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