The start of a New Year means new habits right? I have run training sessions on improving personal effectiveness for many years so it was good to find an introductory book that covers the majority of the topics. It also contains a fair amount of positive psychology (which is pretty up to date as it was published in 2015). The book is wide-ranging and covers most basic soft skills (for business and life) – with neat summaries if you want to speed-read. There are also plenty of signposts to further reading. So here’s an overview and book review – “Brilliant personal effectiveness” by Douglas Miller.

The introduction starts with the question “What does personal effectiveness mean?” and immediately connects to interpersonal effectiveness – how we communicate with others. Planning, prioritising, organising, learning (and unlearning), goal achievement and self-management are also mentioned. And there’s an early online assessment of your character strengths (

  1. Improving your personal effectiveness

Learning and unlearning

The book starts with self-development and performance excellence using ideas from NLP. It addresses the importance of attitude and mind sets (including Dweck’s work) – avoiding negative self-talk to achieve your full potential.

It touches on some gems from the world of coaching. The author advises you to increase your failure rate (differentiating sensible mistakes from stupid mistakes – Mark Brown) to increase your success rate. Hamel’s “thinking outside the box” concept is modified to to “kickstarting” – learning new patterns of creative thinking.

Early specialisation is discussed (this topic is discussed in detail in the book Range – How generalists triumph in the age of specialists). The criteria for a top performer are shown as:

  • Practice with purpose (with periods of disengagement to restore energy levels)
  • Tap into excellence (referring to Matthew Syed’s book “Bounce” where he advocates attaching yourself to top performers)
  • Feedback

Engagement and effectiveness

Most of us are aware of SMART objectives. The book shares research showing that the effort and involvement needed for engagement in achieving excellence comes from SPARC:

  • Self-determination (linking to Pink’s four Ts – Task, Time, Team and Technique)
  • Purpose
  • Alignment (with links)
  • Reward
  • Challenge

Nancy Rothbard’s distinction between being attentive (good) to your work and being absorbed (great) by it is considered. A simple formula is provided indicating personal effectiveness (the goal) = strategy x likelihood of success.

Managing yourself

This section starts by exploring self-organisation and self-discipline – to plan, prioritise, organise and be assertive. Several dragons are slayed including: I can multitask, I can manage time, I have a problem that no-one else has and I know what I’m doing.

There’s advice to write down – no more than 10 – things that are important to us to organise our days – people, activities and values. And knowing whether you are a lark (early day high performance) or an owl (late day high performance).

Four time thieves are explored: doing first what should be last (Brian Tracy’s book “Eat that frog” is mentioned with his ABCDE task planning approach), email (choose when to check your email), procrastination and interruptions.

There’s advice on how to renew your energy levels (switching off regularly and reconnecting with what’s important and the real ‘you’) with a well-being audit to avoid burn-out. I liked the ideas around creating first time experiences and being in the moment to avoid the toll of constant repetition.

And there’s a reminder of the great advice of positive psychologist Martin Seligman to recall three things that have made us happy during the day before we sleep. Gratitude is important for good mental health.

Goal achievement

“A goal is an expression of future success that you can rationally and emotionally identify with”. This chapter covers the interconnected areas of creating opportunities, solving problems and setting goals on the basis that you are judged by results over time.

It offers three questions to help – What do you want to be? What do you want to do? What do you want to have? The suggestion being that you will be primed to notice those things that give life to your goals.

With a reference to Carl Jung there is the suggestion that opportunity spotting is just another form of creativity (with the following indicators: challenge, childlike, confusion, creation, captive and comedy). There’s an analysis of cognitive and co-operation problems and advice to gather evidence and challenge assumptions.

There’s the difference between heart goals (SMART – Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Time Specific) and heart goals (SPARC – Self-determined, Purpose, Aligned, Reward and Challenge). There’s help with planning timelines (short, medium and long term goals) and the fact that younger people now change jobs, on average, every seven years.

  1. Improving your impact on others

Introduction: Primacy and recency

It describes how people form judgements and opinions about you quickly which then drive “selective seeing”. So initial impressions tend to stick. The primacy effect is mentioned – where the first item presented has a greater impact – and leads to anchoring. The recency effect and adaptive unconscious (allowing quick decisions with little information) are also explored.

There’s more on cognitive biases here. 

Communication essentials

The section explores three main types of communication: language, paralanguage (voice tone) and body language.

Mehrabian’s 55:38:7 finding is examined and suggests his idea is tempered by congruence – what you pay attention to when the different ways of communicating don’t align. Psychologists argue that just over 50% of your impact comes from body and facial gestures and just under 50% from the words used and how you say them. Amy Cuddy’s video on power poses (“expansiveness” and “openness”) is also mentioned.

There’s a summary of the six expressions (happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust and anger) and micro-expressions and eye contact.

The material on the body language  of others is a bit basic but it’s good to have it available in one place – especially the advice to look for clusters of gestures, incongruence, mirroring, denial and cultural differences. There’s guidance on managing body language when talking to groups.

Paralanguage (pitch, punch, pace, pause and passion) is mentioned with tips to help conversations such as empathy, objectivity, positivity, judgements, labelling and high rising terminals. There’s an interesting insight that English has many more words than most global languages. The use of passive and softening words is mentioned and there’s advice on how to manage when people won’t stop talking.

There’s further guidance on how to make your presentation stimulating, structured and memorable by focusing on the purpose and the audience. Information + Emotion = Communication. And the VHF (Visual Hearing Feeling) channels are described before moving finally onto questioning and listening (critical and creative) techniques.

Assertiveness and influencing

There’s a great quote: “Assertiveness increases effectiveness. Effectiveness gains credibility, Credibility gives greater influence”. Using the definition by Kate and Ken Black, Assertiveness is described as:

  • Saying what you want, think, need, feel or believe
  • Saying it honestly, directly, appropriately
  • Respecting the rights of those we are addressing.

Assertive, passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive styles are described – with ideas on what language and non-verbal communication are used in each. Then the five elements of assertiveness are explored (decide what you want, run through your mental rehearsal, use the three languages, avoid manipulation and aim for win:win).

To influence, the author suggests listening to others and not posing a threat (i.e. make others look good) and answering the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) question. Influencing strategies described include trust, reputation, logic, coalition and doing a deal. There’s mention of Charles Handy’s book on “Understanding organisations” to interpret different organisational cultures: power, role and task-oriented.

All the ideas are pulled together for how to use assertiveness and influencing at a meeting under the stages of preparation, performance and persistence.

Working as a team

This starts with observations about the  shift to team working, self-managed teams, less hierarchy, remote working and the importance of collaboration (see The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers | Kim Tasso where the increasing importance

of collaboration is explored further in the context of protecting your job from artificial intelligence and automation).

There’s an analysis of different team roles – based on Belbin types and considering the strengths and vulnerabilities of each type:

  • Leaders/co-ordinators (direction)
  • Drivers (action)
  • Creators (ideas)
  • Harmonisers (relationships)
  • Achievers (results)
  • Challenges (restraint)
  • Networkers (resources)

There’s a discussion about: the need for clear rather than vague goals, ego masks, routine and evolutionary and revolutionary thinking, listening and partial presence. There’s practical guidance on how to make meetings more effective including preparation, timing, presence, language and courtesy.

  1. How to make a virtual impact

Working in a virtual world

I was looking forward to this section but it short and limited in scope. It addresses three aspects: working in a remote or virtual team, online ‘social networking’ (mostly LinkedIn) and the use and misuse of emails.

There’s much better advice on communicating electronically in Erica Dhawan’s book on digital body language. 

A survey revealed that the biggest challenges of virtual teams are decision-making, dealing with disagreements/conflict and the ease with which opinions can be expressed. Specific challenges addressed include:

  • Working in isolation – adopting a proactive approach to keeping in touch with your manager and team members, using online collaboration tools and joining groups
  • Maintaining purpose – concentrate on goals and the core focus of your work, sharing purpose when making demands of others
  • Virtual communication – developing knowledge and skills in all the online communication and collaboration platforms, being available, acknowledging messages, make phone calls (it suggests we can get three times the amount of work done at home than in the office) and tolerating issues that come with people working from home environments

The author observes that the absolute glue of relationship-building when operating in a virtual or remote team is trust  and provides some ideas on developing trust.

On virtual networks there are mentions of Yammer (but not Slack) and Facebook but the focus is on LinkedIn for business purposes. The author offers five guiding principles for professional networking

  • Be a builder
  • Active rather than passive
  • Behaviour breeds behaviour
  • Good maintenance
  • Open-mindedness

There’s a brief mention about online impact and developing online profile and reputation ((be authentic, promote your particular skills – with evidence – and mention your value). Accuracy and using the first person are suggested for profiles.

The section on email starts with asking “Why email?” – and advice to choose the best communication channel for the task. The author suggests you focus on what you want to happen as a result of the email, the structure and contents, the subject line, the style and tone and when you send it. There are just a couple of pages on writing effectively (for more guidance on writing – there are many others articles on my site such as Business development writing for lawyers – 13 top tips for writing for impact (

The future

This two-page section focuses on Gary Hamel’s 2012 “What happens now?” who indicated the following will come to the fore in the next 10 years:

  • Values
  • Innovation
  • Adaptability
  • Passion

My recent book on essential soft skills for lawyers has a broader analysis of much research on the skills and aptitudes most likely to be in demand in the future.

My 2018 book “Better Business Relationships”,  published by Bloomsbury, explores these topics and more in greater depth using the following model:

  • Difference and diversity
  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Internal relationships (team working)
  • External relationships (networking and selling)

Many will argue that the best book on personal effectiveness remains “The seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey which was published in 1989:


  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first


  1. Think Win:Win
  2. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  3. Synergize

Continual improvement

  1. Sharpen the saw

Related articles on personal effectiveness

Insights into assertiveness, confidence and effectiveness | Kim Tasso October 2020

Essential soft skills for lawyers | Kim Tasso July 2020

What are soft skills? And why are they so important? (Video) ( June 2020

12 thoughts on delegation, coaching and team management | Kim Tasso January 2020

How to facilitate groups – Guidance for those organising and facilitating | Kim Tasso October 2019

Helping people change: Coaching with compassion | Kim Tasso October 2019

Be more visible – the PVI model | Kim Tasso September 2019

20 ideas to improve impact, assertiveness and effectiveness for marketing and BD assistants and executives ( August 2019

Be more Jessica Pearson – Nine tips on assertiveness, impact and effectiveness for marketing and BD executives ( March 2018

How do you make a personal impact? Stand out, speak up and make a difference ( March 2018

Effective marketing Secretary: Seven reasons why secretaries make brilliant marketing and BD assistants ( October 2017

Business development writing for lawyers | Kim Tasso July 2016