Archive for August, 2010
(Man picks up the phone) Hallo?
(Caller) Congratulations on your engagement to Gowri.
(Man) Thank you! I am very happy …
(Caller) I am Gowri’s brother, you haven’t met me as yet, but I want to talk to you
(Man) Sure.. happy to talk to you..
And the conversation goes on. In the next few minutes the caller rips the man apart, asking him of his past relationships, why does he want to get married. The man blithely answers, ties himself in knots, blabbers, blunders… but doesn’t disconnect! The caller literally has the man in tears… and then breaks into laughter and wishes him Happy Birthday on behalf of his fiancé Gowri!
Huh! This is a popular show on an fm station in Bangalore by an RJ named- Prithvi. Each morning he calls people at the request of friends, family colleagues, bosses, and goes after them. Sometimes it is about their work, something they did or didn’t… people get angry, defensive, fight back, dither, offer explanations…
It is hilarious, sad and sometimes frustrating. Frustrating because it amazes me that we would pick up a call from an unidentified caller and allow them to rail road us, get us to disclose personal details and actually defend our position!
Did these folks even pause one second and ask – hey who IS this person?! Is he really who he says he is? And why should I even bother explaining myself to him? I guess not, cause the RJ does this every morning(and does it really well! ) and barring a few smart ones, most recipients succumb to his pressure tactics and get drawn into the conversation, defend, fight and in the process, provide fodder for all of us bangaloreans driving to work!
Its always foxed me as to why people fall for this! Why would they allow themselves to be drawn into a conversation like this? Cant they just walk away or hang up? Or even better –‘ Thank you for calling, I don’t know who you say you are. Give me your number I will call you back.’ If they refuse to give the number disconnect and move on. Atleast you’ve saved yourself some embarrassment, what with a million Bangaloreans in their cars, laughing at you.
I guess most of us don’t. Why?
Is it respect for authority that makes us succumb? A common theme the RJ uses is ‘I am your Vice President / Customer/ your HR Department (!)/ your fiancé’s brother…. And almost suddenly, the receiver’s tone changes.
Or maybe, we’re just insecure of who we are and what we do? I noticed that the ones who walk away, literally unscathed(very few) are the confident and calm ones. They’re the ones who don’t get riled up with all the pressure tactics.
Could it be that we just get caught in the moment and don’t know how to get out?
I have no clue… I wish I knew. But this post is not about why we do this – that’s more for the psychobabblers to decipher. Its about how to break this vicious trap and walk away before it is too late, cause this is strikingly similar to the games we play at work!
One way is to stop, ask for more details, don’t get drawn in , don’t take it further until you have established somewhat, what their agenda could be. In a media training, I learnt that if you ever receive a call from somebody claiming to be a journalist don’t take it, ask for the number and call back. It allows you 3 options –
1. helps you establish who they are 2. allows you to choose the time and setting for the conversation ( buy those precious few seconds to think before you react) 3.maybe, not even call back!
Another is to of course stay calm, polite, ask probing questions and say you need to get more details to respond. Or the best excuse – say I am in a meeting, on another call leave me your number and name I will call you; valid point – let me think this through and revert.
Whatever your style, learn to walk away from battles that are not worth the energy you will dispense in trying to defend your stand.
While not so in-your- face, there are several RJ–avatars at our workplace too. They are the ones who needle you for no reason (or maybe there is one, but definitely not apparent) and when you get all wound up, they take a bow having thoroughly enjoyed their daily dose of laughs. Remember your last team meeting ? This RJ avatar was sitting in the corner, shooting down all your ideas with a few sniggers thrown in too.
How about the conversation with your RJ-type-stakeholder? All they had on their agenda was to repeatedly remind you of commitments missed. Try as you might, you weren’t able to go past the defence position to reassure them on how you planned to fix it.
A niggling question in my head is what I’d do if I become the bakra (goat – in local parlance, an unsuspecting victim, famous from reality show ‘MTV Bakra’) Interesting… firstly, if I don’t recognize the number on the mobile, I will not take the call! But if I do… I don’t know… hopefully this RJ doesn’t read this and check it out for himself.
I am definitely not picking any unknown calls… maybe you too shouldn’t! When I posed this one of my young colleagues– his immediate response was..”What if it is a placement consultant!” oops!
As always write your comments, your reactions… don’t call me
BTW – I believe the same applies for those texts that claim you have won the lottery, those websites that ask you for all your details and then clean out your accounts, those strangers knocking on your door claiming they are from the Census board! And I know many fools who still share the details, take those calls, reply to those texts!! Including some in my family
Imagine this – a high level meeting with the customer has been planned a week hence, and you, along with a few peers, are responsible for putting together a very big-fancy presentation. Been there – done that ?
You begin by waiting for the perfect moment to start putting the presentation together – first thing in the morning, before the craziness of the day hits us. But to no avail. You then decide to postpone efforts until the evening, but unfortunately the movie on cable TV is far more interesting. This cycle continues over the next few day too, but with new distractions – a great book, must-do-shopping and a visit to the doctor.
The countdown has already begun and with each passing hour, the tension only increases. Ideas are drying up and the stray one that makes it past the initial stage, doesn’t last the full leg. Dear God! The stress is unbelievable and the clock doesn’t stop ticking.
Suddenly , it all makes sense. These creative roadblocks are but obvious! How foolish to have forgotten that the presentation will not fall into place cause neither of you were wearing your lucky socks! Socks?!! Really ? What may appear to be results of hard work, smart thinking and collaborative efforts, is actually because of a pair of (hopefully, clean) socks ?
You’d be surprised but this isn’t a pet quirk of the baby boomers or even the new-age-middle age. Gen X+1 subscribe to it as well, and bring to the table, their own style. Not to be confused with superstitions or religious beliefs, the ‘sock’ transforms the creative road block into free flow of thoughts. Suddenly, the task seems within reach and the end results already look smashing.
What changed it all? A mindset shift or is it truly the energy from the pair of socks? That’s the beauty of a Mojo – traditionally a magical charm bag used in the African-American culture, it translates to a lucky charm ( an object, action or even a person) that we secretly and privately believe brings unprecedented fortunes. Lucky pens, special clothes, bracelets, watches, shoes, activities – the list is enthralling, endless and sometimes, embarrassing to print and share
I met with Karthik a few months ago, when the tizzy over IPL matches had reaches new heights. He is the proud owner of a 75-inch flat screen TV and he promised us a gaming experience that no hotel could match – unlimited drinks and snacks, an impromptu dance every time Royal Challengers (the local team) scored and no air-conditioning! What?? That, he explained eagerly, was his way of ensuring that his favorite team won all matches . If only Dhoni (Captain of the Indian Cricket team) had figured that out, we would’ve saved some face in the recent Sri Lanka series and a small personal fortune on electricity bills.
I must admit, it took me a while to recover from the heat stroke, but lesser to realize that there were many more Karthiks around me. Sachin is convinced that he will bag a sales deal only if his mum answers “Yes Munna” ( read – sonny) when he poses the question “ Mom, will I get a great sales deal this month?”. All credit to the magical words from mommy dearest . Meena wears pink, and only pink, for all examinations and interviews while Priya doesn’t step out of house until she’s given her Labrador puppy, Leo, a good belly-rub. Why? To avoid traffic snarls on her long drive to work.
While these may seem a little eccentric, lucky charms are fairly common in the celebrity world too. Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar usually wears the leg pad given to him by his brother, on his right leg, before every match. If he has to change his pad during a match, Sachin ensures that he wears his brother’s pad, even if its for a short while only. President Obama carries a statuette of Madonna with her child and a bracelet worn by a US soldier in Iraq, with him at all times.
So, can a mojo cross over to become an obsession? It sure can, and Priya had to bear the brunt of it, cause very soon, Leo began to see the belly rub as a catch-me-if-you can game that took 15 precious minutes off Priya’s hectic mornings. Karthik was banished to the kitchen to watch the matches on a 14 inch screen and Meena was nick-named ‘Pinky’.
However, Im not convinced to give them up, not as yet atleast. Why should we, especially when it boosts self-confidence , self-esteem and is a feel good factor? If the first cup of tea for the day, in my favorite chipped mug, can reassure me that the day ahead will be stupendous, I don’t want to be a masochist and deny myself the pleasure.
Sometimes I wonder, am I the only one for whom matter takes precedence over the mind? What mojos are the others hiding behind? Will sharing it with others render it powerless?
If yes, keep it a secret. If not… go on and tell us, what’s your Mojo?
One of the best choices I have made in my recent blogging experience was to leave the blog open ended without a prescribed closing thought or with any attempt to provide ready-made answers. Honestly, I didn’t think or ponder over it too much. And boy, am I glad I didn’t !
However, while still writing out the blog, my confidant warned me that no one will respond. People prefer passive reading and mostly limit their comments to ‘great job Elango’ or ‘great thought’ or ‘agree with you’. However, this blog would require each one to think, deliberate and possibly reminisce, before they respond.
Was I asking for too much? Well, I went through several anxious days when the number of comments didn’t get to the numbers I expected . Ranging from sulking to speed-depression (like speed dating!), I thought I had lost my touch and connect. I had gone with my instinct and soon enough the barrage opened. Once again, I was overwhelmed with the responses I got.
Overwhelmed, not by the number of responses ( many of you still chose not to comment!) but with what was put out there. People were honest, clear and convinced about what their choice would be. Some even spoke about their insatiable want to have both options – the boyfriend and the fancy onsite job. This is a tough one, and different circumstances would elicit different responses altogether. However, the simplicity with which people took these hypothetical decisions is intriguing.
A majority of you were very emphatic about giving family and personal life preference over fancy job postings. “For me the choice is based on what weighs more positive on the bias, with family on both sides of the scale” – Well said Padma Prabhkaran! Suraj J echoes that further by saying “Moral of the story is – value family over everything else”. This concept of ‘family first’ is definitely a surprise for me… I haven’t seen this so strong before.
The second paradigm that the responses broke was that most of you, who are constantly jostling for more empowerment and elbow-room at the workplace, openly admit to democratic, collective and non-traditional decision making techniques ! While Shalu Salwan discusses it with those she trusts and respects, Prabhu Ambrose has an effortless mantra to go for the one that your heart desires and Ganapathi Devappa sums it up by saying ‘go with your heart and let the mind figure out the way’.
Suresh’s approach is priceless – he allows his mom to make all his decisions !(Mama’s boy, eh? Chuckle).
Post several comments on prioritization, weighing of options and many rounds of negotiations, I stumbled across the third paradigm – the subtle need to get our hands on both options! Cognitively, we all admit to consequences, but subconsciously we continue to desire both the big screen TV as well as well-rounded savings! The dichotomy is apparent in VG’s comment – ‘always think of what it would have been if you had decided in favor of the other’ and Santosh’s reinforces it by saying ‘always aim to get both, this and that ….it will take creating work arounds’.
Rather than take a judgment call, I looked closer to home and reaslised that this dichotomy was inherent in me too. Whenever I found myself not wanting both options, I figured that there really was no choice to begin with ! Isnt that what you meant Balamurugan V when u said that ‘we always have solution…never forget, once decided don’t worry about the choice you eliminated’.? As Robin Sharma states in The Greatness Guide – Burn your boats, so post crossing the river there is no looking back.
What I didn’t hear too much about were the tradeoffs that come with these decisions – a tight monthly budget will but obviously follow a 50 inch flat screen TV and potential cracks in relationships are a given due to the distance. Do we have a limited view of the consequences or is that built into the decision – come what may, this is the path I’m going to tread on and will deal with whatever comes my way?
More likely the latter, cause here is what Mr Cant-Decide, Ms So-In-Love and the Young Couple finally decided – remember, these were not fictional characters :
• Mr Cant-Decide bought just the TV and parked the Home Theater System for the next bonus cycle
• Ms So-In-Love took the fancy onsite posting cause her boyfriend didn’t want her to regret the decision 10 years later and neither did she
• The Young Couple decided to give the consulting offer a pass as he was confident of his capabilities and bet with me that many others would come his way
Looks like most of us clearly understand priorities , are willing to make the trade offs and are strong enough to face the consequences.
A Dutchman with German roots, living in California and working for a company filled with Indians… my family tells me I am half Indian … Enough messing up to qualify me writing a blog on cross cultural crosses! From a delicious Scandinavian skinny dip, to the ‘yes now no now’ head shake and the ‘I have one more thing at the last minute’ to the interminable ‘two minutes’, there is a complete smorgasbord to be served to the global citizen. Hopefully the stomach ache will be from the laughing and not from the heavy servings from the crazy Dutchman!
Before I start cooking you up my cultural servings … let us quickly establish the common menu. So what is culture, and why would we need to worry about managing teams across multiple cultures at all? The word culture is used in various senses. For the purpose of this discussion let’s use Wikipedia’s: “The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution, organization or group”. Cultures vary by country, ethnicity, company, neighbourhood and even families. Each of them will influence how we talk, react and do our work, and require different management approaches. Exactly that ratatouille of differences is what challenges the manager of a cross-cultural team.
With that said lets see if we can digest some cultural treats!
Here is the appetizer… it will crack you up – or offend you, depending on your cultural background. So don’t blame me or your cultural background, just enjoy the servings with a pinch of salt
It was the annual Project Management conference of a global firm, held in Antibes, in the sunny south of France. A full week of lectures, role plays, recognition, entertainment, you name it. One morning I was breakfasting by the pool. Up walks one of the Scandinavian project managers, drops all her clothes and enjoys a brisk dip in the pool. In fact most of us by the pool enjoyed her brisk dip . The next day this PM is in my team … how do Scandinavian managers deal with this? Even for the liberal Dutchman this was a tad too much. Cultural difference at it’s most extreme. Luckily (sadly?) this is an extreme. The real cultural challenges lay in more subtle areas, but are no less challenging.
A good start in managing cross-cultural teams is to recognize that there are differences. At a macro level, high context cultures, like Indian, Arabic or Asian, put great price on honour, reputation and tradition. They avoid surprises and minimize confrontation, in order not to “lose face”. Politeness is valued more than clarity. Low-context, individualistic cultures, such as the American, or most European cultures, tend to focus on facts & figures, closing deals, getting things done, and can be perceived as aggressive. In high context cultures one must read between the lines (context). In a low context culture everything is what is said. In a high context culture people are used to be close to each other, and business and private life are merged. In the low context culture there is a need for privacy (space). We’ll come back to these dimensions later in a more ‘juicy’ setting.
Now let’s serve the entrées (which BTW in French means ‘starter’ while we are talking main course here …)
My first trip to India is still the most memorable, because the culture shock was maximum. I came in straight from the airport, and first met the project team in a large room. The room was big enough for all of us to freely move around, but the team was huddled up in one corner … just opposite the one I had picked … smiles … silence. I thought I must have smelled bad after my long flight! Some of the guys were actually holding each other … where had I landed?? I pulled off a few jokes … smiles … silence … not sure which side of the cultural wall felt more uncomfortable! My next meeting was in a small room with three chairs, one behind a desk and two visitor chairs on the other side of the desk. When I entered the room there were the two PMs with who I had been in touch over e-mail for some time. They were again standing in a corner of the tiny room. Still that smell? After the greeting ceremony I nestled myself in one of the visitor chairs and … these guys still stood in their corner, uncomfortably smiling. They would be still standing there today, had I not moved to the chair behind the desk and encouraged them to take a seat. Respect in one culture has a different meaning than in the other.
No matter what leadership style, communication is a significant part of managing any team, let alone a cross-cultural team. While the Western style is direct and to the point (linear), the Eastern style is highly contextual and repetitive (circular). Confusing? Let’s explain it ‘western style’: the western communication is rude, and the eastern communication is fuzzy … there you go! Maybe this is the place to apologize to numerous managers, peers and team members that have taken my own communication as rude and offensive over the years. I am still learning everyday to manoeuvre context. To listen more to what is not said than to what is said; “It’s OK” likely means “there is some problem”. To realize that words may be taken literally; “Ramu is a world class developer” will be interpreted insincere, or come back in the next appraisal round as a ticket for promotion. Similarly, an Indian PM will discover one day that the American client did not get the subtle hints that the project is going down the drain. He should then think of this blog, take a deep breath, and address the client in terms they understand.
“Oh, and there is one more thing … “, a phrase I have learnt to anticipate after many years. When the ‘one more thing’ came up, I used to tell the poor chaps “no, time is up, I have to hurry to my next meeting”, as is in my culture the right thing to do. And away I blew the most important moment of the meeting, in which they would tell me about their problem (and most of the time mine). A manager of multicultural teams needs to learn, anticipate and deal with behaviour patterns in the other cultures. This requires willingness, patience and focus. It also requires the courage to apologize at times cultures clash.
Hoping that you still have a little appetite left, let’s now go for the Californian grand desert, to a Dutch recipe, served with Indian sweets.
Here are some personal rules I have accumulated over the years that help leverage the strengths of other cultures. Please feel free to add to the list …
• Accept the behavioural patterns and do not criticize local practices and customs, even in one’s mind.
• Understand what drives motivation in different cultures. Realizing the differences, and learning how to deal with them is critical.
• Spend considerable time on cultural awareness, not only for self education, but also team, organization and clients.
• And finally … take a refreshing night rest before sub-merging in the new culture, so the senses are all open and … less chance of the smelly problem
Hopefully the global economy will force schools to include cultural awareness in their curriculum. In our time, we can only try to recognize the differences, and embrace them as welcome diversity in the cultural cocktail.
I’m in Bangalore on work! While it is always good to be back home, the thing that caught my attention on the streets as I was moving around were the number of Indian flags and it’s various manifestations – the extreme I thought was a hospital that had its name written in 3 blocks on backgrounds that were the tricolor – I stopped my BMW( my dad’s moped that I use when in Bangalore) and rechecked that I wasn’t seeing something wrong – I wasn’t!
Hold on… before you think this is another independence day rhetoric blog… don’t worry this is about independence but not about the nation! Yours! I figured out a year ago the state of mine :0
Let’s get the easy question! How independent are you? “Bahut”, “Sikkabitre”, “Quite a bit”, “Very”, “pretty much”, “romba romba” – Different degrees and languages for sure depending on where you are from , but did I hear anyone say no?? I guess not!
The harder one now, what does Independence mean?
Now that’s a broad one. Let’s get with the HR guys first – they’ll probably say it is a competency that blah blah……..me included! Hmm,, who next? A Manager?! –they are probably talking about how their team members did their own stuff without bothering them so they can attend their important meeting! You ask the team member they would say for them when their manager didn’t get in in their hair and let me on my own! The young kids will talk about it as thefreedom to play, watch TV, surf the net or chat on the phone – I probably won’t know as they keep changing their minds from time to time! At this time of the year (what with all the wiki leaks) , someone will for sure quote Wiki – and say “ the condition of a nation, country or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty over it’s territory” – Freak! that was tough to read and type as the cut and paste function does not work on my home laptop!!
The cows will come home, but a conversation on it’s meaning for sure won’t end! Let’s park that and go back to the second question again! How Independent are you?
I asked myself the question and here is my confession – I am not! But I am proud to say I’m not! I’m learning to say I failed (this should atleast ensure Elango posts my blog )
I moved to the UK a year ago. The first few weeks were a riot for me (and for a few others too) and certainly taught me a few things on my levels of independence!
I used a dish washer tablet to wash clothes in a washing machine and messed a beautiful white shirt !
I didn’t know to press my shirt or trouser, but could do the ties very well! The trousers looked like they had pleats all over
I went and bought the wrong washing liquid and messed up another garment
How on earth do you use a dishwasher?
I fortunately know to cook, but I was stranded with my rice cooked and unable to make my channa as I didn’t know how to use a can opener! I ended up eating curd rice with gravy made for channa masala!
A vacuum cleaner – now don’t ask me that story
The list is a few more, but I’ve already embarrassed myself enough! Simple things.. but!!!!
I couldn’t do any of what a normal person does here! While I completely understand that the culture is different and there are services / domestic help that we get back here, the key is that we don’t make an attempt to learn. Certain things are granted and we take them for so!
In a world where change in the only constant, here is what I’ve learnt!
1. You are never too big to learn something too small. No task is menial.
2. Learn the local language – fortunately I speak English. So I am learning to say a little more than pizza and pasta in Italian as I travel to Italy on work. Are you independent enough to say some stuff your local language in India!
3. Don’t take things around you for granted – there are certain things money can buy, but sometimes, money can’t. If you still think it can, get ready to have a burnt pocket and a big one too!
4. Ask for help when in need – in hindsight, I should have gone and spoken to folks saying listen, this is stuff I am not used to.. how can I… folks listening to me 6 months later laughed, but appreciated the pain. They were willing to help, just that I was shy to ask!
5. Thinking through the small things when you do anything is important. I didn’t even spend a moment wondering about this when the excitement of living in my second favourite city in the world was happening! Bangalore is first for the record!
6. Observe – it teaches you a lot. A dishwasher being operated at work was how I figured how to use the damn thing!
While these may be learnings from a personal move, I think they apply to most of us equally well in at work too.
My spouse is ofcourse loving it she is free from the laws (!) you normally are saddled with when you live in your spouse’s town and of course getting me to do the dishes! Freedom from domestic help – we don’t have to get up at 5a to let the domestic help in!
While I’m enjoying being back home and didn’t bother to wash my coffee cup this morning (old habits die hard) you go have a super independence day
Celebrate it by learning something new today! Do the dishes or press the clothes! Or if you are some of my dear friends make your own tea!