Archive for the ‘Building relationships’ category
A few weeks ago , my wife and I noticed our son, Agastya was forgetting the magic words. He is seven now and there was no way we could explain his behavior saying ‘Oh he is only a child!’.
To help him and ourselves, we started the ‘ Say the magic word’ campaign at home. No more ‘Mama water’. If he could, he had to get it himself or say the magic ‘please’. Likewise, no thank you means the water went back! The campaign was making it’ s impact and just when we thought we had one less boor at in the world, disaster struck really hard and how!
We were out for dinner with new acquaintances. The disaster, started with the menu distribution. The poor waiter forgot to hand over the menu card to our new found acquaintance’s wife. She immediately snapped her finger and yelled ‘hallo! what about me? The poor fella had his eyeballs hit the floor and bounce back to the socket. I quietly handed over my menu card. Agastya who was busy with his Nintendo gave a quizzical ‘is this the magical behavior? That was just the beginning. The dinner was a demonstration of behavior that we wished Agastya was not witness too. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ the magical words were missing. In place there were demands, remonstrations and loud comments. We squirmed, we ate and we bid goodbye never to meet again.
Dear Agastya had a lot of questions, we had a bit of explaining to do, but we did as well as we can without being judgmental. Fortunately, at seven, your child still thinks you are knowledgeable, so we minimized damage and continued our magic word campaign. Explaining this to him I realized that many of us adults, may not even be aware of the missing magic words.
Also in our country somehow the pecking order seems to be the barking order – who shouts the loudest gets the way seems to be the mantra. Maybe we think that this is the only way to get things done. Whatever the reason, I thought this was a good subject to write on.
I looked for recent incidents that I could write as examples… of when adults forgot the magic words!
I am unwell….ok thank you
January of this year I remember, I missed a meeting with a colleague based in our New York office because I was unwell. Once I returned to work from the brief illness, I sent a regret note to the colleague that I was unwell, therefore I missed the meeting and will schedule time for us to connect again. In response I just get a plain ok!!
How I would have loved to hear… ‘Oh! Trust you are better now… Thank you for letting me know. Look forward to our meeting!’ Magic! Just a little cheer that’s it but definitely would have oiled the wheels for future conversations for both of us.
People who serve us and a test for Indian Idioms
Here’s another one, I frequently notice. The gent who comes around to serve coffee or tea in meetings rarely gets a thank you or a quick acknowledgment. He is virtually not there!
Persona non grata’ as they say (now can I challenge my readers to get me a local saying for that)
I wish we would just look at them, briefly nod, and continue with whatever earth saving meeting we are in!
Recently, while checking in at a hotel front desk, I noticed a gentleman berating the receptionist. Apparently he was attending a meeting, was not staying at the hotel but wanted keep his bags at the concierge. The receptionist declined stating security reasons the hotel did not allow this. Fully understand and necessary, how do we know the chappy did not have his bags loaded with explosives. But the gent would not let go. He raved and ranted, asked finally asked for the supervisor. Fortunately the receptionist stood her ground and asked him to fly a kite most politely! She is a rare one… I have seen many a service professional being shouted down by boors like this.
Distractions… that distort the magic
You are talking to someone, their phone beeps and you are left staring at them for the next 5 minutes. Or worse still, you are in the middle of a one o one conversation and the other person picks up their phone and starts answering their mails!
I must admit though, that I have been guilty of this crime too! Here is a public apology and a commitment never to do it again! If i do please throw my phone on the floor and… just tell me I will apologize and not do it again.
The Big what if…
Before I leave let me address another question that you will most definitely have. “Will my niceness be taken for weakness?”
We too got asked the same by our friends and acquaintances, when we insist Agastya uses the magic words and follows simple courtesies.
“Hey, at this rate, you will make him too nice to survive in this world!”
Being nice doesn’t mean allowing people to take you for granted.
Taking off on our last post on Indian Idioms… even your scolding has to be like “injecting a ripe banana” smooth, painless yet mission accomplished.
Here is wishing you lots of magic this Ganesha
… you can start by making some magic for me with your comments J
In response to the blog post “I trust you”, Rajesh Makhija wrote;
“Elango, very well written. In many such cases, the Pygmalion effect also comes into play, thus promoting behaviors in the intended direction”
The Pygmalion effect – aha! It brought back memories of an incident in school. I think this was in 7th grade; we had a new boy in class. He was a really big, but gentle boy. He did not know a word of English and looked like a rabbit caught in the glare of the headlights in the middle of jungle road.
He was of course not welcome. The whole class pounced on his inability to converse. What a misfit he was! He was a big guy so all the taunts were quiet, in the back. The boy grew distant; he did not seem to make progress, each day he seemed to drag himself to class.
Our class teacher noticing this, chose a few of us and made us take responsibility for certain specific areas of improvement. I was given English; another was made his buddy in hostel and so on. I was struggling, even after weeks of perseverance and patience he was making no progress. I was tiring and soon became frustrated. I started avoiding him, but pride wouldn’t let me go. I confided in my favorite teacher my struggle. She told me all I have to do is tell him that he will do well and be proud of every little move. As only a child can, I scampered off with this new idea only to see myself fail yet again! I went back to her, she said she will think about this and talk to me the next day.
Next day she called me at the end of her class and asked me to walk with her to the staff room. She apparently had pulled him aside and spoken to him to discover that I had created so much performance pressure that he was tongue-tied. She suggested that I forget my English lessons and just be friends with him. We would both figure it out anyway. We started hanging out together, initially saying nothing just sharing our food, playing in the breaks and sharing notes i took in class. Suddenly we figured he was an ace in basket ball. As long as he was with me I would not lose those paired basket ball sessions we had! Suddenly he grew in confidence from learner he became teacher and before we knew he was picking up spoken English and end of the year he moved out of my tutelage. We stayed friends through school but as equals and lost touch as went our ways to make our life.
Suddenly reading Rajesh’s note brought back those memories and the early lessons. I clearly remember the first rejection, struggle, warm friendship and the joy of seeing somebody learn and excel. But on careful scrutiny I realized had I totally relied on expectation setting, the story would have ended, yes, but I doubt the happy ending.
My friend would definitely have mastered the language, but the journey would not have been as memorable. The theory of the Pygmalion Effect is definitely true. But I feel the corollary to the theory is often forgotten. Set expectations, but also watch the ecosystem you create.
Even when you want to teach, look to learn and you will teach. Somehow people open up to your teaching when they know you are also learning from them. People want to know that they have something to offer, it makes them more receptive. This is what happened when I figured out my friend’s basket ball skills and he realized I could learn from him.
While your expertise bags you the job, it may actually create performance pressure for the learner. Being humble, patient and sometimes laughing at some of the mistakes you made when you started will help. That is why sometimes failed players are better coaches than the most successful players.
When somebody elses’ learning becomes your personal success it becomes your ego. If it is their success that you are looking out for, it is less about you and more about them.
Don’t get so caught up with the end that you stop enjoying the journey. The minute the focus shifted to being friends in addition to the English classes, we reached the end thoroughly enjoying the process.
BTW the Pygmalion comment was a trigger i don’t know the theory well to be able to say if my interpretation is right. So please do not look at this as a purist Pygmalion effect commentary but another story triggered by Rajesh’s comments with hopefully some lessons.
Have fun and leave your comments.
This post is inspired by a father teaching his daughter cycling. This will bring home the power of three words “I trust you” and its magic on all of us.
“Don’t worry I am walking right beside, keep looking in front”. This was a father gently urging his daughter to stop worrying and just cycle. He was trying to wean her off the safety wheels and obviously, she was petrified of a fall on the hard cemented surface! She kept looking down, looking back, but he persisted, and he was always there when she lost balance, not letting her fall. With each prevented fall, she gained in confidence, started looking in front, chin up, and shoulders squared off. Slowly the father fell a few paces behind and started letting her go. He was hovering around to assure her but it was more psychological now, and voila! One fine day, she was cycling on her own, not looking back! Wow…the power of trust.
This set me thinking, can we harness this power as managers. What if we all were like that gentle father: assuring, always around, holding them when they fall and letting them soar to achieve their full potential?
This reminded me of an incident that happened a few years ago. I heard a lot of complaints of a new leader we had brought on board. I heard comments about her being too hard, questioning everything, too controlling da…da… I ignored it first, dismissing it as settling issues. But when it persisted I had no choice but to address it. In our meeting, I told her ‘Listen your customers are happy, I am delighted with your focus and energy but a few of your leaders don’t seem too happy with your leadership style. I want you to know I trust you, I believe you are a great hire and will do very well. What can we do to fix this part too? ” We had an awesome discussion, she wanted to know – what I was hearing, whether I could share some incidents etc…. At the end of the meeting we both walked out with clear action items but no looking behind. She spoke to me a year later to thank me for the trust and how that is what kept her going. I was humbled.
When I narrated this to a colleague, he nodded and added, “You know what, when I know my boss trusts me, I stop looking back. I don’t have to worry about what he or she is thinking and I only focus on the task at hand.”
This is true. We have a disproportionate influence on our team members’ careers. We decide their performance scores, salary increases, bonuses, promotions, approve leaves (phew!). (Now I am getting worried about whether my boss trusts me!)
Given this background, it is only natural that our team members are beset with worries and insecurities about their managers. In their mind they are constantly thinking – Oh! What will my boss think? What if I fail, will I get yelled at in front of others, what about my promotion? It spurs some to action but it paralyses most and drives them nuts!
We have the power to take away all those thoughts and make it easy. Just say the magic words, “I trust you”. It immediately focuses their energies on the job at hand. Despite all this what if somebody fails? Don’t slam them.
Everybody fails – You, failed too! Remember? Make it clear it is not about them. Sit them down, ask them what happened, agree on lessons learnt, what they will do different, and move on. Once this conversation is done never remind them about the failure. Say the magic words before you close.
A final word – Saying I trust you is easy, maintaining it though, is tough. For maintaining you should create an ecosystem of trust and the ecosystem thrives on these guideposts:
1. Set clear expectations – this is very critical
2. Provide regular feedback, Cheer every milestone. Don’t wait till the end. While at it, ensure you Do not nitpick – Over look some of the misses and reinforce the hits. Success begets success
3. Don’t tell – ask questions and help them find answers. This could be painstakingly time consuming, but it is crucial you are accessible throughout, especially when they are failing.
4. Your team should know that you will discuss with them and not somebody else. You have to resist the temptation to discuss with others when the person in question is not around.
5. Appreciate team members and talk about their successes in public. It would be great to get your boss to compliment them.
Recently, one of our colleagues missed a review and just to tease him we told him that our manager was really upset with him. Instead of worrying, he smiled and said “I trust him, he will call me if he is upset” Our joke fell flat. The power of trust hit home yet again!
Trust is powerful so is fear and insecurity. It all depends on which power you want to harness. I have made my choice. What about you?
I was very upset a few weeks ago. I received a not so nice anonymous note in response to one of my blogs! Try as I may my mind kept straying back to this…i shared this with my friends they asked me to look at the tons of great notes i receive and one of them forwarded a very flattering note they had received when they forwarded my blog!
I moved on but this thought that one stray negative comment could upset me kept haunting me. I wanted to understand this phenomenon better- one where we overlook all the good and focus on that one negative aspect. I didn’t let go as i wanted to learn my lesson and didn’t want to fall prey to this again!
Around this time stuck in an absurdly long wait, due to delays and missed flights, i finished all my mails, made all the calls, and was really at my wit’s end! Just then i remembered i had my notes of conversations(work, external meetings and personal) with various folks over the last few months. I had started this a few months ago as i realized i could recollect only parts of the conversation, the ones that made an impact or presented well or contemporary.
I pulled out the notes, reading through was amazed at the variety of people, my bad writing and the number of people.
Maybe influenced by the mood I was in , i started classifying the comments positive and negative to be surprised – the negative things people spoke about far outnumbered the positive – 65% to 35% . Quite surprised, sliced it by personal and professional – the results were still the same except that personal was around 10% lesser than professional in negative outlook.
Intrigued and a tad disturbed by this finding i dug deeper – was there a difference in age group, degree of separation, place of meeting?.I stumbled upon an interesting statistic – those you met in seminars, networking events tended to be a lot more positive.
I classify negative comments broadly as statements such as difficult people to work with, things not working, disappointments, bad relationships, traffic,the weather etc…
I was intrigued, but soon caught the long awaited flight and got home,but the weekend had more in store.
The truth,hit home hard when i spoke with an old neighbor. They were married decades, raised three children and now retired rather comfortably. i slowly prodded her to talk of her life and her relationship, how is it living with the same person for 45 years! – the conversation started well… but what i remembered was her slowly complaining about how he has changed, should really watch his drinking, she wished at least now he paid more attention to her and not his library, she wasn’t getting enough time with her grandchildren and woes with her daughter in law!
Walking out just when I was saying gotcha see my data is right, my friend who was with me pointed out that we may have consciously only looked for the negative. We had our negative filter “on” because we wanted to prove our hypothesis right. He said why don’t we forget all the negatives and only focus on the positives. Come to think of it, there were a few… their first overseas trip, how wisely her husband had planned for their retirement and now it seemed she looked at his library as a delightful idiosyncrasy than a complaint! Wow… does this mean all my number crunching was a waste as i took those notes down with my filter “on”!
To help me solve this dilemma, the same wise friend suggested an experiment. Let us offer a bag of chocolates to a few children and ask them how they liked it. Surprise! Surprise- all of them spoke about the one bitter chocolate we had put in the bag! forgetting all those other lovely sweet melting ones!
This really set me thinking “do we really count our blessings?” or “do we just focus on that ONE negative? are we naturally predisposed that way? Or it is the environment, situations and/or upbringing that influences us and makes it a part of our personality?!
I don’t know the cause but my quack experimentation seems to show so. We don’t count our blessings! we only count and brood over what didn’t happen, could have happened, didn’t happen right – all the bitter chocolates. The many sweet ones are forgotten!
So, can we change the filter? I am going to try…
I have made a list of all things i am grateful for and stuck it in my home desk
I have made a get bugged by that one negative comment but balance it with those positive comments
Now i could become an exuberant, optimistic fool…i am ok to be that and not a pessimistic, cranky, difficult to please downer!
I should have seen this when i posted the “Happy blog on a noisy diwali”…. in November. It took a long travel schedule and a bag full of chocolates to remind me!