Mullah Naseeruddin And The King – A Lesson on Leadership

At that time, Mullah Naseeruddin was appointed as the king’s procurator. 

Mullah Naseeruddin And The King – Leadership lesson THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE – LIFE AT WORK

His job as a treasurer was to judiciously use the money to procure various commodities and properties that were required for the state.  He had to be an expert in valuation of things he wished to procure.

He would buy Horses, Elephants, Weaponry, Gold, Silver, Clothing, Grains and so on for the kingdom and pay the merchants who brought them.

Mullah Naseeruddin was a very capable procurator as he ensured that the kingdom always had abundance of what it required for sustenance and security.  He would ensure that whatever he bought was of the highest quality and at the best valuation.  This in turn ensured that while the kingdom always had what they wanted, their coffers would also not run empty.

He always thought of saving for a rainy day and apportioned a part of the kingdom’s wealth for meeting any eventuality in the future.

Mullah Nasseruddin was also a very good administrator making sure that the economy was in good shape with a continual flow of necessities and trade.  He was also very fair-minded in his dealings with all the merchants who came from far and wide and always was prompt in his payments.  This kept the merchants happy and they would always bring commodities of the highest quality for the Mullah to purchase. 

Thanks to Mullah Nasseruddin the name of the kingdom and the king spread far and wide as a place to do trade with.

The King however did not see the value of the Mullah to the kingdom.  He was a miser and felt that the Mullah was depleting his coffers by expending a lot of money.  At this rate I would soon be bankrupt he thought.

“It’s time I replace the Mullah with someone who is as miserly as me, as thoughtful as me in spending money, and who could buy things at a very cheap price” he thought.

He found a very easy way to find such a person.  He looked out of the window and found some of his attendants standing and chatting away doing nothing.  He called out to one of his attendants and asked him to appear in his courtroom immediately.

The attendant went as ordered by his king, fearful of the possible consequences from this sudden call from his majesty.

As the attendant stood, frightened, the King announced in the courtroom “From today, you shall be my procurator in place of Mullah Nasseruddin”

The courtroom fell silent by this order, but no one, not even Mullah wanted to defy the King’s order.  As the Mullah bowed to his King, and walked out of the courtroom, he had a faint smile on his face.

The king had come up with this plan as he thought that an ordinary attendant without any rank or status would buy nothing without haggling and would be more economical in his purchases.  But, this man was quite a fool which the king was soon to find out.

The new procurator could not distinguish between a donkey and a horse, but was as the king thought an expert in offering astoundingly low value for anything he had to buy.

The merchants who came from far off places, started to feel the pinch of low value being offered for their high quality goods.  They couldn’t argue with the procurator as he was specially chosen by the king and anyone who went against his will would have to face his wrath.

In his enthusiasm to buy cheap, the procurator went ahead and purchased anything and everything which could come at a very low price, no matter the quality and the quantity.  He didn’t have the sense to understand what was required for the efficient running of the kingdom.

Within no time, the storehouse was filled with a whole lot of rubbish which had no value or use to the kingdom.  The merchants started to make heavy losses and to compensate, started to bring inferior quality products to the kingdom.

The storehouse was turning into a junkyard of unwanted goods.

The kingdom’s reputation started to get tarnished as the merchants carried the message far and wide.

One day, the King came to know of a merchant who had arrived with about 500 horses of the finest quality.  He ordered his procurator to purchase all of them.

The new procurator found this as an excellent opportunity to impress his King.

He ordered the merchant to supply all of the horses to the King’s stable and in return offered a measure of rice.  “Be happy that the King even considered to buy your horses.  You are lucky to be of service to our great King” he proclaimed.

The merchant was dejected as a measure of rice was not even worth the price of one horse and here was this man who was offering that for 500 horses.

As he went back to his stable to get the horses, he found Mullah Nasseruddin on the way.  “Why are you looking sad and dejected?” asked the Mullah.

The merchant narrated the whole incident and then asked Mullah to come to his aid as he didn’t’ want to make so much loss in this trade.  It was a matter of his survival.

Mullah Nasseruddin pondered over the problem and then said “When you go to the courtroom tomorrow to receive the payment for your horses, ask the procurator in front of the King and all the witnesses in the courtroom, as to how much he is willing to pay for the horses.  And when the procurator says – a measure of rice, please ask him what is the value of a measure of rice?” 

Let’s see what happens next.  Don’t worry, I will be present in the courtroom as well.

Next day in the courtroom in front of all the witnesses and the King, the merchant asked the procurator “Sir, I bring the finest horses to you, no one in this entire world has bred such horses.  What value do you have to offer for these finest of the fine breed?”

“A measure of rice ofcourse, as I had already told you yesterday” the procurator said and turned to his King for receiving the acknowledgement for getting such a low price.

“And Sir, may I ask you before these witnesses, how much value is a measure of rice?” the merchant asked as advised by the Mullah.

The boastful procurator wanted to show that a measure of rice from the king was invaluable replied “As anyone in this courtroom will tell you, a measure of rice is equal to the value of this entire kingdom and all the territories under its rule” bragged the procurator.

He was obviously wanting to show as any good bargainer that what he was willing to pay was much more in value than the commodity he was buying. 

Listening to this, all the courtiers burst out laughing at the foolishness of the procurator.  Some even made jokes as to how they could gobble up an entire kingdom with one meal.  How all of them could procure many kingdoms with the amount of rice they had stored in their houses.

Some of them even chided the procurator to buy them a kingdom with one measure of rice, as they continued to laugh at the stupidity of the man.

The only people in the court who did not laugh at this enjoy the joke were the foolish procurator and the King who had employed him without much thought.  The king bowed his head in shame for appointing such a fool who had made himself and the King a laughing stock in front of his courtiers.

Mullah Naseeruddin saw the predicament of the King and wanted to put a stop at all the jokes and banter which were going around.  “Do not mock a man for his ignorance.  When a man entrusted with a job for which he is not qualified he is bound to make a laughing stock of himself sooner or later.  It is not the poor fellows fault that he was appointed as a procurator”

Hearing this the King, raised his head and said “It was my fault O Mullah Nasseruddin.  I have learnt my lesson.  I understand, no one can do wrong except the King”

The king at once removed the procurator from the post and appointed the Mullah back to the job he had so astutely performed.

Reflections:

  1. Are you able to relate to the characters in this story? Namely the King, Mullah Naseeruddin, New Procurator, Merchants, the Horse trader, the Courtiers?
  2. What did you learn from each character?
  3. Do you find similarities in your life at work and at home?
  4. What leadership lesson is there for you in this story?

Post COVID-19 Recovery – A Challenge for Leadership and Corporations

With the relaxation of restrictions by the governments to stimulate economic growth; businesses slowly crawling back to normalcy and recovery. While business activity seems to be gathering speed, there is little sense of relief amongst the corporate leadership as the scars left by the pandemic will take a long time to heal.  Post covid-19 scenario is posing some serious challenges for the business leaders to manage not just business recovery but also emotional recovery of their employees. 

I do believe that the business story will go to script, the people side of the story can have a lot going on below the surface.  All might not be hunky-dory after all.  Let’s look at some of the possible challenges which leaders might face while navigating the post covid-19 scenario.

Mental / emotional wellness

This fact cannot be denied that the lockdown, work-from-home, recalibration of work relationships, fear of losing jobs, lowered income, uncertainty, loss of someone dear and fear of continuous monitoring and scrutiny not just of work but in personal life has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Though it could possibly be a stretch to imagine that people may exhibit signs similar to PTSD, it could be closer to that.  Its like the soldiers or the doctors who find the normal life to be so inconsequential compared to the combat like situations they have seen on the field.  Many would have encountered life changing moments which would have made them significantly redraw and recalibrate the way they would like to lead their life going forward.  Now, with normalcy returning the fear that things would go back to old ways and drudgery, will be weighing heavily in the minds of the employees.

Social wellness

One of the positive fallouts of the pandemic was that the social wellness quotient seems to have significantly improved.  The upheaval had caused the society at large to collaborate and support each other to face the challenges posed by covid-19.  People demonstrated more empathy and care for others as they handled the crisis as a team.  They reconnected all those relationships which they had long forgotten.  Discussions moved away from just work and productivity to the well-being of self and others.  Increased use of digital platforms and social media networks during the pandemic helped increase the level and frequency of communication.  Keeping people connected 24X7.  There was a level of honesty and transparency and people felt comfortable being vulnerable with each other as they knew that all of humanity was going through this emotional upheaval.

So, what then is the challenge for leaders?  Employees are wary that they will no longer be able to spend that much time in self-care once they get back to the routine working patterns of the past.  They are wary that they would not have enough time with their family and relations and the balance they were able to achieve working from home will be lost.  More like an opportunity cost.  There is a danger of people now getting back to their competitive ways and away from looking at the larger good.  In the light of renewing face-to-face contact, people would again start drawing up their defensive walls in order to protect themselves.  Fear of being vulnerable at workplace will reappear in the minds of employees.  That would mean that leaders may find that people are suddenly withdrawn and cagy.

Team wellness

Informal networks, quick decision making, effective and efficient meetings, clear and concise communication and high level of collaborative work, absence of subjective judgments, were some significant outcomes, thanks to the pandemic.  Getting back to work team members would fear all that would vanish and the conflicts which were rested or forgotten because of the crisis would resurface once they join regular work. Team members during the pandemic could act independently and were given the freedom to decide and act on their own as long as they delivered results.  With the return to work the fear is of the hovering boss, the competitive colleague and limited freedom to operate.  The team and its members will be anxious about their future.  Businesses would possibly try to cut down expenses or would have planned for recalibrating teams that could impact negatively.  The uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity would add to the woes of the team members and negatively impact the overall mental wellness of the team.

Leadership wellness

The leaders themselves would have gone through great emotional upheaval due to the pandemic.  They would have seen several senior leadership positions being done away with already in order to cut costs.  Some positions were also made redundant thanks to the digital driven monitoring and control of performance.  Leaders themselves would be highly anxious about their jobs and their future.  This could significantly impact the way they would receive their teams when they return to work.  Leaders would also be susceptible to significant trust deficit with their team members as they would have unfortunately been tasked with relieving a lot of people from their jobs.  Team members would be tentative in all their interactions with such leaders.  Leaders would also have in their own anxiety been possibly insensitive while dealing with team members during the covid-19 period.  They would have become intrusive and overbearing towards their team members, thereby negatively impacting the relationship. Rebuilding trust will be a significant challenge for leadership while navigating the post covid-19 recovery.

How can a leader navigate the post covid-19 recovery phase?

Leadership needs to realize that it is not going to be as easy as it looks – getting back to work and start doing what they were doing before.  They may have to take a long hard look at the old habits of leading businesses and teams.  They have to re-prioritize, re-plan, adjust and redirect their resources for managing the recovery process. Leaders need to focus once again on the four key dimensions of high-performance teams – the S.T.A.R™

Stimulating Communication

In order for leaders to address the emotional and mental wellness of their employees, there will be a need to stimulate a communication climate which will be based on feedback, listening and more importantly sensitivity.  Teams would have to again go through with the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of development which comes with its unique set of challenges post covid-19.  They will be tasked with the need to hold ‘the critical dialogue’ or difficult conversation with their team members which would involve communicating new roles and responsibilities, work processes, performance goals and metrics.

There should be regular and extensive use of feedback in order to create the much-needed buy-in for the renewed work process.  The social distancing norms of a physical workspace would mean that people might not be as comfortable in each other’s company as they continue to grapple with the anxiety of the “what if”.  During the pandemic because of the remote working environment, there was a forced need for regular feedback, as that was the only way you could keep up to speed with what your colleague was doing.  The interdependencies were visible and clear.  That will get blurred as when leaders return to work, they may withdraw to old ways of working where ‘feedback’ would have often been minimal. Seeking feedback from ‘Employee Mental Wellness’ surveys will be an important step to take before getting the wheels of office work in motion. 

Leaders must encourage employees to speak up as often and as frequently as was the case while working remotely.  They must ‘actively listen’ to their concerns and seek to address them before they snowball into another crisis, this time driven by employee anxiety and emotional wellness issues.  They will have to put in the extra effort to have their eyes and ears to the ground and pick up even the slightest sign of distress amongst co-workers and deal with them immediately.  Remote working had helped employees to put their thoughts in digital form without any fear as they didn’t have to come face to face in meeting rooms with their leadership.  The small group side-conversations to discuss each other’s problems online was what helped many deal with their emotional issues in the safety of their home.  Leaders must provide the space and time for people to engage in similar conversations in the office to reduce stress.

Back to physical workspace would demand a high level of sensitivity from the leadership in dealing with employee emotions and understanding their mental state.  People would have redrawn their family roles and responsibilities and were just about getting into the comfort zone of collaborating on chores on a daily basis.  Help was ready any time any family member wanted; right from helping with the dishes, children’s study, tidying up the rooms – all pitched in. Leaders must understand that when you call the employees back to work, they not only have to deal with the renewed work process but also with the emotional pain of redrawing their familial responsibilities.  People cannot simply switch on and off from work and family as you would tend to expect.  Heightened level of sensitivity will be the key.  There is a need to not just communicate, but overcommunicate at this point.

Trust

The pandemic also brought about in employees the trauma of losing jobs, reduced incomes, blurred lines of roles and responsibilities.  As businesses were trying to cut losses by reducing their physical office infrastructure, the casualty was also jobs.  Though it was the demand of the situation and a hard decision for many businesses, they had no choice but to relieve many of their jobs.  The problem was that those leaders who were tasked to communicate this difficult message have to face the remainder of employees.  They would always be suspicious about their leader’s intention and every conversation, each move, will be closely scrutinized.  The leadership themselves may be going through the anxiety as they must once again prove that they have and will manage the transition.  The stress of exposure and increased vulnerability impacts ‘trust’ greatly.

What can leaders do to rebuild the potential loss of ‘trust’ in teams? 

‘Openness and transparency’ in all transactions will be the key. Leaders must keep the employees engaged through dialogue.  They must enhance the level of transparency in decision making and keep the employees informed and involved.  Any closed-door meeting will be viewed with suspicion and should not be overlooked.  Agendas need to be shared and spelt out to team members and feedback must be sought regularly to increase the level of openness.

‘Integrity’ of leadership will be put to test.  Leaders need to walk-the-talk.  All the promises and commitments made in the last one year just to keep the team in good spirits need to now be followed through with visible action.  As the teams would have digital records of such conversations. 

This would bring in the dimension of ‘data privacy and security’.  Increased activity online during covid-19 pandemic also raised the concerns regarding cyber security.  As people moved completely to the digital world, they exposed themselves to potential cyber-attacks on their personal data.  As they heard how cyber criminals were taking advantage of the increase in online activity, now employees would carry forward such fears about privacy of official conversations as well.  Employees will be concerned that the ‘spoken words’ which could during pre-covid times be denied are possibly recorded on online communication mediums.  For example, a conversation regarding the boss in a chat room would now be vulnerable to exposure by any vested party.  Leaders must take any negative conversation / gossip emerging from such sources with a pinch of salt and put to rest the fears that employees would have regarding misuse of their personal data.

Leaders must ease their teams into post covid-19 routines by continuing the informal networks, collaborative digital spaces, social media use and other informal activities they would got onto during the lockdown.  An example could be celebrating the birthday or anniversary of a family member of the employee.  During the pandemic, lot of companies found that team members were able to participate in social events of co-workers, getting to know them more personally, which contributed to increased bonding.  The same in some form must continue once the teams return to physical workspaces.  There will be increased pressure on leaders to enhance the level of ‘Trust’ in teams and openness, transparency, collaboration and integrity will be the key to achieve that at workplace.

Accountability

When teams are faced with a crisis, the boundaries of work get blurred as everyone gets involved to ensure team success.  People may take up additional responsibilities and roles which otherwise they would be reluctant to do or may not be tasked to do.  This could also mean that they would have got a hands-on experience of working in a fluidic way.  Decisions were made without much fuss, agreements arrived at quickly, meetings became very efficient and effective and there was a visible increase in ‘commitment’ of employees towards the larger goal.  Discussions were no longer about “who will do what?” but “what can we do?” and “how to we get this done?”

With gradual return to physical workspaces, leaders will have to now relook and rewire the roles and responsibilities keeping in mind that they do not disturb the fallout benefits derived from the pandemic.  They shouldn’t suddenly start drawing boundaries around roles such that people get back to their silos.  The competency frameworks which existed pre-covid must be relooked at and employees must be coached to take on revised set of competencies which will help them in their way forward.  Independence and delegation with not just responsibility but authority should be the way forward.  Following through with employees on a regular basis must continue.  Leaders must get out and ‘manage by walking and talking about’.  Employees must be involved while redefining and redrawing roles and responsibilities. This will ensure ‘team wellness’ and increased level of accountability, leading to higher and sustained level of performance.

Results

Surveys done with business leaders indicated that there was an increase in productivity of employees during the lockdown and remotely working from home.  Employees were committed to deliver what was asked of them and did that by willingly stretching the working hours.  As long as the work was getting done, people unlike in the past, were not complaining about not getting back home in time to be with family.  The fact that they were with their family all of the time helped them to achieve the much needed ‘work-life balance’ or at least they could get a sense of the same.

In order for leaders to sustain the productivity levels of employees, they must be focused on providing the same level of balance to their people and create an environment where the focus is more on deliverables than on how many working hours is the employee putting in.  Organizations who were otherwise giving flexible working hours only to the few privileged senior employees must rethink and see how they can integrate the same for all employees.  Flexibility was one of the key factors contributing to employee productivity and that cannot and should not be taken away from them when they return to physical workspaces.  Processes need to be put in place which will ensure that employees don’t feel the pressure of close monitoring and have the fear of the ‘hovering boss’ once again.  Employees must be involved in re-defining goals and objectives to enhance “ownership”.

The Poison Of Knowledge!

The value of ‘experience’ cannot be understated. In this day and age of instant information sharing using digital media, more and more people are being driven purely by knowledge and are living their life based on the information they receive in plenty on a daily basis.  There is no validation whatsoever of the information being downloaded and people seem to be simply trusting whatever is coming their way.  Especially so in the case of ‘health’ related information.  People seem to be taking most of the information on health which comes to them on face value and becoming victims of misinformation.

Even ‘education’ has become more of theory than practice.  In the quest for churning out ‘literacy’ rates, it’s become more an assembly line production of degree holders who have  no idea whatsoever of the practicality of some of the

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knowledge which they have gained.  This is amply evident even in the highly ‘knowledge’ and ‘analytic’ driven equity markets.  The so called high profile executive fresh out of college, armed with degrees have fallen flat in the highly volatile world of the stock markets.  Even today, you find that the good old traders with hands-on experience make a lot of money.

In hiring new managers (today’s fad phrase – leaders), companies were enthusiastic to get bright minds (educationally) laterally into the system and made them to lead teams of highly experienced professionals – who had been there; done that.  The result – a complete lack of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in their leadership.  They find it hard to gain the respect of people who they lead.

The reason is plain and simple – ‘Experience’.

Chanakya in his ‘Arthashastra’ clearly states that there is no use of knowledge if it is not backed with experience.  It turns into poison.

It is time that we gave importance and respect to experience in all fields.  Because ‘experience’ it is that brings high level of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in who you are.

It’s lonely at the top!

STORIES THAT CHANGE LIFE – MULLAH AND THE PROVERBIAL NAIL THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE – LIFE AT WORK

It is an often quoted and familiar phrase in leadership circles.  Is it true?  I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no’

Some would say that the real problem facing people who are at the top echelons of their field is not so much of loneliness but rather isolation.  But these are just semantics.

The two words i.e., loneliness and isolation point towards issues which people at the top have to deal with and address.  There could be common grounds and differences as well.

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Social Isolation

Despite the acceptance of the phrase, and despite findings that people at the top report feelings of loneliness, that as a subject in behavioral science has a precise meaning.  Leading researchers have described it as “perception that one is socially on the edge”.  It is a sense of feeling left out.

Celebrities who are in the glare of public and media scrutiny all the time and grapple with the dilemma of remaining connected yet distant, face this issue regularly and are acutely afflicted by it.  It is a workplace hazard which is masked beautifully by the razzle-dazzle of their immediate environment.

The bigger challenge celebrities face is that they work in an industry which is highly unpredictable and does not provide them with a sense of ‘control’ – which is so essential in dealing with such isolation.

People who feel lonely not only feel disconnected from those around them, but also from the industry they work for.

What might be the reason for this isolation?

Lack of trust may be one of the reasons for isolating oneself from people around us.  You can also call this insulating oneself.  When people do not find someone whom they can talk to without being judged, someone who could just listen to them without being advisory or plainly just be a sounding board, they tend to close communication.  When they also are in an environment both social and professional where most interactions are perceivably with agendas, they get threatened and suspicious of others.  This leads people to insulate themselves so much that they end up in a anxious and depressive state.

It is true that people dealing with depression and isolation can reach out for help since there are charities and helplines. But more importantly, it is up to the loved ones to take the initiative.  Someone who they can trust.

Social conditioning is another big contributor for people to isolate themselves.  We have been conditioned to put up a brave front and mask our problems, so much so that ‘not feeling good’ or ‘not ok’ is almost a taboo.  That’s probably the reason why we have a stock reply when someone asks us about our well being we immediately respond with “I am fine” and “I am great” although not feeling great.  How many people have you heard saying things like “Hey I am not feeling all that good”, “I need help”, “I think I have a problem”?  Even if you heard such responses it would be at a stage when all hope is lost or people have already reached a point of no return.  Why does this happen, I wonder?  I think here again, people have been conditioned to believe that those who state problems or seek help are ‘weak’ and are not able.  This somehow hurts their ego and therefore they shy away from seeking help.

Ego is a factor as well, especially for those who have achieved a lot in their life and career and reigning at the top.  They start to believe that they are invincible and cannot be defeated or experience failure at all.  They have achieved so much after all.  They tend to forget that without the social support it wouldn’t have been possible all alone.  They start to go about their business as if they can do all on their own.  They believe that any attempt at seeking help will undermine their position of power and control and therefore they avoid seeking help and interacting with people when they are in trouble.  They isolate themselves to fight the battle on their own.  This only proves to be counter productive as it takes them on a downward spiral of complete social isolation and depression.

One of the reasons probably why some well-known celebrities who have achieved so much in their profession have died alone from depression.  This is not just the movie stars but musicians, sportsmen, industry leaders and all those who have reached the top at a rapid pace.

Social acceptance  is to my mind one more possible cause.  Those who have reached the top in an industry or profession with their hard work and perseverance find it difficult at times to be accepted as part of the social group they are in.  They might not be getting due credit or always be feeling that they have to prove themselves every day to be accepted in the society.  This relentless pursuit to prove their worth can take a toll on their mental and physical health as well.  When this happens for prolonged periods, they may end up isolating themselves and get into depressive states.

Need for being in ‘Control’ all of the time is another contributor according to me which slowly gets people to isolate themselves.  We all know that we cannot control all of the things – all of the times, yet we want to and we strive to.  When we get into situations which gets out of our control, we give a fight initially and then when it still doesn’t help, choose the option of flight.  In this case it happens to be avoiding and isolating oneself from such situations in the future.  Over a period of time you will find yourself insulating yourself from more and more situations, eventually finding yourself not just being alone but afflicted by loneliness and depression.

Surrounding oneself with wrong people and they are those who are not willing to giving you timely and critical feedback when necessary.  If you have people who are constantly praising you and always telling you what a lovely person you are, then you must be wary of such people.  They have their own agendas in play and might abandon you when their needs are met.  When you eventually find out that you have been used for their selfish needs, you tend to throw the baby and the bath tub out.  When you have not been mindful of the type of people you are associating with and surround yourself with those who are ‘yes’ everything you do, you create what I call as an ‘echo chamber’ and develop blind spots.  You start mistrusting every one in your circle and start to avoid social contact.  People who have been taken advantage of and have been passive victims tend to choose self-isolation as an escape mechanism leading to increased anxiety and depression.

To avoid becoming insular, you have to go out of your way to solicit different points of view. Otherwise, you will find yourself living in a bubble, an echo chamber which will eventually take a toll on your mental health and life.

Loneliness is not just a problem with society at large but also at workplace. Business leaders may also be afflicted if they are not mindful of their mental or emotional health. If you have noticed any one of the six factors which I mentioned above which makes you isolate then its time to seek some help.

Loneliness, Isolation, Anxiety and Depression is Real! Do Not Ignore the tell-tale signs!

Disclaimer thecriticaldialogue only seeks to trigger some thoughts on topics which could impact our lives deeply.  The views expressed through #thecriticaldialogue blogpost are purely reflections of the author and in no way should be substituted for and taken as medical advice.  If you find yourselves depressed, anxious and feeling lost, it’s important to consult a qualified professional immediately.

Work-From-Home – A Test Of Trust!

The past couple of months caught everyone by surprise; businesses and employees alike. While most large businesses had their ‘business contingency plans’ in place: no one would have ever imagined that the shift to remote work from home will be so sudden and swift.

Our firm, Equinox Consultants, an Indian human resource consulting and training service provider with more than 25 years of experience in agile ways of working like everyone else, had to transform our business into a remote-only operation, virtually overnight.

The transition to a work-from-home context was a breeze, as we have been operating that way for over a decade. The only challenge we had to and continue to work on is to transition all our contact training modules to a remote delivery model. When I say all, I intended to say that most of our services were already prepped for remote delivery.

In over two decades what we’ve noticed is that there are cultural traits to our self-managing organization that lends itself particularly well to remote working. It boils down to what I see as the essential building block of all teamworking and collaboration – ‘Trust’. The need for trust-building is even more amplified when you have co-workers working remotely.

I would like to share our own experience of successful remote working which will help your teams and business organization build and maintain trust.

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What’s worked for us:

Communication – Speed, Clarity and Frequency

The biggest pain area for people who work remotely is when they do not get quick, clear and continual communication from the stakeholders with whom they work closely. The fact that digital communication makes one feel that ‘Once I have sent a message, it is assumed that the receiver has read and understood it’. The onus then quickly shifts to the receiver to respond quickly to the messages he/she receives. Any delay can lead to ‘negative’ and ‘suspicious’ thoughts in the minds of the sender who may be prone to ‘imagine’ and attribute agendas.

So the ‘speed of response’ is of paramount importance to build and and sustain trust. The other important factor is to provide clarity – not just once but on a continual basis. Therefore my take is communicate, communicate, communicate. Share important information (even if it’s incomplete) right away once you have it. This will especially hold true in matters of financial, strategic decisions, of policy, priorities, accountability and daily goals.

If you keep people in the dark during uncertain times it leads to needless anxiety and worry. People work better when they are less stressed. Sharing clear and timely information across functions, and giving everyone an effective overview, means people can take action to steer the business in the right direction.

Frequency of your communication matters too. The lag should be minimal. Your quarterly should turn to monthly; monthly to weekly and weekly to daily.  That’s the paradigm you need to shift towards.  The longer the gap the higher the chances of disruption and break in trust levels.

Decision making will move towards becoming an ‘in-the-moment’ process where you just cannot afford to call for virtual or physical meetings all the time to discuss and take important decisions. When everyone understands what’s going on they will be able to make smarter decisions. Do whatever it takes to get the message out there.  Encourage people to speak up and openly share problems and challenges and provide continual updates on workloads.

Leadership will be put to test in remote working setups. There will be an increasing load on the leaders to communicate fast, frequently and with clarity. The importance of communication ability of your leaders couldn’t have been more than in remote working situations.

Openness and transparency

There is chance that Managers feel an increasing need to micromanage. They may fear that employees working from home might be less productive and doing personal stuff than real work. This will be accentuated by a lot of social media posts which showcase non-work skills of employees.  Such anxiety can lead to excessive control measures which might lead to a lot of stress and feeling of dissatisfaction.

The way to deal with such anxiety starts with building openness and transparency in your transactions.

You must keep all your employees informed all the time and shouldn’t keep them in the dark. With team members working from home it’s easy to forget to relay important information regarding specific roles, expectations and task deadlines. Providing enough context and ensuring your team have access to all necessary information is a must. Communicating rules of engagement, setting boundaries, the rationale behind decisions, seeking and giving continual feedback can go a long way in building openness and transparency. When your employees see visible actions of your trust in them they will reciprocate the same in your leadership.   The direct benefit of trust based on the foundation of openness and transparency is ‘speed’ of work.

Empower

An ability to decentralize the decision making process, letting go of hierarchies and giving your employees freedom to make decisions about their work is the key when you have your workforce operating from home.

When working from home, everyone’s managing themselves to an even greater degree as it is; it’s important to give everyone the full autonomy to do that in order for them to do it well. This is where situational awareness comes in: sharing objectives and goals is crucial. It makes it easy for people to manage themselves better in deciding what to focus on now and what to leave for later.

Set up communities of practice

An increased level of self-regulation would mean that your employees become more interested in learning how to do their work effectively. That would mean reduced need for a centralized training function to train the entire workforce or help everyone develop new methods for remote working. Instead, setting up of online communities of practice can help colleagues freely share tips and tools in a peer-to-peer network structure. Everyone is learning alongside one another

If someone is struggling with a particular task, it’s likely that someone else somewhere in the organization has already had that same problem and would have even solved it. The solutions to problems can then be shared freely across the organization which would mean that there is no time wasted in reinventing the wheel and all employees feel supported as they perform their roles. While most large corporations do have the knowledge management practices in place, our experience shows very limited use of such networks. The work-from-home scenario today helps to harness the power of communities even more and go on to increase collaboration leading to trust.

Digital socializing

Those moments at the coffee machine shouldn’t disappear just because everyone’s working remotely from home. Organizations must understand the importance of casual conversation and social connections. Use online meeting rooms for not just work but after hour hangouts as well. It’s a great idea to encourage people to come up with creative ways to build social bonds. It’s a great opportunity to involve families in the social events by organizing collective fun events and tasks.

It’s all a good time and keeps the socializing going. It’s important to check up on people too. During the pandemic, people will feel more anxious than usual, and there’s no way for your human resources team to take care of everyone. When people know everyone’s got each other’s backs, there’s less of a sense of isolation and more of a sense of trust: The feeling that, together, everyone will be able to continue doing a great job and achieve higher levels of performance even if it’s from the comfort of their homes.

FEEDBACK – ‘What’ and ‘How’ to change?

It’s been over 30 years I’ve been coaching people on the ways to “Give and Receive Feedback”.  I remember about 15 years ago my wife asked me “Do you think you have been practicing what you teach on feedback yourself?”

This came out of nowhere and got me thinking.  I always felt that I was open to feedback and used to take corrective action whenever I got the critical one’s.  I have been very particular about using ‘feedback’ as a tool for my professional growth and that’s been my secret to success professionally.  I presumed that it would be the same at home as well.

However, I thought it’s time I put it to test.

Most of us do not use structured approaches towards aspects like feedback, assertiveness, listening, openness and trust etc. at home.  We don’t feel it is necessary and brush it aside by making statements like “Come on this is home and we don’t have to be very formal”; “Personal relationships cannot be compared and is not same as working in a professional environment” etc.

We fail to realize that irrespective of the place where you are, the personality (that’s you) and your communication behaviors are consistent and remain the same.  The problem is that we live in denial all the time.  I’ve heard most of my participants in leadership and team workshops tell me that I am a different person at home and not at all like the way people perceive me in office.

My question is “Do you ever sit down and formally take feedback at home?”  “Do you think it is necessary at all?”  I would say try and you will be surprised.

Husband and wife talking

Anyway, coming back to my wife’s query, I thought it’s time I asked her to provide me with some feedback.  To make it more meaningful and easy for her,  I asked her to write down all the critical feedback she had for me and place it on my table.  Now you may ask, why does she have to write down, can’t she tell you directly?

The problem is that more often than not and especially at home, we take relationships at home casually and for granted.  The moment we get some critical feedback, we would like to quickly close the conversation lest it turn ugly.  We prefer to avoid conflict and live in the make believe world that everything is hunky-dory.  In fact we are conditioned from early childhood to believe the idea of a “happy married life” isn’t it?  We cannot imagine therefore that marriages can have conflicts, disagreements and critical conversations.  I myself have been guilty of quickly bringing difficult conversations to a close.  I think I was one of those kinds.

When I got the list the next day, I saw that there were about 20 items which I had to work on and was causing discomfort to my wife.  The top of the list on number one was that “I keep my workspace at home very disorganized and dirty, with a suggestion that I need to keep it clean”

I thought great, let me start with the first one and then I don’t have to worry about the rest.  For about a week I ensured that I spent a great deal of time keeping my workspace neat and clean.  Then I asked her for some feedback after a week.

Her response “Nothing has changed” angered me at first but I ‘paused’ and then I asked “but what about the office?”

“But, what about the office?” I asked. With that, she just  looked at me in disgust and walked away. What I have found since then is that, even though the cluttered appearance of my office may be a frequent grumble for my wife, its cleanliness has almost no correlation to the quality of our marriage. My office can be a disaster at the same time our marriage seems wonderful, or it can be very clean and organized even when our marriage is experiencing frustrations.

I found that the issue at the top of the list was not necessarily the most important one to change. I also found that other items on the list had a much more direct and significant correlation to the quality of our marriage. Some of these items included helping out more with our child and not being critical of my wife’s decisions and actions.

I learned from this experience that I had been paying the most attention to the things that others complained about the most or the loudest or that were at the top of the list. What got my attention and was complained about most frequently was not necessarily the most important issue to change.

The most critical skill in making change based on feedback is deciding what specific issue to work on first. Many feedback experiences are very similar. Often, people identify the issue that appears to be the most negative and conclude it is the most important issue to change. This is faulty logic. Issues that are most negative or most complained about are simply the ones that are most noticeable. Evaluating what issues to change ought to be a completely separate decision making process, independent from how negatively people react to issues.

In a perfect world, we would receive feedback on many issues and change everything appropriately. We would soon become perfect ourselves. But in the real world, people face limitations in terms of how many issues they can successfully address at a time. A guaranteed way to fail in making changes based on feedback is trying to change too many things at the same time.

People cannot make five major changes at the same time. In fact, whenever most people try to change more than one or two important things at once, they end up making no changes at all.

In one of our leadership programs I asked the leaders to focus their efforts on only one issue.  I found that in four months people could see a significant difference in pre and post feedback assessments.

Most people think and worry that if they focus on changing only one issues, others may not find any difference and would still end up complaining.  But my experience is that if you spread your effort in changing too many issues, may prevent people from noticing that things are changing, because they will see little difference between where you started and where you are now.  Focusing your efforts on changing one issue increases the  likelihood that others will see a difference.

The 80/20 Rule

Change is difficult. Managing expectations is key towards working the change process. It requires focused effort and attention. Most change efforts do not occur in a vacuum. We still have to complete our required work and take care of ourselves and our families.

However, focused effort on a few specific issues greatly improves the likelihood of success. It is critical that you learn how to prioritize issues discovered through feedback according to which will yield the greatest benefit. I suggest you follow the 80/20 rule.  When you start focusing on that 20% of critical feedback it should yield 80% benefit.

Remember, the people whom you ask for feedback will likely expect you to take action on all of their feedback.   Therefore, it is helpful to establish up front that, although they may provide feedback on a variety of issues, you will focus your efforts on selected issues as you work your way through the feedback. To manage these expectations, I suggest the following steps:

  • Thank the person who gave you the feedback
  • Let the person know that you may not be able to respond to every issue but their feedback is invaluable and will help you work gradually through the change process
  • State upfront that you will start by working on one or two critical issues and name the issue you are going to work on.
  • Demonstrate that you are changing

Although the people who gave you feedback would expect you to change everything, their experience tells them that little would change.  However when you make a focused effort on one or two issues, they will be able to see a significant difference and will not overly focus on issues which are not yet worked on.

How do I prioritize?

In order for your to prioritize you must rank each of the listed issues into ‘desire for change’, ‘ease of change’ and the ‘impact’.

Desire for change – The first step in bringing about change is to create a strong desire for change. As you think about the issues for which you received critical feedback, you may notice one issue for which others feel a high need for you to change, but you feel little or no need to change. How can you increase your desire or motivation to change?  It’s important that you think about the extent of motivation you have to make the change.  As you think through each of the critical feedback you received you should categorize them on ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ motivation for you to change.  You must however not confuse others desire for change with your own intrinsic desire to change.  However in a relationship it is important to take a holistic approach.  You may want to align both so that you get the best from the change process.

We also commit the mistake of externalizing the feedback by making statements like “it’s what you feel, but I don’t think there is any need to change this”.  The problem with this kind of attitude is that it does little to contribute towards motivating you to change.

It’s like an alcoholic when asked by his counselor, whether he was an alcoholic, the man said “I don’t think I am, but my wife thinks I have a problem”.  The counselor then said “Then why don’t go and drink some more because I don’t think we can help you unless you think you have a problem”

For each negative feedback you have received you must think which one of those you are more desirous of changing.

Determine whether your desire to change is driven by you or by others

If you think that you got to change because your wife, boss or any other person is telling you, then you would have already forsaken your responsibility and will have little by way of motivation to change.  Whenever you feel “My boss thinks I need to change this, ” or, “Other people think I have a problem in this area.” In these situations, your real felt need is not to change the problem, but to change other people’s opinions about the problem.  So how then can you increase your desire to change?

Firstly you must not just be focused on the ‘negative impact’ of the issue and start reinventing the feedback by rethinking in your own mind.  Try and understand what frustrates people the most and the impact it is having on the relationship.  Have open discussions around the issue and be honest with yourself.  Most often I find that people are not motivated to change because of their lack of understanding of the impact it is having on the giver of feedback and the relationship.

But if you have to increase your motivation to change then you need to start focusing not on the ‘negative impact’ but the ‘positive impact’ which would come out of your effort. If you understand only the negative impact of your behavior and have no sense of the positive impact of change, you will find less motivation to change and therefore have a lower felt need or desire to change.

Ease of change

Some issues are easier to change than others. In planning your change process, select at least one issue you know will be easy to change. This not only gives you confidence in your ability to change, but it sends a positive signal to others that you have responded to their feedback.

Focusing on small observable actions can be a great starting point to demonstrate that you are truly committed to improving the quality of the relationship. For example, if you were to be   given frequent feedback that you are irresponsible and do not care for the team cause you always seem to arrive late to meetings.  Irresponsible is a judgment and that you cannot work on or will surely not have any motivation to work.  You may become defensive as well.  However, arriving 10 minutes before the meeting commences is a behavior you can easily exhibit and is also visible to others.  It’s a small change but can impact the overall perception of others on you.

Similarly, for my wife, giving her 1 hour of undivided attention daily and listening to her was easy to work on and it was actually that small thing which made a big positive impact.  It was the same with my Son as well.  When I started to devote 1 hour daily to have a chat with him and listening to his stories of the day, it greatly improved the quality of my relationship with him.

These small observable behaviors made a huge difference than being physically present all the time without being emotionally available.

Try to change actions than people

Most of us hit a roadblock and get frustrated in our attempts to change people.  In fact married couples expend all their energies and a lifetime trying to change each other and end up getting little by the way of outcome.

It’s easy to change what we say or do than what others do.  Changing my own action or behavior is easier than changing people. We have much more control over our thought and actions. For example, it is easy for me to arrive 10 minutes early for every meeting than trying to persuade people to wait for me before they start the meeting.  Similarly it is easy for me to decide that time in the day when I will spend time with my wife and kid than asking them to come to me when they see me free.

Work on building agreements

It’s important that you discuss openly with your significant other or the person who provided you with the feedback on issues which are absolutely critical to work on.  You may find that while prioritizing there can be disagreements on which one of the issue is more critical than the other.  However, it is important to start with points of agreement, however small they may seem.  It will provide you with quick-wins and get you a more meaningful and positive impact.

Summary

  • Do not start with more than one or two issues to work on at a time
  • Start with small actions which are easier to work on and get some quick-wins under your belt
  • Make sure others desire for change matches with your own desire for change. Do not change just because others want you to change.  In such situations the chances of success are greatly reduced
  • Find areas of mutual agreement which will show visible impact

FEEDBACK – WHY SHOULD I CHANGE?

As soon as people receive feedback, they frequently begin to wrestle with the question, “Why should I change?” Do you identify with any of the following negative attitudes that are common after receiving feedback?

  • I’ve changed a lot from who I was, when I was young. Give me a break
  • I do not think we must change for every single request for change, in this way we will be spending our time changing and would get little done in the process
  • If others can’t accept me the way I am then its their problem not mine
  • No one is perfect, everyone has weaknesses. It’s important how we leverage our strengths.  The fact of the matter is that I get things done and that’s what matter.

 

Feedback and Change

Feedback usually gives us some good news and some bad news. Most people are willing to acknowledge their weaknesses, but they do not always try to improve them. As a facilitator the comment I’ve heard most often when reviewing feedback reports with participants is, “I knew I had a problem in this area.”

Every once in a while feedback comes as a big surprise, but most of the time, people always were aware of their weaknesses, often for years.

When I ask, “If you already knew about this problem, why didn’t you do something about it?” They inevitably answer, ” It didn’t seem that important, ” or, “I didn’t want to.”

The problem is not that people can’t change. The problem is that they do not want to change badly enough.

The fact of the matter is that change is often possible only when you combine high “desire for change” with “ease of change” as I illustrate in the figure below.

When motivation or desire to change is high and the task difficulty is high, making a change is going to be difficult. But, even when task difficulty is low, if commitment is low, making a change is still difficult. However, when commitment is low and the difficulty of a task is high, making a change is virtually impossible.

Before you begin making some changes, you should first understand a few things about yourself. First, change does not happen automatically. Simply acknowledging the existence of a problem; though it’s a good place to start, does not change the problem.

The key to making lasting changes is to increase your level of motivation and commitment to make the change. Without an overwhelming desire to change,  you will only be able to resolve some issues which are easy though with some difficulty.

So what should I do?

Begin working on the changes from your ‘current state’

When I was reviewing the feedback report with one of my participants, I recollect that it indicated that others perceived he lacked the ability to think and act in a strategic manner.  He responded by saying that his job didn’t require him to think strategically and the role demanded that he just follows his bosses orders to the tee.  I will demonstrate strategic thinking when I have a job or role which demands that of me.  In fact I can do better than my boss if given such a role he said.

It seemed like he was thinking that the feedback which was given to him was more to do with the and in relation to the position that he had than his ability.

I asked him, if he thinks that the management would ever consider a person who did not have the ability to positions which demanded thinking and acting strategically.  He said “No”.  I just told him that he is never going to get the job unless he starts demonstrating the ability to think and act strategically.

Most people end up saying that “I will change when my situation changes” The problem with this line of thinking is that – you will be running for the shovel to dig a well when you are thirsty.  That’s not ideal isn’t it?

Change has to be in the ‘here and now’.

Involve stakeholders – stop blaming

In most cultures, we have a learnt and have a tendency to assign blame. It starts at a very early age. For example, when we were asked by our parents who made a mess in the living room, we were quick to point the finger at another brother or sister.

Similarly, I am always amazed that, when managers encounter complex and difficult problems, they frequently solve them by replacing somebody. The problem is still there, but now they have someone to blame.

I am not only amazed by our tendency to blame others, but also by our willingness to accept all the blame ourselves. “I blew it; I’m responsible, ” a manager once told me as we discussed a problem. It’s as if life would be simpler for everyone if someone else could just take all the responsibility.

Involving key stakeholders and building codependence actually helps in the change process.  Most of the time you find that it is not always because of the ability or desire to change that comes in the way but it’s a result of others in the social system who keep generating the circumstances which stops people from doing so.

An alcoholic might want to change but the people who live with him have to ensure that they do not create circumstances which will make him start drinking again as an escape mechanism.  The whole environment needs to be supportive else change becomes very difficult to achieve.

Learning to change begins with the right attitude toward change. Some of the following attitudes may help you as you navigate the change process

  • Change is the only constant and it makes life interesting
  • Change is a skill that you can master
  • There will come a time when change is useful and I might as well prepare for it
  • The key skill successful people possess is that they look to improve continually and keep seeking feedback from the environment to do that.

Seeking feedback is the most powerful tool to identify and reduce your blind spots.  It will help you to develop your weak areas and leverage your strengths.

Why not start right now?

Leadership – Don’t make it a self-serving nonsense!

Most people I met in leadership position are obsessed with the way they perceive their leadership.  The fact that they have a position of authority makes it all the more difficult for them to accept that others perception of their reality could be miles apart from their own.

The truth is “Your Leadership Ability Is Defined By The People Who Choose To Follow You”

Listen in as I explore how leaders can get caught in ‘self-serving’ nonsense and miss the opportunity for personal growth and success.

 

When a ‘critical conversation’ turns nasty!

The more you care about an issue – the critical dialogue of ‘feedback’

“Your son is no good,  I don’t think he will pass”  said my son’s math teacher to my wife and that too in front of the whole class.  This incident I recall happened when he was in 9th grade.  My wife had gone to school concerned that our son was losing both interest and confidence in math.  She thought it will be a great idea to discuss with his teacher and understand what exactly was going wrong.

Now the teacher’s statement brought her to a boil as this dialogue turned critical.  She was furious and hit back with great force.  “I think you are no good as a teacher.  You don’t know how to teach and are blaming the kids for your failure.  I wonder how you even became a teacher.  You don’t deserve to teach”.

frank-busch-4aqYzVwTpG0-unsplash

She came back home furious and at the same time feeling victorious that she could hit back and hurt the teacher more than what the teacher had caused to our son.

When she came back and narrated this incident to me, I could sense that her emotions had gotten the better of her and she forgot in the process to find out the real problem my son was facing in school.  I didn’t blame her for that though, as I understood that our son’s academic progress was an issue very dear to her.

She wanted me to accompany her the next day and confront this rogue teacher as she would like to call her and give her a piece of my mind as well.  It was almost like she was goading me to hit with greater force.  I realized that the whole transaction was becoming unsafe for all parties.  A simple ‘feedback giving and receiving’ process had turned ugly.  People had started to pass judgments and conclusions instead of working with facts.  It was ‘the critical dialogue’ which I thought would give an opportunity to clear the air and get the whole process to a meaningful conversation.  I’ve been teaching ‘feedback’ process in organizations and felt that it is such a wonderful skill to improve the quality of any interpersonal relationship.  Wanted to give a shot.  Here is what I did.

Collection of facts – I asked my son as to what makes him hate math?  What was happening to him at school?  And so on.  I understood that it was not ‘math’ per se which was his problem.  His issue was with the teacher, who used to blame students in front of the whole class and pass judgments which hurt students quite a bit.  Some students chose to keep quite but my son preferred to discuss it with us and wanted to resolve it as well.  He wanted us to tell his teacher to stop criticizing him and other students in front of the whole class.  Here was an opportunity to provide feedback to the teacher concerned.

I made it the next day and this is how the conversation flowed.

Making it safe for the ‘feedback receiver’  “When I first heard your opinion about my son, my initial reaction was of anger and I really wanted to hit out and oppose you.  But after thinking about it, I’ve realized that there is more I can learn from you about my son’s progress.  I know that you care a great deal about my son and I’m confident you are well-trained.  I know you want to do best for my son and I do too. I have some fears and concerns which I feel will have huge implications for him in the future. Is it ok if I share that with you and we could together look at it objectively?

This created an environment of safety for the teacher to reply “I really feel that he has great potential and even I would want him to do well”

You notice that ‘the critical dialogue’ has turned towards a meaningful conversation the moment I created a safe environment.

The next steps are pretty straight forward in ‘giving  feedback’.

Step 1: State the facts (they can’t be denied)  “I observed that you have been critical of my son in front of the whole class”

Step 2: State the impact (results of such actions / behaviors) “He is unable to concentrate in the class due to the constant fear of being reprimanded in front of the whole class”

Step 3: State the feeling (good/bad/happy/unhappy) “I am feeling concerned about how this is impacting his self-esteem”

Step 4: State what your expectations are “I would have expected that you had a private 1:1 conversation with my son to give him your critical feedback.  Is it ok for me to expect this from you? (talking tentatively will keep the conversation in the ‘safe zone’).  It’s my son’s expectation too.

Interesting fact I learnt:  The teacher was of the opinion that if she criticized my son in front of the whole class, he would be angry and motivated to better.  Now I knew where she was coming from.

Step 5: Use ‘opinion’ instead of advice “In my opinion a 1:1 would have made it easier for him to accept your valuable feedback” (an opinion is easier for people to digest as they feel less threatened and also know that as much as you have your opinion, they would too.)

Happy ending the concerned teacher accepted the feedback and agreed that she was probably wrong in assuming that all students would respond to her techniques in the same way.  She promised to have more 1:1 with my son and help him progress.

This critical dialogue went a long way, so much so that my son not just started to like math but did well to get a perfect score in his boards and a national merit certificate for his performance in math.

When we care for an issue or feel strongly about the subject, we might not be able to demonstrate our best behavior.

We;

  • Tend to sulk
  • Get angry and violent
  • We become pushy and hurt others
  • Start to exaggerate our stories
  • Make villains of others
  • Violate their rights
  • Stop listening
  • Retaliate
  • Insult
  • Become sarcastic
  • Become judgmental

If we can step out of ourselves and start to have a dialogue only based on facts, it becomes so much easier for any ‘critical dialogue’ to become meaningful.

There are so many situations where we have the need to use ‘feedback’ as part of a critical dialogue process.  In office, with spouse, with children, colleagues and many more.  If we can use the steps as I have outlined above, we might have a chance.

 

Just how important is an apology?  Turning a critical dialogue to a more meaningful one!

The following two incidents , one at work and the other at home would put things in perspective.

I remember one incident in office where there was an impending senior management visit along with one of our client representative.  This account was crucial so much so that they contributed a significant amount to our bottom line.

Our boss gave us a whole lot of tasks to complete before the D-day.  Our team had burnt the midnight oil in getting things ready and waited with excitement to showcase our capabilities both to the client and to the senior management team.

The day arrived, the client and our management team arrived and were first involved in a long closed door meeting with our Boss.  Our excitement turned to dejection when post that meeting, the team just left and our Boss after sending them off got back to his seat and started to work as if we didn’t exist.

All of us were fuming and wanted to know what happened and why we were not met by the client and the management team.  We confronted our boss and what irritated us was his response “Hey, they didn’t find the need and so did I at that moment, so what’s the big deal?”

This is where it started to get ugly and we shot back in unison “next time we are not going to do an overnight’er and this is the last time.  You know we worked our ass off for you and you didn’t even bother to come by and let us know what happened”

This was going nowhere as he shot back “You guys don’t have to tell me how to run the business.  I am the one who decides and I am clear that it was the most appropriate thing to do at that time, that of not making them stay longer”

This response clearly indicated that the Boss here has taken the confrontation as a show of disrespect by his team on his judgment of the situation.  The dialogue had turned critical and heading towards conflict.

A similar dialogue at home, when I returned home late from work as we had a huge crisis to be dealt with in office.  It was both mentally and physically exhausting.  The moment I entered home, my Wife shouted “I’ve been waiting here like an idiot, thinking that you will come early today and take me out on a promised date and here you are who didn’t care to even inform me.  You never keep your promises and this is the last time I am believing you”

This dialogue was also turning critical.  I shot back “Oh! please give me a break.  I am already exhausted dealing with all that is happening in office and now I have you to content with at home”

Both these instance will tell you when the dialogue gets critical.  It’s the type of response we give or get during such conversation.

In both instances you will find that the parties involved i.e, Boss and Team, Spouse and Yourself, the outbursts were an indication that all felt violated and were fighting for respect.  People felt ‘hurt’.

The best option is for you to step out of the ‘content’ of the dialogue and see what caused this aggressive response.

An apology would have done a world of good and moved the dialogue into a more meaningful understanding of each other.

saying sorry quoteAn apology which sincerely expresses your regret in your role to have caused that hurt in others.  The boss could have simply responded by saying “I am so sorry, I couldn’t give you guys an opportunity to showcase your work, after all the hard work you put in”  This would have led the team to then calm down and start asking more meaningful questions like “what transpired in the meeting?” etc.

Similarly, I could have just responded with something like “I am so sorry, I know I screwed up and couldn’t make it early and I didn’t call you”  I couldn’t extricate myself from the mess in office”  Would have brought my wife to at least calm down and ask “what happened” instead of blaming me.

In both instances I felt an apology would have moved the dialogue from critical to meaningful.  My wife keeps reminding me all the time that a “sorry” would help than attacking back.  It irritates her that instead of showing some respect, I start to attack as a defense mechanism.  It then escalates into a full scale show down with no meaningful conclusion and a lot of ‘hurt’ as residue.

We seem to always get caught in the fight to win and our ego adds fuel to the fire.  The best way is to sacrifice a bit of your ego by admitting your mistakes.

Now I know, we place high value to our ‘ego’.  But whenever you give up something you value, you are rewarded with something even more valuable, i.e., a healthy dialogue and better outcome.

All it takes is an apology!