Procrastinating the unpleasant

Decades ago, on my mother’s insistence, I visited an optometrist. Not to my surprise, I was told that I needed to wear specs, because I was myopic. It wasn’t a surprise to me because I had been aware of the ‘issue’ for a few months now, but had chosen to do nothing about it. Wearing spectacles wasn’t something desirable and so I kept procrastinating it until the headaches got too bad to go on with.

Fast forward to a few months ago. While attending a training program on ‘Personal productivity’, the trainer asked us if we put aside emails that were from difficult people or on difficult topics, responding to them only after a few days or sometimes after an escalation? I was yet again not surprised to see that I wasn’t the only one raising my hand.

It is human nature to procrastinate the undesirable to the extent possible. It can be attributed to our inherent need to minimize or even completely avoid (perceived or potential) threat. It could be meeting a difficult client, having that crucial feedback conversation, or confronting your friend/partner on a sensitive matter.

And yet, just like with my eye sight, things rarely get better unless we address them. Procrastinating addressing the issue, however unpleasant, does little to make them go away or even minimise the unpleasantness. It only prolongs it, and causes stress.

Brain Tracy in his book ‘Eat that frog’ suggests that we should first identify the frog – the most difficult and undesirable task on our list or in the mailbox, the one we are most likely to procrastinate, and then ‘eat’ it. That will give us energy & momentum for the rest of the day, and not stress us out by playing on our mind.

What’s the frog on your list today?

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In the line of duty

It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. My wife felt like a scorned woman a few weeks back when a certain online retailer did not accept a return as per the conditions given on their site. She first spoke to a customer service representative and then to her supervisor. At the end of this highly emotionally charged call, where the matter was yet to be resolved, my wife said, “I will wait to hear back from you,” and then to my surprise added, “And you have a happy Holi!”

I was amazed! The festive greetings were not in line with how she was feeling about the unresolved matter. I expressed my amazement to her, to which she responded, “She was just doing her job. I am angry with XXX (the online retailer’s name), not her”

Interesting!

A lot of us forget this important distinction! The person on the other end, be it in person or on call, becomes the organisation they represent. We, the disgruntled customers a.k.a victims, end up screaming at the other person for no obvious fault of theirs. While it’s understandable to feel frustrated, even irritated when we are wronged, how often do we stop to think if we are justified in directing our anger towards a hapless professional from the firm, who just happened to pick our call/serve us the cold/bland dish?

And how often do we cross the line from being assertive to becoming aggressive? Does being the victim give us the right to abuse or harass someone else?

As Lyman Abbott, American Congregationalist theologian, editor, and author,  said a long time ago – “Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry.”

The next time we find ourselves getting angry about a poor quality product or service, and want to give strong feedback or get the matter resolved, let us resolve to direct the feedback to the right person and in the right way.

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Unveiling the intent

I have been attending a theatre workshop for the last few week(end)s now. Of the many interesting lessons I have learned, the one that has made the most impact on me is – ‘unveil the intent’. Let me explain…

“You have been a bad boy!” This very simple line can be said in many different ways. It can be a reprimand, it can also be a tease, or any of the many other possibilities on the continuum of emotions. How we read the line will depend largely on what the intent of the person saying it is. As an actor therefore, it is important to unveil the intent of the writer, so we are able to say the line right.

We were taught that to unveil the intent, we need to comprehend the context – who is saying this line to whom, when and most importantly why.

I believe this is a simple, yet powerful lesson…for not just actors, but all of us.

In any interaction, identifying the intent behind what the other person is saying is a challenge because we are using our lens to ascertain it. We end up reacting to a situation based on the behaviour we see, and not the intent (Stephen Covey wrote about this in his book ‘The speed of trust’ – “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour!”)

A colleague’s disagreement to our point may be construed as a personal attack, where the intent may just be to share a point of view or work towards the greater good of the project/team/organisation.

If we could only take a moment to think through and unveil the intent, we will be able to respond in a more appropriate way.

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If only there were no ‘if onlys’

About a month ago I met with an accident. A biker bumped into my car and fell down. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt; though I can’t say the same for my car. The bumper got displaced and the fog-light hung out precariously, a couple of wires saving it from falling off.

As I drove back home, many thoughts ran through my mind, all of them starting with “If only…”; “If only the biker had been careful”, “if only I had noticed the biker getting close to the car”, “if only I had taken care of the errand at a different time of the day”, and so on…

I reached home feeling sad, none of the ‘if only’ statements lifting my mood.

Incidentally, later that day I read an article that a colleague had shared – 5 ways of sabotaging yourself. I say incidentally because the first point the author talked about in the article was ‘Give up dwelling on “If only”’.

We are all too often caught up in a time warp, where we wish we could go back in time and change things. “These thoughts can follow us around for decades, and the problem with them is that they don’t lead to action,” the author says.

Similar thoughts are echoed in Dr. Spencer Johnson’s classic ‘Who moved my cheese’, where the characters Hem and Haw keep fretting about what couldn’t have been helped – the cheese running out.

The one thing I now consciously do that keeps me from falling into the trap, which is in line with what Andrea Bonior recommends in her article as well, is – whenever I catch myself saying ‘if only…’, I remind myself to ‘Not focus on what is done, but on what I can do now’.

I had a chance to apply it yesterday morning when I was participating in a 10k run. Around the 6k mark, huffing and puffing, I began to think ‘if only I had prepared better over the last couple of weeks’. Even before the thought was complete, I reminded myself to ‘focus on the present’, and what I can do now to complete the run. I decided to slow my pace, but keep running. This helped me catch my breath, increase my pace in the next round, and complete the run in a not-so-bad 73 minutes.

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Blow your own trumpet…for others!

As I walked out of the movie hall after watching ‘M.S Dhoni: The untold story’, the one thing that stayed with me was the role that Dhoni’s friends and acquaintances played in shaping his career. Blowing his trumpet with sponsors and selectors (albeit at the local level), they were instrumental in letting people know what Dhoni was capable of. Of course Dhoni had the talent and worked hard to build his skill, but there is no discounting the role that the others played.

However, not all of us are as lucky!

Many moonlights ago, during my summer internship, I was working closely with the head of HR of an organization on a project. During one of my meetings with her, I updated her on the tasks I had completed, but skipped some information that I thought may be considered as boasting (like how the leads responded to the presentation I had made the week before the meeting).

When she directly questioned me about how the presentation went, I responded modestly. It was then that I got my first lesson in blowing your own trumpet.  “Every once in a while it’s okay to boast about yourself,” she said. “You will feel good, and others will know what you have accomplished.”

While not so much then, over the years I have come to agree with what she had advised. I have come to believe that blowing your own trumpet is important for three reasons:

So they know: It is imperative to let others (read key stakeholders) know about your achievements. Your success in the team/organization depends on it. If you don’t care enough to share, there is a good chance nobody else will.

So they see value: A key difference is how you choose to say it; what you are focusing on. I sometimes catch myself talking about the tasks, where I should be communicating the value and the (business) impact.

So they can too: Imagine if Thomas Edison had not told others that he can invented the electric bulb, or worse still shared that he did it, but not how. Some of what you share could be best practices others can replicate, to solve the problems that they are facing.

The one thing that we should always be conscious of is that the sound of our trumpet is not for us! Pause a moment, feel good about ‘the sound’, even celebrate it, but anything more and you are treading on the slippery slopes of vanity.

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The Power of Influence

Hyderabad received torrential rains last week. For a couple of hours on a couple of days, the roads were flooded, traffic was jammed and a lot of people spent a lot of time getting to wherever they were going. I was stuck in one such traffic jam one morning on a narrow water-clogged road. There was a line of cars ahead me, and a long one behind. We were all waiting patiently in our lane.

And then something happened!

A car that was in line behind me got out of the lane, got onto the wrong side of the road and started speeding down. As it overtook a number of cars, a few abuses were hurled at the driver by those doing the right thing (waiting in the lane).

And then something else happened!

The car in front of me, whose driver had very animatedly shouted at the speeding driver a moment ago, now got out of the lane as well and sped down. Interestingly, in the next minute I saw 3 more cars follow suit.

This wasn’t the first time I had seen something like this happen. Few other common occurrences where others influence our behaviour*…negatively:

  • Late night at a traffic signal,  people who have stopped because the light is red, decide to break the law because a car or two drove by
  • Students who cheat in the exam because other students are cheating
  • Professionals who choose to use a ‘shortcut’ to get the job done, because “everyone does it!”

We all play both roles – the ‘influencer’ and the ‘influenced’. As influencers, I strongly believe in what Buddha advised, “Whatever words (and actions) we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” 

In our role as the influenced, building on above quote, it is important for us to be able to distinguish between ‘being influenced for good or ill’, so we are able to choose wisely. Just because someone else does it, doesn’t make it right! Interestingly, at times, even when everyone else does it, it doesn’t make it right!!

*Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book ‘Influence: The psychology of persuasion’, talks about various factors (principles) that influence decisions. The one in play here is ‘Social proof’, where we (may) end up doing things that we see others do.

 

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Against all odds

“Citius, Altius, Fortius”, in other words “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. The ongoing Olympic games in Rio, like its predecessors, has seen many records created (& broken) and many heroes made. It’s no secret that the players competing in the Olympic games prepare for years and years for this event, and yet there are only a few winners.

I recently heard about one such winner from many years ago, whose tale is awe inspiring.

Karoly Takacs, at age 27, was a world class shooter, when he lost his right hand (his shooting hand) after a defective grenade exploded in his hand. Not giving up, he began to secretly train himself to shoot with his left hand & surprised everyone a year later by winning a national shooting championship.

All set to participate in the Olympic games in 1940 in Tokyo, he had to wait till 1948 to represent Hungary in the rapid-fire pistol event, since the games in 1940 and 1944 were cancelled because of the Second World War.

At the age of 38, in the 1948 Olympic Games, he not only won the Gold medal in the rapid-fire pistol event, but also set a new world record. He won a Gold medal in the next Olympic Games (1952) as well.

While he was neither the first physically disabled athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, nor the only one to have won multiple Gold medals, I found his story inspiring for three reasons:

  1. He did not give up shooting after losing his right hand
  2. He remained focus on his goal of becoming a world champion in spite of the delays
  3. And third is an incident I read about on the Olympic Games site…

Before the competition, the favourite, world champion and world record holder, Carlos Enrique Díaz Saenz Valiente, asked Takacs why he was in London. The Hungarian replied, “I’m here to learn.” Takacs won the gold medal and beat the world record by ten points.

Source: Olympics.org

 

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