When two persons enter into a relationship (be it professional or personal), the following interaction happens.
There are three distinct areas – the two persons having unique identities A, B and a third shared identity (C).
This is a very important concept – that the relationship is separate from the persons who create the relationship. Just as we invest in ourselves, we have to invest in the relationship also. A relationship is like a child born out of two persons coming together, and the child has a unique and distinct personality from the two parents. The way parents feed the child (emotionally and spiritually) determines how the child grows.
Characteristics of relationships
- We invest time in a relationship. Since time is limited, the amount of time spent eats into personal time and this creates issues. The time can be willingly given, or forcibly taken. The time spent is at the expense of other activities and these have repercussions. We believe that if time is being invested, it should be utilised well. If I perceive that the other person is physically present, but not emotionally there, I may feel the time to be wasted.
- We invest emotional content in a relationship. We create memories of good and bad times, we fight, make up and we spend quality time together. Each incident has an emotional content that either nurtures or detroys the relationship.
- We have multiple relationships at the same time. We have a professional relationship at work, a semi-professional one with colleagues, another set of relationships with friends, with parents and with our spouse. the limited time creates a continuous tussle for prioritisation.
- Each relationship has a purpose and fulfils some need. If the need is fulfilled or cannot being fulfilled, the relationship dies. Sometimes because of social pressure, we continue in a relationship for the sake of appearances. This happens professionally as well as personally.
- A relationship is of a finite duration. It may extend to the lifetime of one person, or for a smaller duration. Sometimes, one person leaves the relationship, due to death or change of priorities. Other times, needs change or are satisfied and there is no need for the relationship. Eventually when the relationship dies, we suffer a sense of loss. We retain the emotional content and remember the good times. All loss leads to a feeling of grief and we go through 5 stages of grief.
- The nature and the boundaries of a relationship changes. Specially when in love, we sometimes put all other relationships at low priority and invest everything in one relationship. This happens especially if we believe that this one relationship will fulfil all our needs. Sometimes we start changing the relationship and want more out of a relationship than what the other person wants to give. We start ignoring boundaries. We start taking the relationship for granted. We force things.
How to maintain a relationship
- Understand the finite nature and the changing nature of a relationship. A person with a negative mindset may conclude that there is no use of a relationship. A positive person would rather enjoy the relationship and the experience while it lasts. We also need to understand that the initial boundaries and the time spent on a relationship will change. We should be prepared for it, and deal with it. See my blog entry on Acceptance and Resigation.
- A smart investment manager creates a portfolio of low-yield stocks that have guaranteed returns as well as instruments giving high returns but having more risk. He actively looks at the value of the portfolio and juggles his investments to match his objectives. He spreads his risk and monitors daily. A bad manager will have a large dependency on one stock, and may not actively monitor, taking his portfolio for granted. Similarly, we need to understand that different needs are satisfied by different relationships and depending on one relationship to satisfy all needs can create serious damage and is high risk.
- A relationship is not the person. We may respect the person, and we need to respect ourselves, and not blame the success or failure of the relationship on the persons creating the relationship. A relationship has a life of its own, different from the life of the persons involved. You cannot, individually, take the blame not the credit for the relationship.
When someone come to me with stories of how badly life has treated him (no one tells me stories of how life has treated them fairly), and asks for advice on what to do, I request him to accept that this incident has happened.
Invariably, the person becomes confused and asks, “So, you are telling me to do nothing?“
And I answer, “I did not say that!“
Acceptance is acknowledging that something bad, that you cannot currently control, has happened and is happening to you. In essence, we do not fight it, and accept that it is happening or it has happened. Once we have done that, instead of focussing on fighting it, we focus on what can be done to mitigate the damage and to prevent it from happening again. We decide on some action.
In Judo and Aikido, we accept the other person’s strength and use it against the opponent to bring him down. Most soft martial arts do this. Acceptance here is the key to not using direct opposing force, but to use your own skills to mitigate the opponent’s strength.
Resignation, on the other hand, means accepting and doing nothing. This neither mitigates the damage, nor does it prevent something similar from happening again. We absolve ourselves of any responsibility, and attribute the current problem and future similar problems to luck, fate and will of God.
Blame is the only action that most resigned persons do. Apart from blaming others, we sometimes blame ourselves for putting ourselves in this position.
Resignation is about giving up. Acceptance is about deciding what to do next.
Instead of sitting and castigating ourselves and the world, we say, “Okay, crap happened. I will learn from this and do something different next time. Here is what I can and will do…“
The purpose of life is happiness.
If we are not happy, we cannot think of making others happy. A win-win situation is when we are happy and others are happy. If we are unhappy while making other happy, it is a lose-win situation. Being unhappy and making others unhappy is totally a lose-lose scenario.
Happiness is a result of satisfying our needs.
We begin our quest for happiness by satisfying self-centric needs. We focus on our personal needs – food, clothing, shelter, security. These needs do not need interaction with other human beings.
The next level of self-centric needs requires interacting with a select group of people. These are the need for love, affection and membership of a group. The need to belong to a group also helps satisfy security needs. When these needs are satisfied, we feel happy.
All the above are self-oriented, and we keep moving from one to the other, since these keep changing.
This is also a win-lose relationship, as our need fulfilment MAY be contingent on others’ unhappiness.
We realise that to satisfy some needs, we also have to give something in return. The relationship moves from ‘taking’ to ‘give-and-take’, and a negotiation happens whether both parties in a relationship are giving equally. This is a matter of perception, and if one party feels he is not getting enough, then there are issues. We are buying the satisfaction of our needs by giving something of worth to the other person. This may seem like a barter, as there is no common currency and the valuation of the relationship is subjective.
By the way, ‘relationships’ do not just mean emotional couples, but include other one-to-one (boss – subordinate) and one-to-many relationships (member’s relationship with the group). If the relationship is based on symbiotic needs, then the perception of what one gets from this relationship determines the quality of the relationship.
This agreement is still selfish, and such a relationship and resulting happiness is short-lived, if one person feels he is being short-changed or his needs will be better satisfied elsewhere. We start looking for happiness with another person, another boss, another job and another group.
The need of one person in the relationship can become so selfish, that he/she holds on to the relationship with both hands, suffocating the relationship and the other person. This creates unhappiness and results in alienation. Again, this can happen in couples, in jobs and in families. There is no free will and can become exploitative, if one person depends on the other.
If I loved a bird, my first instinct is to keep it in a cage. I am happy, the bird may not be. We may rationalise this situation by saying that the bird’s needs for food and shelter are being satisfied. We assume that these are the only needs.
If I release the bird, two things can happen.
- The bird flies away, never to return or
- the bird returns and stays with me out of free will.
Either way, the bird is happy.
To really give someone happiness and therefore achieve true happiness, we need to free the bird.
Fear of exploitation
While discussing this philosophy with friends, one friend said,
“I am sure even Mother Teresa would have felt bad when she would have seen someone buying liquor with the money given to him for Food !!”
Yes, it is true that we feel disappointed when people exploit us. I have a few thoughts on that.
- A drunkard is a victim, not a villain. He did not willingly become a drunkard, in order to face social stigma. He now has needs, psychological and physiological, and he believes these can be satisfied by liquor. We are judging from our frame of reference, which says that food is more important, and our money should be used as WE deem fit.
This is conditional giving, not free giving. Once we give the alcoholic the money, we have relinquished our hold on the act of giving. If we were so convinced that food was more relevant, we could have offered food instead of money.
Such people are entitled to compassion, not judgement
- How many friends do we have, and how many have exploited us? If the number is low, should we change our attitude and become cynical, to the detriment of our positivity and therefore impacting our other relationships?
- Does this cynicism mean that we are still in symbiotic need fulfilment stage? Does it mean that we are disappointed that we are not getting enough in return – our need to feel wanted, of gratitude, or expiation of some guilt?
I know that is is difficult in this materialistic world to be truly altruistic, and we will succumb to selfish and symbiotic need fulfilment. I just wish that we do this knowingly, with the understanding that this happiness is short-lived.
Another friend questioned if I was doing the right thing by offering coaching sessions for free.
I have moved to that stage of life when selfishness has no value. Yes, I will always need money for sustenance, but not by exploiting someone who has an immediate need and who is asking for help. The business of coaching requires a client to engage in a long term relationship, to develop skills that are helpful in preventing the recurrence of a current problem. Refusing to give first-aid without payment is inhuman.
Please do comment on this article. You comments help me in improving my blog posts and make them more relevant.
Few of us are natural networkers. We all know the important of networking, but invariably, we postpone it for tomorrow, because shy folks like us do not like to meet with people and make inane conversation.
It is easy to believe that social networking or internet based networking (read Facebook) is a better option. However, Facebook based networking focuses on broad-based and shallow relationships, whereas true networking requires deeper relationships.
People do things for others if they believe in the relationship. No amount of ‘likes’ and status updates (which I believe borders on voyeurism) substitute for face-to-face or at least voice-based and meaningful communication.
Meaningful communication requires
- one-to-one interaction
- where both parties are speaking (bidirectional)
and which leaves both parties happy and satisfied.
Status updates do not satisfy either of the above criteria and therefore does not help in networking.
This article from inc.com talks about networking for introverts. Lisa Petrilli, author of “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” tells you how to:
- Network on your own terms
- Be comfortable
- Leverage your skills as an introvert
Adding to the tips in the article, you need to do the following:
- Create a 30 second brief about yourself, describing yourself, your background and your future direction (where / what do you want to go / do and why). This helps a person remember you and also how he can help you
- Find out what the other person wants to do in life. Get into specifics. This shows interest and it will help you look for real options to help the other person. If you can’t think of anything, offer to connect him to others who can help him
- Networking is not about selfishness. People sense selfishness and avoid creating a relationship. Give first before taking, or at least prove that you understand that you have to settle your debts of favours done
- Do not badger people unnecessarily, chasing after them. Your introvertism is an advantage here.
The story of the Great Indian Crab Syndrome is well known. In essence, Indian Crabs do not need to be locked up as one crab will prevent others from escaping.
But let us be fair. This happens everywhere. I have worked in the far East and the Far West, fairly North (but not south of the equator). Trust me, at least in the northern hemisphere, it exists everywhere.
I consider it a natural process. Consider this.
This is a process of making one product indistinguishable from another product. In other words, the opposite of product differentiation. So where a crab pulls another crab down, it is not trying to make the other crab indistinguishable, so that it does not become a ‘run-away’ success?
- A Survival tactic?
After all, differentiation prevents unity. Commoditised products create cartels so that they can collectively bargain. When one product thinks it is different and can command a different market share, the unity is broken.
This is important for the sanctity of a group or an organisation. When we join the corporate world, we go through the induction programme, where we are taught conformity (read culture). We are given a conflicting message – employees are our greatest assets, we value innovation and creativity, but when we try to exercise this value, we are asked to conform.
- Low self-esteem?
If I am jealous of someone who is better than me, I would bring him down to my level. Any person who I perceive to be better than me can differentiate and command a better price!
- Stop striving for excellence
Differentiating is taught as a lesson in marketing, and all the books about corporate heroes tom-tom doing something different (even illegal), treading the road less travelled, ignoring the barbs and the taunts of the other crabs.
We all start off by with stars in our eyes, working hard. We gradually succumb to bare minimum work and rationalisation.Why do we look at each other, and if we see others not working, we too stop working?
We do not let others work, and we ourselves do not work.
So, who is the Indian Crab? Not the other people – but our own mind.
I am invariably asked this question from my mentees, “Should I change my job?”
Reasons for Quitting
When I probe deeper, I find that the reasons are broadly:
- An expectation mismatch between the manager and the mentee. The mentee typically blames the organisation, the management, the boss, the super-boss, the colleagues, the politics, the salary, the travel time, the office hours…this list is endless.
- Perception that life has been unfair. The perceived unfairness has another perspective, “I did all the work that was allotted to me, I fulfilled my targets, I did better than others…how come I did not get what I deserved?”
I have said this earlier and will re-iterate. If everyone fulfils their targets, everyone cannot be promoted, unless it is a bureaucratic / government job and even there, after a certain level, only some persons can get promoted. We cannot all become CEOs in the same organisation at the same time.
So what determines who will be promoted?
The answer is simple – ‘Whoever the promotion committee feels should be promoted.” Why should the committee feel that you should be promoted?
- The boss must be promoted, so that a space is created for you
- Out of all prospects, your boss will recommend you if:
- He trusts you to do his bidding
- You make him look good
None of the above have anything to do with your work. Your work is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for your promotion or increment.
Managing the Power Play
You need to know the following:
- Power equations in the office (who determines promotions)
- What they want
- How you will benefit them (give them what they want).
If what they want is unacceptable, then you need to determine why is it unacceptable.
It may be that you would not want to compromise your beliefs. But the beliefs of the bosses matter, not yours. So you have the following choices:
- Change your beliefs
- Change your job
- Change the beliefs of your bosses
- Determine that you love your job and you do not want the promotion / increment
- Wait until a boss comes whose beliefs are the same as you.
Is it important to have specific and measurable goals? It they keep on changing, what is the purpose of having a goal?
The answer to the first one is yes, we need to have goals, that too, written goals (one study shows that written goals are more likely to be achieved). If we do not have any yardstick of measurement, how do we know we are progressing and therefore when we are likely to reach the goal?
But even more basic than that, what should be my goal? How do I determine the right goal?
Our goals should be determined by our needs. So we have to do a needs analysis of what we would like to have and what we would like to avoid.
- One way is to think back and remember those incidents that made me happy. Then for each incident, I do a ‘root cause’ on why it made me happy. This will show me my needs. Then I create those goals that satisfy these needs.
- Another way is to think of incidents that made me unhappy. A root cause on this – why did that incident make me unhappy – would tell me what I would like to avoid.
Once I have my needs (what I want and what I don’t want) defined, I have to do two things:
- determine the relative important of each need
- determine the maximum time frame in which this should be satisfied (urgency)
Now I can find out what I have to do and when, and this determines my goals. We have to remember that to achieve something, we may have to sacrifice something else, and the important/urgent matrix above will help us realise our priority.
Another aspect of needs analysis is to determine whether these are your goals or the goals of your influencers or loved ones. Sometime, we want to do something but our parents want us to do something else. The question is whether I sacrifice my happiness for my parents’ happiness?
For example, I remember the time I got an award.
- Why did it make me happy? Because I made my parents proud or because my effort was acknowledged in front of a crowd.
- Why does that make me happy? Because I need the approval of people
- Why do I need approval? Maybe I have self-esteem issues and I need to compare with others to define me
So if I am seeking a goal in terms of what type of job I should look for, I should look for a job that gives me a lot of approval, or allows me to do peer comparison and which does not lower my self-esteem. Sales would be a bit of an issue as a job, because it has a lot of rejection built in. However, advisory services based on my competency would be good, because a client would be grateful for my services.
I can now set up a time frame for creating a competency that can be appreciated by clients and to find a job that allows me to use this competency.
Since these needs keep changing, (refer to my article on mid-life crisis) our goals will keep changing.
Suppose there are two conflicting goals?
If I have done my needs analysis in terms of all the type of needs I have and the priority of each need, and have determined who in my life is important and considered their needs, then each goal can be analysed based on how well it satisfies these criteria.
When we did manual labour and did not have labour-saving devices, we worked from morning to night creating the same output that we can now deliver in a fraction of that time. By manual labour, I do not mean physical labour, it could also be accounting, computing, research, even reading (dare I call it studying?)…
There was an element of Zen mindfulness (being fully in the present), as mistakes would require a great deal of redoing.
Think about writing a letter. An MS Word document can be automatically spell-checked and mistakes can be corrected. No one would know and appreciate, by looking at the final document, how much labour has gone into it. Compare that to the pain of writing a letter by hand, and the final sense of accomplishment we had of finishing a product that was created with minimal corrections. We were more aware of ourselves, what we were doing, what the world around us was doing, and we appreciated the fruits of our labour.
Consider food. Our moms take time to cook and be mindful of the final product with all its nuances of taste as determined by the preferences of the family members. When we eat, we are mindful of that love and we appreciate the subtlety. Compare that to a fast food, even instant noodles, which we mindlessly eat in front of the TV. We are, in general, no longer aware of, let alone appreciate, what we eat. No wonder, we need to go to a five-star restaurant to appreciate food, maybe because we pay so much for it that we have to extract all we can from the meagre morsel. The five-star chef put salt and pepper in front of you, which our moms never needed to. Maybe the love compensates.
This is the virtue of ‘Karma-yoga’ or the sense of fulfilment that comes out of mindfully executing work. Some persons do ‘Jnana- yoga’ where the sense of fulfilment comes from mindfully thinking about knowledge, its acquisition, its uses and its relevance. It is a desire of most young adults to move from ‘Karma-yoga’ (execution) to ‘Jnana-yoga’ (strategy). Often, they wish to skip the execution part.
With the advent of technology and labour-saving devices, the mind has become free. We no longer need to focus on the job at hand, because much of what our mind would earlier do has now been programmed into the device. Therefore the mind is unoccupied and looks for other ways to occupy itself. Instead of evolving from Karma Yoga to Jnana Yoga, taking time to ponder over various short term and long term strategies, we tend to keep the mind busy by entertainment.
Entertainment is a funny thing (no pun intended). Our mind gets used to a novelty and then craves newer and better sources. The need to keep the mind occupied and the addiction to entertainment leads to a craving for more time to get entertained. This creates a need to obtain more labour saving – or shall we say, time saving devices – faster and stronger cars and machines. This creates a vicious cycle of dependency. Entertainment devices is not just about TVs and such electronics, it also about ambience – from lazy-boys (the uber-comfortable armchairs) to sound-proof rooms.
If we look at peer comparisons about our possessions, it is primarily about the labour saving devices or entertainment devices or the means to purchase them. It is rarely about knowledge – when was the last time someone said, “I have a better dictionary than yours,” it was more like, “I can afford a more expensive dictionary than yours!”
These devices leads to less physical activity and a lazy mindset. This leads to lifestyle diseases. We compensate by buying faster and stronger gym equipment and devices for injecting chemicals and measuring bodily functions. We create a dependency on these chemicals and measuring devices. Because these chemicals help alleviate our problems, we are free to revert to our craving for entertainment.
Would it be fair to say, therefore, that technology has actually helped in reducing awareness of our actions and their consequences; which, in turn, has led to lifestyle diseases – a contamination of the purpose of life itself?
In any conflict situation, we immediate attribute the cause of the problem to a defect in personality.
If there is a fight between you and me, you will blame my personality or my disposition (“You never listen!”) not the situation causing the distraction. If a professor is strict in class, the students will label the professor a “Changez Khan”, not the situation which caused the professor to behave strictly. If your experience with a company is bad, you will attribute it to the company, not the situation. If a child has behaved badly, we ask, “What is wrong with you?” instead of asking “What made you do this?” We blame the person, not the situation.
On the other hand, if I have a fight with you, I will justify my loud voice to the situation, not to a defect in my personality. If I am strict in a group meeting, I will blame the situation, not my disposition. If I am the person from the company, I will blame the situation, not the company. A child will say, “He made me do this…I am not like this!”
So there is always a bias in judging a situation. We tend to take one data point and make a generalisation about the person. We then use that generalisation to predict all future interactions. If you have a bad experience in your college or your company, you will attribute it to the college or company, and then generalise all future interactions about that college (‘Don’t send you children there, it is a bad college!”) or the company (“Don’t join that company, or buy its products – it is a bad company!”)
But if you were part of that college, you would say, “There is nothing wrong with the college, the situation with that student was bad!” or if you were part of the company, you would say, “He could not adjust to the culture” or “One batch of products was bad, we have instituted better quality control!”
This phenomenon is called Fundamental Attribution Error, and is a basis of most social interactions. It is fundamental because this phenomena (attribution to “personality” for others and attribution to “situation” for self) cuts across cultures, time and geography.
Our mental models are created because of this. When we observe an incident and jump to a conclusion, that conclusion is typically a generalisation of the personality (“All men are dogs!”), rather than an attribution to the situation. We therefore tend not to give the benefit of doubt. We then tend to justify this attribution by selecting those examples that support our position.
Knowing that we have this “observation bias”, should we not ask, “What situation led to this?” which may allow you to do a root cause analysis, rather that jump to a generalisation? Do we really have all the data to jump to conclusions that it is a personality defect?
Yesterday, one of my ex-students, after watching a skit performed by the current students, which denigrated a Hindu deity, expressed his anguish at the denigration and his apprehension that if the video of this performance was uploaded to Youtube, it may have negative repercussions.
Today I was reading about the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Rushdie ‘tamasha’.
- Have we lost tolerance? The survival of Hinduism happened because of its ability to assimilate other perspectives. In fact, most religions that that have survived and are currently acceptable, are those that have adjusted their viewpoints. Fundamentalism and right-wing attitudes have equal and opposite reactions and create more polarisation of society.
- Is not acceptance of a situation a starting point to solutions? Only when we move from Denial to Anger to Acceptance that we can move towards solutions. Why are we not able to accept and something has happened, and then move on to prevention or mitigation? Why do we stay shocked, deny what happened or remain angry?
- Have we lost our sensitivity? Should we not, before embarking on an action, determine who will be impacted, both in the short term and in the longer term? The students verified with me whether mimicking me on stage was acceptable (because of an immediate fear) but did not verify whether vilifying a Hindu god was okay!
- Have we lost the courage to speak our mind? Do we no longer have the freedom of expression? Is this freedom being misused? Who or what determines misuse? Does our fear emanate from the recent phenomenon where bullying is the first line of offence? Are we becoming a generation of bullies?
I teach people to face fear. I exhort them to treat F.E.A.R as an acronym – “Face Everything And Recover”. But I will be frank, even I am fearful. In this situation, I shall desist from putting up the video for public display because of the potentially negative impact on the institution that hosted the plays.
But I am ashamed of the fact that I am displaying cowardice and hiding behind prudence as a rationalisation of my cowardice.