Have we become inconsiderate?



Today, a close friend of mine expressed anguish at the following incident.

Yesterday, he learnt of the death of his sister’s father-in-law. He was close to the deceased gentleman and they had spent many moments together solving crosswords and discussing other similar mysteries of life. He went over to his sister’s house and started helping with the arrangements for the funeral – ambulance, priest, death certificate, calling friends and relatives…

Meanwhile, he received phone calls from his workplace and from other persons who had professional things to discuss with him. With each person, he started his conversation by stating that he was in the midst of funeral arrangements of a close relative. Almost all persons, after saying something like, “Oh I see…,” carried on regardless, stating their case and discussing whatever they had called up for.

My friend, being the polite gentleman he is, discussed their case with them.

Subsequently, he expressed his wonder and bewilderment that, apart from one person, no one commiserated with him or showed any sensitivity towards the occasion or his emotions.

We see similar parallels in our life. I too am guilty of the same. I sometimes ask the other person whether it is a good time to talk. But other times, because I need the counterparty’s help or advice, I plough on regardless. I sometimes think that I will not take much time, but lose the sense of time when immersed into the details of my problem.

It may be difficult but do consider that over the last 24 hours, you may have superimposed your will on others, who have been polite enough not to tell you to “take a long jump off a short pier”.

Sharing our feelings – would blogging help?


It is very difficult to share our feelings.

We have been taught and conditioned to “keep a stiff upper lip” or as the Greek philosophers said – be a stoic. Sometimes we are afraid to share our feelings – people may think we are weak, or cry-babies. There may also be retaliation, or someone may exploit our weakness.

Bottling up our feelings leads to a venting – not gradually – but explosively, impacting a lot of people around us.

A part of emotional intelligence is to learn that speaking about your feelings can be as effective as acting out our feelings, without the negativity. For example, telling a child, “I am angry” may be effective enough, without shouting or slapping him. Tell a professor that you understand that he is irritated may be better than arguing with him.

Before the internet happened, sharing our feelings was one-to-one. You could call someone and talk, or you could write a letter. This meant that our support circle would be limited in scope and in the promptness of response. Till that time, we would feel that we were alone and without support.

With the ‘Net, the ability to broadcast our feelings and to get instant support has improved. Needless to say, it has its drawbacks – people can misuse it. If you are venting against a person, that person can retaliate and so on. But if you share your feelings, without relating the instance, you may get a lot of positive support that helps you feel that you have a lot of support and people understand how you feel.

A support circle helps. To that extent, blogging can help. The following article mentions the same point.

Blogging relieves teens of social anxiety

I am not able to motivate myself…or others.


I know that I am supposed to do a particular activity like an assignment, or study a book or write letters. But I tend to postpone these indefinitely, citing various excuses.

Charles Handy talks about 3 things that are required in the motivational calculus.

  1. I should know my needs. These can be the need for security, for money, food, clothing and shelter, or need for companionship,  or need for approval, or a need to fulfill my debt to various people.
  2. I should know the result of which activity would satisfy these all or some of these needs.
  3. I should have the energy or the resources (money, time etc.) to spend on those activities.

The above are multiplicative. That is, if any of the three is not there, I would not be motivated.

If I do not know my needs, then no activity would motivate me.

If I do not have the energy or the resources, then I cannot finish the activity satisfactorily.

If I do not know how to satisfy my needs, then I will not be motivated.

Therefore, I have to link the activity (that I dislike) to a need. For example, if I fear that I will fail a course, and therefore have a need to pass it and get rid of my fear, I can link an assignment to that need.  If I need the approval of my colleagues, and the distasteful activity will satisfy that need, then I will try to do the activity.

Whether I finish the activity or not is based on the resources at hand. If I do not have the time, or I delayed it so much that I cannot possibly finish, then I am not motivated to do the activity, even if I know that the activity will satisfy a need.

The same principle holds good for motivating others. If I do not know the needs of another person, I cannot offer him an activity, the result of which would satisfy the needs.

If I do know his needs and I can link it to an activity that I want him to do, and I provide him with the means and resources (including training) to do that activity, the person will be motivated.

Remove any of the three (needs, activity or resources) and there will be no motivation.

Why do people commit violence?


For that matter, why do people do anything? De Becker talks about 4 things.

  1. Justification: we make a judgement that we have been wronged, hence we need to retaliate. If we think about it, we have justified each of our actions (or inaction). Sometimes we say it was necessary or unavoidable. Sometimes, we assume an impact which may or may not really happen.
  2. Alternatives: typically, violence seems to be the only alternative. This comes out of a lack of emotional control, where we are so much into the emotion that we cannot perceive any other option.
  3. Consequences: whether we can live with the consequences of the act. In fact, if we are afraid of further retaliation, we may not act.
  4. Ability:  do we have the confidence to use our body or a substitute (knife, gun or another person) to achieve the results.

When we talk about motivating others, the justification is the end result (either we want to avoid the pain or go towards pleasure) or what we want to get the person to do.

How we achieve the end result, are our alternatives. As a manager, we need to understand the other person’s justification and then come up with alternatives. We may then choose the right alternative. However, in general, we choose the first or the emotionally satisfying one.

Typically people stop at this level of analysis and start to act. But a good manager would think of the following also:

Will the action guarantee the consequence? What about other unintended consequences? This requires a certain experience.

Are we capable of doing this action? Intention and the selection of the most ideal alternative do not guarantee execution, if we do not have the skills and the experience.

Most motivational tactics fail, because without execution capability, they is only wishful thinking.

Suppose we wish to make people in the team work.

  • The justification is the result of the the team work. Whether team members buy into the result will determine if they will contribute. The result may not be important if it is not important to a person. finding what a person wants and linking the result of the team effort to this ‘want’ requires a certain creativity.
  • What can we tell a person so that he is convinced that he should do the work allotted to him. Maybe it is not the right work, because he perceives it demeaning. Maybe he thinks that you have given some one else the work that he wants to do, and that you are playing favorites.
  • Does the person believe that the work he is supposed to do will have the right consequences? If you promise him that it will, but he does not have confidence in you, then he will not do it, even if he has the capability.
  • And lastly, are you sure he can do this work?

Suppose we wish to change our job.

  • We justify the change of job – the boss is not good, the company is not good, the work has changed etc.
  • We look for alternative jobs – and here we indulge in a lot of wishful thinking and peer comparison.
  • We check of the short list of jobs will have the right consequences in terms of peer approval, money and prestige.
  • We do not typically, look at our capability in doing that job because we are focused on the job profile, not our capability.

Triage and the process of prioritisation


In medical emergencies, such as a large scale disaster, where need is more than the supply of resources, “triage” is a way of determining priorities. At the most primitive level it is:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome
Looking at the above, those who are likely to die should not be given treatment. This seems inhuman, unless you take into account that focusing on “first come first served” basis or any such method will create more deaths because patients who could be saved did not get timely treatment.
The concept of triage indicates that prioritisation should not be based just on “important” versus “urgent” as emotionally perceived by the decision maker but based on the common good or good of the majority. This means that sometimes we have to do things that are not palatable, but are for the benefit of the majority of the stakeholders.
Time is a resource most of us do not have in plenty. Given the conflicts between work and home, between various projects at work, and at home, how do we choose?
Maybe, by focusing on what gives the maximum benefits to most people.
As an MBA, who are our stakeholders? What should we be doing, given the paucity of time, to maximize the benefits? Which patients do we leave to die, even though it is not emotionally acceptable?
Does this define professionalism?

Reacting to uncertainty – fear, anger and depression


We join the MBA program with visions of “leading a team of dedicated professionals towards a pre-defined objective.” We hope to meet like-minded folks and pit our wits with them. We hope to meet professors who will reveal the arcane workings of the stock market, of marketing and of corporate strategy. We hope to discover our self-identity, our purpose in life and define our future.

Within one trimester, all these dreams come crashing down. We are not sure of our grades. The seniors abuse us and disabuse us of wishful thinking. We do not understand the subjects. Parents put pressure on our academics and the return on their investment. Everyone, professors, colleagues and seniors tell us we are nothing, we are idiots and we do not deserve to be MBAs.  Even in personal life, long distance relationships with girl/boy-friends become high maintenance. New relationships are created and broken in a jiffy. We wonder what is wrong with us.

All this creates low self esteem. We are unsure of ourselves and our ability to cope. We are afraid of failing in our eyes, and in our stakeholders’ eyes. We are depressed by the peer comparison and the feeling that there is no path to redemption. We also get angry – at ourselves, at parents, at relationships, at the lack of sensitivity in people, at professors, at seniors, at auto drivers, at bus drivers. We take refuge in alcohol, drugs, movies…anything that will make us forget the reality for a moment.

But reality creeps back in, smiling insanely, slipping the knife in and cruelly turning it, reopening old wounds. Life becomes a roller coaster ride of extreme mood-swings.

We learn to adjust sometime in  the middle of the year and sort of accept and reconcile to the various pressures. Life looks predictable again.

Then comes the summer internship and now the external world joins the litany. “What do they teach you in the MBA course?”, “You are worthless, even a non MBA does better than this!” and the greatest responsibility-avoidance statement, “Why should we help you? You are an MBA, you should know, figure it out!!”

Our self esteem comes crashing down. We are unable to deliver. Life is uncertain once more. Depression, fear and anger return.

Then comes the second year. New professors, deeper levels of knowledge and professors who are doyens in the industry joining in the litany, “What did you learn in first year…were you sleeping in class?” “What, I have to teach you first year stuff and the second year stuff, all in one trimester?” “You are good for nothing, you will never get a job…!”

Self esteem takes another blow. Depression, fear anger….only solution is distraction – movies, drugs, alcohol, opposite gender.

In the meantime, old friends and relationships are broken, new ones are created. Parental pressure starts building up. Placement looms near and there is a sinking feeling that we are not ready for placement. We desperately try to study hard, brushing up first trimester courses, reading magazines and newspapers, having group discussions in corridors,  creating our black books (contacts who can get us jobs). In the meantime, there are assignments, presentations, long classes and there is a pressure of time and more uncertainty about grades and the future.

We feel incapable of handling all this. Our self confidence is low.

Placements. People who we never expected to get a job, get placed in good salaries. People who have got jobs outside are still competing within the college, depriving others of jobs. People who we thought were Gods are found to have feet of clay. The recruiters too join in the litany, “Rs 7 lakhs worth of job…you must be joking! you do not even know the fundamentals!” “You don’t even know how to talk…you have no emotional intelligence, you have a bad attitude…”

There is depression, fear and anger once again.

One of the ways of raising self esteem is to compare ourselves with others and bring the others down so that we feel better than others. That is the reason why we belittle others, do backbiting and laugh at others’ misfortunes. We lash out at our juniors and our teachers. We rebel, because rebellion is one way of stating that we have control. It is a natural defense mechanism of people who have low self esteem. With the stress bottling up, the natural way is to get angry and verbally and physically abuse or bully anyone who can be bullied.

(Bear in mind that we have low self esteem because all our life our parents, teachers and other well-meaning influencers have compared us to others as a well-meaning method of making us do better!)

Another way is to disregard other people’s opinions, if they are contrary to ours. This is done so that we do not have to change our opinions and thoughts, which would imply that all that we have done in the past was useless and we had been wrong in the past. It is also a form of rebellion.

Putting it all together, if anyone hurts our self esteem, we will lash out and blame them for our problems. We need to keep ourselves blameless, so that we retain a high opinion of ourselves.

Mood Swings and Emotional Balance


I see students alternating between extremes: depression and elation, weeks of procrastination and sudden bursts of frenetic energy, greed and contentment, love and hatred, ‘never’ and ‘always’.

Since these swings are a function of time, they can be considered as emotional waves.

The energy provided to a wave can be expended in two ways: laterally (across the axis of the wave) by increasing the amplitude of the swing, or longitudinally (along the axis of the wave) by increasing velocity.

Mood swings can be similarly compared. Either we can have huge swings (as given in the first paragraph) and therefore get out of swings slowly (remain extremely emotional for a long time), or have smaller swings and move forward faster. Both types consume the same energy, but one gives a better balance than the other and allows you to move forward faster.

All swings have to be controlled. We cannot prevent the swings from happening. A balance is never still. Even the movement of air makes it swing. Every time it reaches equilibrium, something makes it swing again. If the balance swings too wildly, the pan may hit the ground / table and it may be deformed or the centre of the balance may shift, and the balance would never be perfect again.

Similarly extremes in emotions leave scars and sometimes we become permanently unbalanced. I see students with a negative attitude to life and wonder if it is a result of such emotional scars.

Indian philosophy advocates moderation in all things. Tolerance of all beliefs is moderation. We cannot always be truthful, specially if a white lie can save someone’s life or self-esteem (if a girl-friend asks if these jeans make her look fat, what will you answer?) . We will sometimes be sad (not depressed) and sometimes happy. We may detest something (not hate) or like something (not love?).

Moderation leads to balance.

The psychology of procrastination



It can be said that we procrastinate because of the following reasons:

  1. We are not motivated
  2. We are afraid we can’t finish the task, or we will fail or we will have to repeat the success
  3. The task is not important enough
  4. We do not know how to do the task so do not correctly estimate the time and the effort
  5. We don’t want to – the task may be dangerous – physically or emotionally

Theoretically, since we know the above, we can prevent procrastination by motivating ourselves, handling our fear and making a good estimate.  Why do we still procrastinate and ignore all the warning signs?

The reason is Affective Forecasting.

If we are full after a meal, we will buy less food at the grocery store.  If we are happy, we believe the future will be rosy. If we are sad, we predict the future to be terrible.

Our current state affects the prediction of an event in the future.

I want to watch a movie so I decide to do the assignment tomorrow. I am happy that I have made a decision. I am also happy that I can watch the movie. Therefore, I predict that doing the assignment tomorrow will be enjoyable.  This positive prediction of a rosy future prevents us from being realistic.

I decide that tomorrow 5 a.m., I will go for a jog. I feel happy that I have made some decisions about my health. I can now watch a movie. Therefore I predict, in my current positive mood, that tomorrow morning my mood will be the same and I will jump out of bed and go for a jog. I ignore the facts that I go to sleep at 1 a.m. and at 5 o’clock I will be grumpy, will definitely hit the snooze button and snuggle back into a warm blanket.

I procrastinate because I believe that by procrastinating, my present and my future will be happier.

Creating walls around us



I was talking to someone in my daughter’s generation about emotions and she mentioned that some of  her friends have sort of created a wall around themselves, because they have had failed relationships or been hurt emotionally, and they do not want to get hurt any more.

This wall prevents them from having emotions. If the principal calls them to her room, some student

Is this good or bad? In corporate life, would this wall help people survive?s get hassled, the walled ones do not care. If someone shares their emotions, the walled ones do not care. If someone praises or criticizes them, the walled ones do not care.

I think the key word is survival. We create walls to prevent intruders from entering our space because we are unable to control who should be allowed to enter and how much or how long they should remain. The wall that we create, severs the link between stimulus and emotion, by superimposing a belief that nothing matters.

Unfortunately, the wall works both ways. Neither do we display our emotions to the outside world, nor do we acknowledge other people’s emotions.

This lack of transparency in emotions hinders relationships that depend on sharing of emotions and a certain openness.

Without relationships, we become lonely. Some of us are comfortable with being alone, because

  • we are well adjusted people who are okay with our thoughts
  • we keep busy with activities or distractions  that prevent thoughts from intruding

Otherwise, we desperately move from one group to another, trying to find company, but get rejected because of our inability to share our thoughts and create an emotional bond.

In office, this lack of bonding may make us focus on work and therefore we become more productive. But this prevents us from creating goodwill among our peers, and since office life is based on goodwill of colleagues wiling to help and support, this can become an issue as we go higher up the ladder, and we need to depend on subordinates and also need political support.

So what should we do? We have to find a way to become resilient emotionally, so that we can bounce back or regain emotional balance when we are subjected to emotions. If we have this resilience, we do not need the walls, because we know how to handle the emotions when they come, and not artificially shut them out.

Excuses for not doing work


Whenever we, as students, think that study or an assignment is burdensome, our minds go into overdrive how to avoid the work. The following rationalisation statements comes to mind

  1. It is of no use, in a job or in an interview.
  2. No one else is doing it.
  3. There are other pleasurable things to do.

Not a problem. We can live our entire life making excuses. But remember, that when success eludes us, we should also use the same rationalisation statements:

  1. Success is of no use in a job or life, as we cannot take it to the grave.
  2. No one else is being successful. We should start hanging out with other failures; all of us together can complain about unfairness in life. Successful people will shun us because of our negative attitude to life.
  3. There are more pleasurable things to do, like spending money on material possessions, and pressing the remote button of our TV for hours at length.

The purpose of assignments is to create a disciplined approach (remember that discipline means being a disciple, or following a path) to the various paths that we will have to follow in life. People who cannot follow any path to completion, reach nowhere.