This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.
Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.
Part 2 describes my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.
Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.
Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.
When I join an academic institution, be it undergraduate or post graduate, I expect the following:
- If I were good in academics in the past, I expect that my previous academic excellence and habits will continue to help me in the subsequent years
- If I were NOT good in academics, I expect that I now have an opportunity to start with a clean slate, and not allow the past to determine the future.
If I were good in academics:
- I had good teachers / tutors. I maybe lucky to have a teacher who could explain concepts very well, have patience and understanding, sometimes force and sometimes cajole me to give my best. The teacher created a scaffold and gradually removed the scaffold as I became more competent. I was therefore motivated.
- I liked the subject and found it easy or not boring. Therefore, I gave more time to the subject that I found competent to handle.
- I had good parents, who motivated me, pushed me, cajoled me, gave me structure and showed the future. They also held my hand
- I had good peer support, who did not pull me down, who gave me respect, accepted me as I was and did not compete.
- I had good genes, and I was able to think well, grasp concepts, have patience, could strategise and plan my academics.
- I could see how academics would lead to a rosy future, and I believed that I could achieve it
In short, I had
- the ability and capability
- a good environment and
- the right attitude
If I were bad in studies,
- I could blame myself, the teachers, the parents, the subjects whatever.
- I could accept that I was good in sports, socialising, but not in mugging for exams.
- I know that my history of academics in my home town, possibly the same teachers and the same school, same peers and their beliefs about me also determined how I was treated and examined. Now I can create my own persona, without any past references.
- I believe that since the new college is a different location with different friends, and since I am not stifled by the environment, I can do better and start afresh.
- I can develop new abilities, I can adapt to a new environment and can motivate myself.
Part 2 describes my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact on my performance.
Today is a tragic day. One of my favourite students messaged me in the morning that he lost his month-old son due to internal seizures. And I have been crying since then. I feel for his wife; for his pain and helplessness watching a month-old innocent boy, who has not harmed anyone, a baby that they have brought into this world, for whom they had envisaged a future and a life of togetherness, some one who made their family complete, leave them after 30 days of joy.
This post is more an outpouring of my grief and an attempt to put myself together.
My son, when 2 years old, was once in the hospital with ITP, and my family and I stood there helpless as he was hooked up to drips and immunoglobulin. This feeling of helplessness, when we see something happening and we are powerless to control it, reminds us of the frailty of our control in the scheme of things we call life. We dream of a future, and in one snap of the fingers, that dream vanishes into thin air.
Each time I stand in front of a class and beg them to wear helmets and not go joyriding when drunk, I remember my feeling of helplessness, and the burden of a father who is supposed to be all powerful, whose duty and joy is to provide happiness to his child and who is sitting far away, trusting his child to do the right thing. And I envisage that same father, frail and wrought with emotion, carrying the body of his child, the child that he carried in his arms when alive, the child that a mother carried in her stomach before it came into this world. And I see that first jouney – carrying the child to his home and then I see the last journey, carrying the same child towards a fnal resting place – his new home.
No child can ever understand that fear, that helplessness and that futility that a father feels when he finds that all his requests, pleas, admonitions and shouting is in vain. When the child is alive he communicates with the child, when the child is sick he communicates with God. He requests, bribes, pleas, admonishes and shouts, to either the child or to God, but all this falls on deaf ears, resulting in a tragedy.
But when the child is dead, who does the father communicate with? Himself.
A father thinks, “Could I have done something different? Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? If only I had done this! I am not fit to be a father!” A father blames himself, because it was his responsibility to make his child safe. He was supposed to protect his child. Every father promises this at the birth of his child, holding a frail life in his hands, knowing that he is now responsible for this life forever. And when the child dies, a father feels guilty that he failed his child, somehow. “How can my child die before me…I was supposed to take care of him. I was supposed to die earlier than him”
When parents leave their child in my care, I as a teacher, am supposed to teach that child life skills. When the child does not learn those, I feel the same sense of guilt and failure, that I could have done something different, that I have done something wrong, and maybe I am not fit to be a teacher. I also feel that I have broken a parent’s trust, who believed that I would help a child make his future.
Unlike death, in class, the child is present. Anger can be directed at the child. When a child is dead, who should the anger be directed to? It is mostly directed at self. A father is angry at himself, and at the world. Even in class, if a teacher does not direct his anger at the student, he has to direct on himself, as he considers himself a failure.
Here I sit, thinking as a teacher about this student that I could not teach him fortitude, and as a surrogate father to this student feeling helpless in his grief, feeling empathy for his feelings, and extrapolating that feeling as a father to all my children seeing a dismal future based on irresponsible behaviour, and I weep anew. I think about the senseless loss of life and opportunities, the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to determine a child’s future and I wonder what to do.
As a counsellor, I am supposed to hold my feelings in check and help a counsellee regain emotional balance. But how does one counsel someone who has lost a child when I too get emotional, imagining the loss of any one of my children, including my students – past, present and future?
I feel so helpless.
Having said earlier why you should not quit, there are certain times when you need to change your job.
They are as follows:
- You cannot adjust with your boss and vice versa. Both of you have tried and failed
- You are suffering from stress – headaches, sleeplessness, anger, anxiety and depression. You have undergone counselling and realised that this problem is not about you
- The culture is chaotic, verbally abusive, hostile, disrespectful and demeaning and you cannot handle it
- Your work is constantly criticised or ignored and no one is willing to give feedback or mentor you
- You have been layered – some one else has been brought in between you and your boss
- You have been overlooked for important meetings, task forces and initiatives
- Your company is about to be acquired or merged or your company is in trouble
- Your boss has been fired and you are known to be closed associated with your boss
- A new CEO has been hired and he has started bringing his own team and the effect is percolating downwards
- You do not feel like coming to office on Monday AND you look forward to the weekend
It is very important that you seek counselling before you act precipitately. Sometimes, the problem is you, but your defence mechanisms do not allow you to accept it. If the problem is you, then you will face the same problems elsewhere. If you have been changing jobs too often, you may want to examine your own beliefs and whether you blame others – boss, family, organisation, society, even God for your problems.
Remember that your CV does not invoke trust if you have not stayed in any organisation for more than 3 years.
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.
For that matter, why do people do anything? De Becker talks about 4 things.
- 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.
- 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.
- Consequences: whether we can live with the consequences of the act. In fact, if we are afraid of further retaliation, we may not act.
- 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.
The following blog details what is happening to us in our work life.
We need to learn to relax. Yes, I know we are told this ‘n’ number of times, but the reality is we do not know how. The best way that I have found is by progressive relaxation – deliberately tightening and loosening muscles from the toes upwards to the head. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation
The other is deep breathing – keeping your chest steady and moving your stomach in and out, forcing air into the deeper parts of your lungs that do not get oxygen with shallow breathing.
Try this once every two hours.
Earlier, I focussed on parents and peers for putting pressure.
- The parents said that their children will have no experience in giving competitive exams. They also said that teachers now have more power as they determine a portion of the final grades and this will create a misuse of their power; that we were now following the American system and look what has happened to America; that they will now have to help their children with the projects at home instead of watching TV which is their birthright after returning from office.
- The teachers objected saying that because of continuous evaluation, their work load will increase. They do not want to do corrections locally.
- The children revolted saying that earlier they had to do tuitions and study only for the board exams, now they will also have to study the whole year, listen to the teachers, attend classes…essentially foregoing their birthright of bunking classes.
- Parents transmit their fear of taking care in old age, not having enough money, starvation etc. Therefore they instil the spirit of competition. Parents have their own fear of their position in society and loss of bragging rights
- Peers feed on the fear of not belonging as well as not allowing others to get ahead
- Children have a fear of self esteem also assimilate the parents and peer’s fears
- Professors have a fear of being blamed and the impact on their career
- Educational Institutes have a fear on one side of diluting the academic integrity and on the other side of the PR impact. (Maybe, they should put statutory warnings during the ‘welcome to the cream of the cream of country’ speech at orientation that ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’ or ‘we are not responsible for peer pressure, the grades and how you mind perceives both of them’)
- We have the fear of the unknown; and of change in status quo and our intention of mitigating that fear by having a nest egg, a proper education, job etc…
- Most of what we fear does not happen but the mind imagines the worst.
- Does it not boil down to having the courage to face our fears, and to control our mind of negative thoughts?
- I find that most successful people have this ability to not succumb to negative emotions and the ability to change the status quo. Look at the sales guys, they bounce back after so much rejection!
- If any counselling has to be done, it has to be towards managing self and our fears – not to erase the fears (which we can’t) but to manage them. Also to manage relationships and change, and what I call “emotional resilience”
- Can we as alumni teach them this? What is the benefit of our experience if we cannot tell the students about our fears, and what happens in reality?
- Can we as parents change our conditioning and try not to inculcate our values on our children?
- Why are we trying this systemic change, the big bang approach, where we have power only to influence a small section of society – the family. Can we start a chain reaction, slow but more permanent?
When I talk to MBA students about sales as a career, a distasteful look fleets across their faces. I sympathise. The image of a sales person conning you into buying something you do not need comes to mind. I did hardcore sales for 2 years and then decided never to do it again. Lo and behold, for the last 10 odd years I have been spending an increasing proportion of my time selling. As I grow more senior in an organisation, I am selling my organisation’s products to customers, the organisation’s prospects to shareholders and the organisation’s values to current and prospective employees.
The reason selling seems distasteful is probably because I am dependent on the ‘buyer’ to make a decision and therefore I am in his power. Maybe this hurts my ego. Another reason could be that there is no set formula for success and we need to make a new effort and come up with a new tactic for each sale. This means we need to understand and adapt to each situation as it comes. There is no predictability and so a perceived loss of control.
Is convincing people not selling? Am I not spending my day in and outside office convincing and being convinced. How can I escape selling?
So let us get real. We sell all our life and sales is unpredictable. There is statistically a 50 percent chance of success or failure. If our success rate more that 50%, we are ahead of the curve.
Although there is no formula, I have adapted the old Xerox methodology for selling. This was called the SPANCO method.
Suspect – list of all potential customers that I need to convince
Prospect – a short list of qualified suspects
Approach – what tactics do i adopt for each customer
Negotiate – Come to terms, monetary and otherwise
Close – get a letter of intent or be the only one in the running
Order – get the money or a contract
In order to sell anything, including myself for a job, I can follow this method.
- S: I make a list of all potential companies that I can apply to.
- P: I create a set of criteria to short list the targets. This can be based on location, salary, other perks, culture, learning potential, availability of jobs, seniors’ feedback, competition with other job seekers, company financials, company potential etc. I give weight to each of these criteria in order of importance. I then do my research and give points for each criteria (simple one is: 1 for favourable, 0 for no information, -1 for unfavourable). I then perform a weighted average calculation for each suspect and come up with a short list of companies.
- A: For each company, I find out who to contact, what is the job, how to meet the person, what makes that person tick (what is in it for him), why will they take me, where and when should I meet the person, in essence the who/ what/ where/ why/ when/ how of each prospect. I need to have a 3-line pitch ready. This is when I customise my resume based on the requirement (equivalent to a proposal).
- I do the homework and then I approach the company. Once I have reached a decision maker I make my short pitch and get him to engage so that there is a follow up action. I cannot get a sale done in one meeting and this this stage takes time, with different meetings, different deliverables and maybe different approaches.
- N: Once the prospect is convinced about the product (me), he needs to get the company to shell out money (salary). So a negotiation starts with maybe the purchase department (HR in this case). This is the time when I need to evaluate the relative merits and demerits of the competition, so I need to know who is the competition and I project myself as the ideal product for the job in the most cost effective way.
- C: This stage is when I am the only candidate in the running and the numbers have been negotiated. This is where I am waiting for an appointment letter. Many times, specially like now, these letters can be withdrawn or a renegotiation can happen.
- O: This is when I have actually joined or I have a proper contract with the company, the PF has been set up and I am a bona fide employee.