Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anybody There?

With so many mediums of communication around us, isn't it ironic that we are actually communicating worse than before. Or maybe, we are spoiled by choice.

Have we become more erratic in how we communicate with friends, relatives, peers and managers? At times, some exchanges even fall below the basic norms of decency. When there were only letters, each letter would be answered even though the process of writing, putting stamps and posting was cumbersome. Before the advent of cell phones, each voice-mail would generally result in a returned call.

How many times does it happen now, that one person calls another and never gets a callback? Or somebody sends an sms to another person and it goes unanswered. If you go by the basic tenets of courtesy, this would be considered quite rude. Why is it that in the current age, this is treated as normal behavior both by the abuser and the abused?

Consider these real life incidents -

Rinali and Ajay are friends. They meet regularly and are in constant touch normally. One day Rinali calls Ajay but he does not answer. She then sends him a couple of texts (SMSes) but he doesn't reply. After a few days Rinali gives up and then Ajay calls her. He is very casual. When she asks him what happened in the past two days, he says 'Nothing, I was just taking it easy'. When Rinali asks him why he was incommunicado, he has no answer..

Rinali is confused but doesn't know what really transpired. Rinali does feel hurt and Ajay surely knows it but does not address it. This is probably one of the causes why relationships are so fragile now. At this point, Ajay has already managed to distance himself to an extent in Rinali's mind.

Seema and Nazma are very good friends at work. They keep in touch regularly even when they are not at work, and socialize with each other outside work at least 2-3 times a week. Nazma is very meticulous about her communication. She replies to each sms and returns each call. Seema can be very effusive at times, bombarding Nazma with 10 texts in an hour, but at other times she takes hours to reply to a single sms. Every time this happens, it perturbs Nazma and she has even tried to ignore Seema's texts at times to make her realize how she feels but Seema just picks up the phone and fires Nazma for ignoring her. Of course, if Nazma does the same, i.e. calls Seema when she does not reply, Seema just ignores her calls. It is very difficult for Nazma to voluntarily ignore somebody's call, so unfortunately she succumbs to Seema's bullying. Is there anything Nazma can do?

Its possible that when Nazma gets friendly with another girl and the other girl is more communication friendly than Seema, she will prefer the new person to Seema.

Mostly we prefer reliable people in our lives unless we have issues of self esteem where we thirst after the people who treat us badly. Given the option to have more communication friendly people around, we choose those. Its just that we tolerate this behavior because it has become so pervasive in society, that we have started thinking that there is no other option.

How does one handle these problems of communication in ones life? Common courtesy demands that we dignify the effort that anybody puts into writing to us by at least a cursory reply. Is the person taking you for granted or are you just one of the hundreds of friends that she has that, either she doesn't care, or by the time she gets to replying to you, the moment has passed. Are you no longer that interesting to this person or does that person crave constant novelty?

If one is sensitive to this, should that person limit one's friendship to a few close friends or alternately make a lot of inconsequential friends so as to not feel left out?

If this is a common problem that affects a lot of us and most of us feel that it should be fixed, should there be more education in this area in terms of workshops or soft training courses? Shouldn't more people also be complaining to their friends vociferously?

There could be some norms that we could start with that would ease these communication heart-aches.
  • Communication should at least be acknowledged. There are times when somebody writes us a beautiful sms or email and we want to take time to write back and then we keep on procrastinating till it never happens. It would be better if one just acknowledged by a simple one liner and drafted an elaborate reply later e.g. Thank your for that thought, more later ....
  • Sometimes we get into frivolous chains of texts, so its ok to break off at any point.
  • Communication should be more or less consistent, so even if one person is on a holiday or assignment, and normally they there are ten communication touch points, it should not shrink to zero. There should at least be to a couple of messages exchanged in a day.
  • Not responding to somebody almost always causes a bit of rejection for that person. There are times, when people are pests and the communication is unwelcome, and it is ok to do it to them, but not the people one considers to be close.
  • On the flip side, one must not expect 24 x 7 availability from anyone. It should not be required that each call and sms be returned within the hour. In this we can follow the age of the telephone where generally calls were returned in a 24 hour period. That should be acceptable.
  • One can make sure that one limits calls to people who don't respond and also keep conversations interesting so that the other person seeks more.

The general idea is to dignify the person who takes the trouble to keep in touch with you.

Remember that at times, the people who hang around you, no matter how you treat them will just be that - 'hangers on', not friends.

CTizm: If you don't want your rights to be taken away by a company, make sure that you don't allow them to become a monopoly. Take the example of Microsoft, Google or Facebook. As they get more market share, the more they try to control your lives. Make sure that you always use alternative services even though it makes your life a bit more difficult, so that you do not allow these companies to control your lives. e.g. There was a time when Microsoft was the 800 pound gorilla that everybody feared would take over our lives but it has been quickly replaced by Google which has invaded the privacy of people more insidiously than Microsoft ever did. You can't blame these companies because, in a capitalist economy each company is expected to return maximum value to its shareholders by aiming to become a monopoly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Friends in the Real and Virtual Worlds

Like in any other relationship, even in friendship, it helps to take stock of your life and plot a path of what you want in a friendship.

You can ask yourself these questions. Where do you want to go, Where are you, are you going in the right direction to get where you want to be. These are general questions about life that can be applied to friendship too. Today, the emphasis on the 3 minutes of fame and success is so much that we tend to forget ourselves. In pursuit of this fame, we forget our priorities in life. In order to keep a certain life goal we need to define our own terms of success and not base it on what somebody else would want.

Anybody would agree that life without friends is difficult and lonely. In India, given our culture we are well supported by family and relatives but still they cannot be a complete replacement for friends. Remember though that sometimes somebody in the family can also be a good friend, as good as or even better than your peers. We often tend to neglect or understand friends in the family and tend to take them from granted. We need to treasure them like any other valuable friend.

Even though communication has made it much easier to keep in touch with friends, it has also created the problem of quantity over quality.

In this article, lets examine life through the prism of friendship. For the sake of argument, lets assume that the better friendships you have, the better your life is.

In today’s age social networking tools like Orkut and Facebook have become almost mandatory in maintaining friendships. If not anything, these sites serve as good contact and calendars reminding you of every birthday and every anniversary. The danger though is that you can have too much of a good thing. According to a British medical journal Priory, there is new phenomenon call Facebook ‘friend addiction’ that includes an obsession to build a large group of friends on the site.

Rita has 763 friends on Facebook. Reena has 100. Does that mean that Rita is more popular and hence happier?

Think about this, even if Rita took an average of two hours in a year to keep in touch with each of these 763 friends apart from the many hours she spends with ‘real’ friends, she would be spending almost 4 hours everyday, just to keep in touch with each friend just once a year!

Reena on the other hand would just need 20% of the time to be more in touch with her friends than Rita.

As human beings we are such sheep that we always value people by how others treat them, rather than by our own experiences. Logically, shouldn’t you be wary of being friends with a person who has 763 friends because you would be just 1 of 763? You are ensured of never getting attention from this person.

In defense of Rita though, it could be just that she uses Facebook as a networking tool and actually only has a core group of a few friends who she is regularly in touch with.

On the subject of Facebook though, did you notice that when you take a vacation or are doing something really interesting, you tend to be less on Facebook? Time on social networking sites is generally inversely proportional to how interesting a life you have.

On the flip side though, it is such a useful tool to reconnect with old friends who had apparently disappeared from your life.

And what about ‘Friendship Day’? Do we really need a ‘Hallmark event’ (Hallmark is a card company in the US which apparently creates these events as a marketing gimmick to sell more of its cards).

Now lets take another example pertaining to the real world on friendship.

Raja and Farhan are two really good friends. They both work for a small IT company which is a very benevolent employer and always treats their employees well. One day, Raja leaves the company and starts his own business. He then invites Farhan to join him. When Farhan goes to meet him, he realizes that Raja has stolen the software of his company and the client that his company worked for.

What should Farhan do? There are three options that he has.

  1. Join Raja
  2. Do nothing and stay with the old company
  3. Ask Raja to hand over the software and apologize to his employer

In most cases, Farhan will choose option b. based on a false sense of loyalty to his friend. Even though his employer may have groomed him, made him what he is, he will have this ‘friendship’ thing which will stop him from doing what is right. It could also be that Farhan is afraid of confrontations so b. will be the option he chooses.

Remember, that friendship normally doesn’t come above all principles. You have to take a stand for what is right. It is up to you to convince your friends to do the right thing and if they don’t the right way would be to expose them. If we all did this in all walks of life, it would contribute to reducing the corruption that we have in India as a country.

If you have to do something for a friend, let the effort come from you, rather than the company. As an example, as a manager, instead of giving the best assignment to somebody you are friends with, groom her after working hours so that she automatically becomes the best deserving candidate for that job.

In essence, you need to manage friends, based on time available, distance and your energy level. If you are having trouble keeping in touch with the friends that you want to, then there is a problem.

One more thing, in a friendship, do not take gossip too seriously. Generally the carrier of bad tidings is more of a problem than the one who created the gossip. By the time gossip is carried to you, it takes on a new shape and form. It could begin as funny, simple comment but by the time it reaches you, it may sound many times more malicious than it start out as.

Also, when you gossip about a friend to another, make sure you also provide updates. As an example, Megan, Nisha and Vijay are friends. One day when Megan and Nisha are to meet, Megan makes Nisha wait for hours and finally ditches her. Nisha gossips and disses Megan to Vijay. After this Megan meets Nisha and clarifies how she was with another friend going through a crisis and that’s why kept on postponing the appointment and finally couldn’t make it. Nisha understands, but never conveys this news to Vijay. Vijay is still left with the impression about how wrong Megan was and how upset Nisha is with Megan.

CTizm: When having a bath, try to use less soap. Soap dries the skin and dry skin can lead to BO (Body Odor). Also, remember that Air Conditioned rooms tend to dry the body and increase BO. Always use a deodorant and check your breath frequently. A simple test is to scratch the surface of your tongue and see if it smells fresh. Always keep a brush, toothpaste and deodorant at work. Remember that these things may actually make a difference to your career growth. If you drink enough water (a glass every 45 minutes), you can almost completely eliminate BO.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Inequality in Relationships

Inequality in Relationships

All people are equal, but some are more equal than others – based on George Orwel – Animal Farm

We all strive for equality in relationships but if you reflect on it, most relationships are unequal.

The relationship at work is the most obvious because there is an implied hierarchy and one is supposed to follow it. Even with this though, there are times when some employees may feel that they are better than their superiors. Though this may be true in some areas, management and leadership are very complex issues. As an employee you may not be able to fathom the goal of an organization. e.g. your boss may not have such good technical skills and may not be an expert on the latest nuances of Object Oriented Programming but he may be an expert at talking to clients and charming them.

It is tempting to fall in the trap of being critical of people who are better than you but the best way to resolve inequalities is to look at what the other person is clearly superior in and learn from it. If you then add it to your existing skills, then at some point, you will supersede the person in question.

The same inequality exists in friends and man-woman relationships. Here it gets a bit more complicated because the normal misunderstanding is that friendships and relationships are based on equality, but they are not.

How many times does one observe the stark inequality between two friends or between man-woman relationships? How do these work then?

Unequal relationships can only work when there is a compensatory benefit from one side. E.g Assume Rakesh and Robert are friends. Rakesh is rich, Robert is middle class. Rakesh always wines and dines Robert in fancy places, the kind he is used to. Robert though is more intelligent and a source of knowledge for Rakesh. He is also loyal to him even though he can be objectively critical of Rakesh. Also, Robert makes sure that periodically he takes Rakesh out to cheaper but eclectic places with clean food which is really different experience for Rakesh.

Krish and Nishi are married. Krish is good looking and intelligent, Nishi is a bit above average in looks and intelligence but not equal to Krish. In the beginning years of the marriage, everything is hunky dory because Nishi adulates Krish and is an avid learner. Krish enjoys being a mentor and watches her bloom. As she becomes better, she gets more respect all around and suddenly starts thinking that she is equal to Krish. She starts arguing and fighting with him which not only hurts the relationship but also her own growth.

Unequal relationships work as long a the equation is clear on both sides. Suppose one is a 7 and the other a 5 and they know it, its ok. The moment the 5 starts thinking like a 7 or the 7 starts thinking like they are a 9, there are issues.

On a controversial closing note, women always are happier if the man is more intelligent and capable than them. This does not mean that a woman is less than a man, it only means that she may like a lot of men who are lesser than her but instinctively she looks for a man who is superior to her.

Relationship 101

This is a fresh approach to Relationships based on multiple sources including religions, science, logic and mainly a huge amount of crystallized personal experiences of people.

Read this blog with an open mind, like you would read an interesting story with an open mind and no preconceived notions based on what one has been taught or one has read, seen or heard.

We see so many problems around us in all relationships, parent-child, siblings, employee-employer, man-woman.

This blog is aimed at opening up the mind and making the reader think. This is not a one size fits all solution and it does not pass judgment on anybody.

Before we start the actual discussion on Relationships, let’s trace the root of our understanding and our views on relationships.

These are some of the primary sources from where we form our opinions:

Home/Parents When we are young, we imitate and follow everything our parents say. This forms a lot of what we become in the future. Think about it though. As generations change, unless parents are very flexible they find it difficult to deal with changes in their children’s lives. If we follow exactly what they said, it would be difficult to deal with your peers. However much we respect our parents, they are still humans and as fallible as you and me. Once you think of them as having the same fears and insecurities as you would, it is difficult to be unquestioning about their advice.

Movies Isn't it funny that some small time writer comes from a village in the wilderness, gets successful writing masala scripts and then .... Educated people, like you and me, who would not give him the time of the day, live their lives according to his scripts. At least some of the contemporary directors now have different stories with a more realistic approach on human relationships.

Books This is totally dependent on your selection of authors. Again, since most educated people read more of western literature, we lose out a lot on the wonders of our own roots. Mark that I don't say Indian culture because that is oft associated with just dance and song which is not even the tip of Indian culture. Think of mythology like the Mahabharata, it has emotion and drama to match any of Shakespeare’s stories.

Friends They come with their own background and experiences. These may not match yours. So what works for them, may not necessarily work for you and what they want out of life may not be what you want out of life. Hence their advice may not be really applicable. Also, at a certain age, people do a lot of things do get acceptance from their friends e.g. substance abuse, which many times is not the right path for you. The advice could be good or bad and one should always evaluate it objectively.

This is a start, but to get the ball rolling, we need your inputs and your questions. So go ahead, write back to us.