The Invisible stickers

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A friend shared a story with me. It touched my heart and hence this blog. He said he was driving behind a car and was getting impatient since the driver in the car ahead of him was driving slow and not giving way. He honked and was fuming till he saw a sticker which stated that the car in front of him was being driven by a physically challenged person.

Why do we need stickers to teach us to behave ourselves in our lives ? Do we need people telling us that they are “suffering from cancer” or “they have lost a near and dear one” or they “have lost their job” through stickers on their face or their back.

We seem to be living in a world without emotions. We seem to be living for ourselves than for anyone else around us. Lets reflect on how we behave with our family, friends or colleagues at work.

When we get back from work we are busy with out laptops or mobiles and believe that the organisation does not exist without us. This false belief continues possibly till the day we lose our job or retire from work. It could be a false self image of ourselves. In this process, we do not have the time to wish our spouse or encourage our kids in their academics, sports or cultural activities. How can we justify this ever ?

If we move to the work place, the situation is no different. We believe our colleagues are machines, which are paid to work and give their best. We demand more than they can deliver and losing our cool with them is a matter of right for us. We are neither aware of the problems they are facing in their personal world nor do we have the time or the inclination to get to know them. We live and work in a heartless organisation and believe our colleagues are like robots, who work for us.

How about our friends ? In this era of social media, we believe if we get hundreds of likes for our posts on social media, our day is made. We get depressed when nobody reacts for a few seconds for every post we make on the social media. Our friends are virtual and emotions are expressed only in emoticons. We do not remember the birthdays or anniversaries of close friends and do not have the time to visit them.

This post from my friend really triggered my thoughts. It churned my emotions. I wanted to challenge myself and everyone around me to change. To change for the better. It is time to realise how valuable it is to spend time with your family. It is worthwhile to empathise with your colleagues at work and know them as human beings with emotions. We need to find the time to meet friends and share our time.

We can see a tram in front of us on the road as in the photo above, but if there is no sign -“Do not cross the road” , we may be tempted to do so.

We need to remember that human beings are social. We do not need invisible stickers on their face or their back for us to behave like fellow human beings. We need sense the emotions in others and be human.

Let us start now.

S Ramesh Shankar

The touch…

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A touch can mean many things to many people. The mother’s touch can mean a world to a child. A father’s pat could mean recognition for others. A partner’s touch could kindle romance between couples. An opponents touch could be a fowl in a soccer field.

So the same touch could mean different things to different people in different contexts. Today kids in school are taught about “good touch” and ” bad touch”. This is because it is necessary to recognise the intent of the touch. As an adult, we are able to make our judgement in most cases but kids get misled by inappropriate touches.

In some contexts, a touch is very effective to soothe a person. For example when a person is bereaved of a close friend, relative or even a pet a warm hug can help console a person. On the other hand, when a person wants to be left alone, a touch could intrude into their privacy.

We need to understand the culture and values of the people around us to use touch appropriately in our dealing with them. While one can be liberal with family members and friends as we understand them and they do the same. But when we use touch as a means of communication or conveying our feelings with others we need to understand how they perceive it in a particular context before we use it.

Even within the family, we need to understand how touch is perceived by people around us. While a warm hug is considered appropriate in some families, it may not be so in others. Even shaking hands between men and women is appropriate in some cultures and not in others.

A child’s touch is always comforting to a mother as in the photo above.

Even in cultures, where touch is considered appropriate while communicating with others, there may be individuals who are not comfortable with touch. Hence, it is important to use touch only after we understand the other person well and their culture.

Touch is also used as therapy to cure some illnesses. A massage is a common use of touch especially in Ayurveda for curing many types of illnesses. However, it is used only by trained therapists who know to use them appropriately with the right kind of pressure on the body. If inappropriately used, it could lead to more problems than solutions.

Even animals love touch as an expression of emotions. Dogs feel loved and cared when they are touched. However, if we end up touching a poisonous snake, we may end up being bitten. It is important to realise that we need to know how the animal will react to our touch before we touch them.

Humans are no different. While one person may feel loved and cared, the other person may feel hurt by the same touch. Hence it is critical to understand people and cultures before touching anyone around us.

Let us learn to touch appropriately.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018

Me & You

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Life is an interaction between individuals. We tend to generalise things and blame institutions around us for our state of affairs. Lets start with our family. A family is a social institution of well knit members . A family is not a physical house or our material belongings.

But it is unfortunate that many families end up in courts over property rights or to claim share of their wealth. They do not realise that family is the network of human relationships. It has to be enjoyed through love and sharing only. No amount of wealth can bring joy and happiness to family members if we are reluctant to share joy with each other.

Similarly, an organisation is not a physical building, factory or a set of computers. An organisation is a network of people working in it. It is the quality and richness of their relationships, which determines the culture of that organisation. Factories may come and go, buildings could be rented or leased but it is the people working there who make all the difference to the effectiveness of the organisation. The sooner we realise it as leaders the better the chances of success of the organisation.

It is equally true for a nation. The world’s wealthiest nation is the not the happiest country in the world. If money could buy everything in life, then the wealthiest nations should have been the happiest. It is not so because happiness is an index of our quality of relationships.

Interestingly most of us as individuals focus more on ourselves than on others. We want to acquire material wealth in all possible forms and at the shortest possible time. As we do this, we may not be bothered much about our relationships around us. We forget to nurture even our family relationships.

This nature continues and we are least bothered about the people around us. We start believing that our wealth can get us everything and anything in life. It is only when a crisis( like the current pandemic) hits us, do we realise the value of relationships and other people in our lives. If God forbid, we fall sick and get hospitalised, we look for friends and relatives to nurture us.

This brings us to the basic need to value life and relationships in life. The focus has to move from “ME” to “WE”. While it is human to accumulate wealth and focus on self, the sooner we realise the existence of other human beings around us and value them, the better it is for us.

Human interactions are always between two individuals and not with a statue or an inanimate object as in the photo above.

This reflection may help families, societies and even nations to prosper. The reason could be that the focus is on building relationships and spreading happiness rather than competing with each other to accumulate more wealth and at many times at the cost of other families, societies or nations.

Life comes a full circle. The realisation that happiness in life is based on the quality of our relationships rather than our wealth will make us reflect. This reflection may help us change course and improve the quality of our lives.

Our new year resolution can be – ” How many people can I make happier every day in the new year ?”

Lets reflect today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Bully leaders …

It was the Festival of Lights today morning in India. One of my young colleagues messaged me that she was upset and wanted to share something. She felt guilty that she may spoil my festival day. I encouraged her to share since I as a leader learn more by listening to others.

She then explained how she was upset with some leaders, who behave rudely and treat her very badly. She further enquired if I could write on how to cope with such bully leaders at work. I listened to her patiently and she appeared relieved. I thanked her for giving me yet another idea to write a blog on a subject, which may help youngsters to cope.

I have come across leaders right through my career, who have thrive on bullying others. Their behaviour is atrocious and the less said about it the better. However, the interesting thing is that such leaders do not realise how much their behaviour and language impacts others. They think they can get away with such behaviour right through their career.

Some of them also think that if they are successful in their career or competent in their field of operation, they have the license to behave rudely with others. This is neither true nor desirable. Every leader needs to realise that their rudeness will not get them anywhere. While they can get away with their ill behaviour with their team members, it does catch up with them at some stage of their career.

I have always believed that while we can build competence in people, it is difficult to change behaviours. It is important for all of us to realise that our behaviour defines our personality. People do not remember our functional competence but always remember the way we made them feel. The earlier we realise this, the better it is for us to grow and evolve as a respected leader.

It is important for organisations to focus on leadership behaviours. Many organisations are willing to tolerate bad behaviour of leaders if they are able to deliver on their results. This may harm the organisation more in the long run than they may realise. While nobody would like to work with such leaders, their results are also not sustainable in the long terms since their poor behaviour will come in the way some time or the other in their career.

The damage Bully leaders can cause on their team members is irreparable. While a physical injury can get cured, a mental blot does not go away so easily. Such leaders impact the confidence of their team members. Their behaviour ruins their self esteem and in turn demoralises them. It is for senior leaders and HR in every organisation to keep an eye of such leaders and deal with their behaviour immediately. The earlier we correct their behaviour, the better it is for them and for their team members.

One of the questions asked is – “how to cope with such leaders ?”. While we may not be able to avoid such leaders, since many of us cannot choose our bosses, we can learn to cope with them. It is important to give feedback to such leaders privately and in a polite and firm manner that their behaviour is demoralising. It may be worthwhile to speak to your HR partner so that they can help these leaders by giving feedback on behalf of employees. It may also help to keep a social distance from theses leaders and not participate very actively in their projects. This will be a good sign for such leaders that many team members are not keen to work with them and hopefully this will also be a significant feedback to them.

Another important lesson I have learnt is that it is easier to change our behaviour rather than trying to change others. We need to learn to be courteous to such leaders but at the same time make it clear in a polite way that rude behaviour is not acceptable to us. It may be easier said than done. But, in life, the most difficult challenges are this way. We need to learn to catch the bull by the horns or else the bulls will continue to rampage our lives and we may be the losers.

Lastly, it is important to realise that all of us are also leaders in our own right. We need to learn only the good things from such leaders. After all everyone has some good qualities. If we learn how to bully others, it may harm us more than help us. We need to learn that bullying as a leader is neither an acceptable trait nor a desirable one.

If leaders behave this way, there is no difference between a bullying monkey and the leader’s behaviour. I would rather say that comparing such leaders with the monkey may be an insult to the monkey.

It is time to stand up to such behaviour and have “zero tolerance” just like we would do to company values like ethics, safety and compliance.

Time to start is now, not even today.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th Nov 2020

Listening to the silence

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In my view the one quality, which each one of us have to continually to develop is our ability to listen. We are used to listening to noise all around us. We need to learn to listen to silence. Listening is different from hearing. Most of the time we tend to hear. Active listening means understanding what is said, what is not said but meant and how it is said. This includes the verbal and non verbal behaviour of people.

I was a poor listener in the beginning of my life. As I grew up, I am developing the art of listening. Although it is a continuous journey, I believe it is a useful skill to invest in. One can never believe you have mastered the art of listening. It’s a life long journey to learn this art. But, one can experience the benefits of listening as you learn to develop it. You realise that you learn more as you listen more.

Most of us have a penchant for speaking. We get a kick listening to our own voice. In this process, we do not realise what we miss. Imagine going on a morning walk in a beautiful forest and listening to the birds. If we listen actively, we can smell , hear and feel nature all around us. On the other hand, many of us are busy with our mobile phones messaging others or talking on the phone while we are walking in the forest. This deprives us of a wonderful opportunity to connect with nature and listen to the beautiful melodies of the birds around us.

It is equally true in an organisational context. We as leaders have a tendency to express ourselves and want our teams to listen to us always. We are reluctant to listen to our colleagues and happily interrupt conversations to make our point. We get irritated when interrupted by our team members but feel it as a matter of right to do so ourselves. This way we do not realise how much we miss out on the invaluable views of our team members on different issues.

I was recently on a vacation. The silence of the forest in front of me taught me more than the noise of the cities. It taught me lessons on listening more than any course I could have attended. We get a lot of valuable inputs everyday from people around us. But we lose out most of it due to our poor listening skills. We either do not listen to them or cut them off just to make our own points.

Even if we reflect in our family environment, the scenario is not very different. We as parents want our children to listen to us all the time. I should admit as mothers are better listeners than most fathers. This may be more true especially when mothers spend time with their children. Children are inquisitive and have more questions than answers. Most of the time we tend to shut them up since we do not have the patience to listen to their curiosity.

It is time challenge ourselves. It is time to learn to listen to the silence around us. A morning walk in the woods or the garden. A quiet time listening to your favourite music. A digital detox of keeping away from our mobile phones may help us to listen better. Learning from the active listening in our family, friends or office colleagues may also be a good exercise to undertake.

While admiring the sunset over the ocean, while you can listen to the waves, you can also listen the silence of nature as in the picture above.

Listening is an art or a science ? Either way, we need to learn and practise it every day. We should not spend time debating whether it is an art or a science. We should spend time learning to listen from all the people around us who are better than us in this skill.

Let us start today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Love….

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Love is the blood of life. It is to be experienced to be understood. One cannot express love in words easily. One can share feelings of love or experiences of love with others. Love has many forms as experienced by all of us. Let us examine love from various experiences in our cycle of life.

A child experiences love of the mother without even an exchange of a word. It could be sign or even touch, which makes the child feel love. The mother knows when a child is happy or sad. She can feel the emotions of her kid like no other human being can in her life.

As the child grows up as a kid, she is loved by everyone in the family. The young child loves her parents for some things and her siblings for other things. These expressions of love can be in the form of comforts in life or even a small help or favour. A pat on the back could be considered as an expression of love for the child.

Now the child grows up into an adolescent and love has a different meaning to him. He is attracted to the opposite sex and relates more to physical touch and feel. He lives in a world of fantasy and dreams of love in various forms in his life. He takes the love of parents and siblings for granted and is willing to sacrifice everything to win over the girl in his life.

As you grow into a young adult, this romanticised form of love grows more realistic. You start your work life and look at colleagues at work as partners to success. You do not live in a dream world. Your feet settles on the ground and want to make a mark in life and work and love is secondary at this stage of life.

Once settled at work, you plan to settle in life. Now one looks for a partner in life. The criteria for an ideal partner goes beyond physical looks and transcends to emotional and compatibility needs. You are willing to take your time to search for your ideal partner and are not in a great hurry. Love is a journey and not a destination in life.

Now you are married and consider your spouse as your equal. Each of us want to be an ideal partner and expect the same from the other. We try to put our best foot forward and live in a honey moon period till love lasts. As the feelings of love fades, we start finding fault with each other and do everything possible to find fault in our partner. It takes courage and humility of either of us to admit our mistakes and move on in life.

We then have kids and settle down in life. Our children bridge the ever growing gap of love between us and we get closer to each other – thanks to the bonding with our children. We realise our mistakes as we grow older and are willing to compromise and support each other at this stage of life. Love seems to connect us all over again as partners.

Our children finish their education and move on to their independent lives. The empty nest syndrome sets in and we realise that we need each other more than ever before. Love gets redefined at this stage of life. It is much more than physical. It is emotional, social and psychological bonding between us. We learn to support each other to experience love.

Love is cyclic. We almost become kids again as our grand children arrive in our lives. It is to be experienced to be believed. These tiny tots light up our emotions all over again. The child in us is re kindled as it had got buried deep inside us as adults.

It is time to experience love in every phase of life. Live and enjoy love as it evolves.

Love happens, it is never planned.

S Ramesh Shankar

25th June 2018

Anything new is good….

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All of us crave for new things most of the time. We like to have new clothes, new friends, new car, new house and et all. This habit develops as a child and continues possibly throughout our life time. While the saying goes “Old is gold” – new continues to enamour us. We may not have reasons to justify our behaviour all the time but we continue to crave for new things all the time in our lives.

Let us examine this behaviour from various angles. The first and foremost is the psychology of this behaviour. It may be due to boredom with existing things around us. It could be the belief that anything new would be better than the old we are used to. It may be due to our yearning for newer things in life. As the child grows up, we are fascinated by the changes in their behaviour. We clamour for a new word and new action every day and are overjoyed when it happens. I remember the first word my daughter uttered in her life. It was “Chidiya”(bird) and it was one of the most joyous moments in my life as a parent. She looked at a sparrow and named it as a bird the first time in her life.

Let us examine it from the lens of relationships. Most of us grow up in the secured environment of a family and get used to the relations around us. We look forward to establish new relationships when we go outside our homes in our quest for higher education or for jobs. We eagerly look forward to how every relationship will evolve. We put in our best efforts and look forward to a mutually rewarding relationship based on trust and mutual respect. This happens to us as individuals too. As bachelors or spinsters we lead a carefree life. Then we get married and look forward to a new relationship of equal intensity. We want to give our best and receive love in equal measure.

If we move to material things around us, the phenomenon is similar. We may have most the things we want in life. We still crave for new things on every possible occasion. We justify buying new things to changes in technology or our own needs. Sometimes, we want to upgrade our social status by buying more prestigious brands as we can afford them now. Every time we believe that anything new will be good for us. Our craving for new material things continues throughout our life journey. The only lesson one can learn is that if we can balance greed and need it may be helpful for us as human beings.

Now let us examine it from our own selves and how it adds joy to our lives. It can be different things may bring joy to different people. One may get joy buying a new pair of shoes although he has many pairs of shoes in his cupboard. It could be watches for some or handbags for others. I remember the first time I bought an expensive watch for myself, I felt guilty as I already had two watches. One of my colleagues also commented that all watches show the same time. This may be true but the joy of buying a new watch is not an experience which can be ignored. After all we need to live life that gives us joy every single day.

This craving for new things has to be within your affordable limits. We need to ensure that while we have every right to enjoy buying anything new in our lives it should not be at the expense of others or our own well being. Some of the ground rules I have been following in buying new things are – a. Never borrow and buy new things, b. Never sacrifice your well being to buy new things, c. Our craving for new things should not be at the expense of others d. Learn to donate old things when you buy new things so that your greed and needs are balanced.

As in the photo above, a new microscope is more fascinating for the kid than even ripe mangoes in front of him.

The joy of new things are to experienced to be believed. Joy for ourselves should not be at the cost of others.

What do you say ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Feel the hunger…

The other day I was playing badminton with a neighbour and he said he was a bit tired and wanted to stop after two games. I wondered what had happened to him as he normally had a good stamina. On inquiry, he informed that he had fasted the previous evening and hence was tired.

He further clarified that he was not fasting for any religious reasons. When further asked for the reasons, he hesitatingly said that he was periodically feeding children in an ashram and hence was fasting on that day. What really struck me is the reason for his fasting. He said he started fasting on every Thursday when the Ashram owner told him that it was not enough to feed the kids but may be good “To feel the hunger” by fasting once a week.

“Feeling the hunger” was a powerful statement and it got stuck in my mind. “Empathy” is not only a word in english but an experiential learning for everyone. Like they say, you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to experience what they feel in any situation.

At every stage of our life, we find people sympathising with us but rarely you come across people who empathise with you. The difference between sympathy and empathy is the phenomenon of “feeling the hunger”

As a child when you miss out a rank in the class by a few marks or lose a match for the school there will be many who sympathise with you but rarely some who can empathise. The ability to silently put yourself in the other person’s position is easier said than done.

As you grow into an adolescence and want to rebel at everything in life, everyone around you is critical as they tend to look at it only as a deviant behaviour. However, if one can experience what an adolescent goes through the story would be different. You may lend a listening ear or comfort the person that it is natural to rebel.

Then even as adults you find it irritating when someone gives you advise which they don’t follow. It may be easier to advice others than to lead by example. Leaders in organisations are not respected because they lack empathy.

Today’s generation is not looking for sympathy at all. They are touched by an empathetic leader. In times of crisis nobody looks for advice from the ivory tower. People expect leaders to be on the ground, smell the earth and work along.

Leadership is all about “ feeling the hunger”. It is all about empathy. We need to evolve our ability to put ourselves in other person’s position and experience life as they do. Once we are able to do that, our approach to life and living would be different.

As in the photo above, even while we cut a cake to celebrate a birthday, this neighbour skipped the cake to feel the hunger since it was a Thursday.

A simple off the cuff remark when someone said you need “to feel the hunger” made me think how much I still need to learn on this front. Learning is a life long journey and we possibly learn more as we listen more.

Let our learning blossom forever.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2020

Are all relationships commercial?

In my experience, relationships are the bedrock of life. We can get anything done or not done in life because of a good relationship or the lack of one as the case may be. This is true in our personal lives and work lives. If there is one quality which each one of us have to develop right through our life is “How to be build life long relationships ?”.

Some people differentiate between personal relationships and work relationships. However, in my book all relationships are sacrosanct and are no different. Relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. They are developed through our efforts, actions and personal credibility. They need to be nurtured to become strong and sustainable ones.

One question which may lurk in our minds as to why we need relationships if we are capable of handling our own affairs. We need relationships because we are living in a inter dependant world. No country however mighty it may be can think of surviving and sustaining by themselves. We all depend on each other to succeed. This is equally true in our lives. None of us however brilliant or capable we are can achieve everything in life all alone. We need to depend and collaborate with others to succeed in life.

After spending many years in the corporate world, I can vouch for the value of relationships in every sphere of life. I have seen many brilliant employees who are intellectually smart and have great pedigrees to be proud of but fail in their careers primarily because they are not a team player and cannot sustain relationships at the workplace.

This aspect is equally true in our personal lives. If we recall the people we admire in life, we may recollect the names of people whom we enjoy interacting with and learning from. We may not recollect the most intelligent teacher of our lives but the most friendly one. We may remember colleagues who cared for you and not your best performers. Similarly you remember neighbours who were around for you whether you needed them or not and not others.

Today we find a deterioration in relationships. In my view, this is primarily because we have tended to use people and love things. While being materialistic per se may not be a bad thing but if we love our things and use people, relationships can never be built. We have started believing that we can buy relationships and have started putting a value to every relationship possibly in monetary terms. In other words , we have started behaving as if all relationships are commercial ? In my book, this can be the last nail in our our coffins.

We need to realise that everything in life is possible only by building, nurturing and sustaining great relationships. If we do not understand this basic theorem of life, we may lose more than we may win. Even the victories may not be sustainable in the long run. The day we realise that relationships can make or break our lives, we may have turned the corner.

As in the photo above, all relationships are not commercial and the earlier we realise the better for us to enjoy life to the full.

Lets learn to build sustainable relationships from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

23rd July 2020

Listening to the unsaid …

We are living in a world where nobody has time for anybody. We live, eat and sleep as if we have to catch a train or flight all the time. We behave almost as if we are about to miss our train or flight and hence do not have time for anyone around us.

I remember my childhood days when all of us in the family waited for each other to have dinner together and then listening to the evening news together on radio. Nowadays every member of the family is busy onto to themselves and do not even have the time to talk to each other. In many cases spouses are not even staying in the same home in the same city. Children also are studying in boarding schools far away from their homes and hence family get togethers every day is a rarity.

Let us look at neighbourhood and friends. Having lived in large metropolises like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, I can say confidently that most of us do not even know our immediate neighbours. We are so busy with our own career and lives that we do not have time for anyone else in our lives leave alone our neighbours. This makes our homes as houses with just a shelter to spend the night for most of us.

Over and above all this, the workplace is increasingly becoming virtual. Relationships in social media are virtual and there is no emotion attached to it. This makes the world a lonely place to live in. Children do not know whom to share their concerns with. Apart from busy parents, even neighbourhood aunts and uncles are not around to listen to them. At the workplace, the competitive world has made us more self centred and we care more for ourselves than others.

Under these circumstances where does the child go ? How can children express their anguish and to whom ? Even adolescents and young adults find it difficult to express themselves. Friends in social media are measured by the likes they post on them rather than their genuine love and concern for you. The best test is when you are not well – physically or mentally – how many of your friends show concern and lend a listening ear.

It is here I would say that it is increasingly important to listen to what is being said and more to what is NOT. We generally are not sensitive to children, adolescents or adults expressing their feelings to anyone. Anyone who shares their emotions are laughed at. This makes them introverts and they say more in actions and deeds than words.

Like an artist may express emotions through their art or a singer through his music. A writer may express through their literature. We need to worry about how common men and women can express themselves. We need to learn the art of listening to the unsaid. It may be easy to comprehend what is being said but many a time a lot remains unsaid and this is where we miss their emotions.

I remember parents asking why you are sad today. Or a friend sitting along with you in silence to comfort you. A teacher enquiring about a child from their expressed emotions rather than words. A neighbour visiting you for no reasons but just to make a statement that they are around for you all the time.

As in the photo above, we need to sense what is being expressed through her expression even if she does not say anything. In these days of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown, people are feeling more lonely than ever before. A listening ear will be of great support.

We need to rekindle our conscience. We need to learn to laugh and cry. We need to listen to what is not being said in words but expressed otherwise.

Let us learn to talk less and listen more.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th June 2020