We need to refocus our attention to gain a better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings..
An Indian manager was getting exhausted. He had to speak with his Chinese vendors for hardware in the morning and in the afternoon he had to get his Indian team to execute project specs. In the evening, he had to encourage a German team to reduce their changes on a document. By night, he had a conference call to report to the US. â€œAll these avatars and I still have to stay sane, how do I do it?â€ he asked.
â€œSuccess is being comfortable with who you are, please practise centering,â€ was the advice I gave, and I also gave him a Web site that he could visit for more information on the concept. Three months later, he wrote to say how much better he was doing.
The rest of this article is an elaboration of the advice I gave himâ€¦.
iPods, iPads, iPhones, there’s a lot of â€˜I’ in the gadget-driven world today, isn’t there? But a sense of busy-ness overwhelms everything, including business, and somewhere along the way, the â€˜I’ â€” or the awareness of self â€” has got lost, I feel. We hear a lot about human doings and less and less about human beings.
As India follows the West in its preoccupation with surging stock market indexes, connectivity and prosperity, perhaps, we can contribute something unique by putting the â€˜I’ back into bus-i-ness, not in the sense of selfishness or being self-centred, but in the sense of knowing oneself and others, and being able to use that knowledge to do the best for both oneself and the world.
Our sages of long ago knew the importance of centering, of being one with the Universe and the Godhead, to experience maximum benefits. Like them, Greek philosophers such as Socrates discoursed on the importance of self-knowledge, and the Benedictine and Trappist monks understood the immense worth of silence and meditation.
In the twenty-first century, when Facebook is so in the face, let’s stop a minute and face ourselves. Do we know ourselves? How do we find ourselves, our centre, our core of calmness? Knowing ourselves is mandatory to making the most of our talents and opportunities, and the next step is to know others, and our surroundings, so that we can be in tune with the Big Picture for lasting good.
Today, practices such as Centering Prayer are gaining importance in the West, and the principles of yoga and Pranayama are being re-discovered in India and eagerly picked up by the West.
I have personally found meditation to be of immense help. The group I learn centering with includes diplomats, college students and IT professionals. All of them, like me, say they have deeply benefited.
A Finn head of Nokia has told us yoga was truly a takeaway from India for him, a French principal now handles his teen students by practising alternate nostril breathing which helps him calm himself, and I personally saw the benefits of meditation and mantra repetition in an MRI testing room while claustrophobia threatened.
One of the most appealing programmes that is both practical and easy to use is Eknath Easwaran’s Eight Point Program. Shri Easwaran went to California from Kerala as a Fulbright scholar and a teacher of English Literature. He ended up teaching meditation at Berkeley University.
The Blue Mountain Center of Mediation he founded in California and the dozens of books he has written act as a panacea for 21 st century India’s ailments, just as they did for America in the ’70s when the likes of Barbara Streisand followed his work.
The simple programme can be followed by anybody, man or woman, young or old, irrespective of profession and religion.
Meditate for half-an-hour on an inspirational passage (there are many choices on the Web site www.easwaran.org).
It builds one’s memory power as well as trains one’s mind to be still.
Repeat a mantram or holy word - it could be something connected to your religion, or with special meaning for you â€” repeat it as many times as you can, even when you’re doing mechanical chores, stuck at a traffic signal, or simply waiting for your computer to respond.
Slow down. Remember, there’s plenty of time, and if you take things slowly, you’ll have time to think about things and get them right the first time.
One-point attention. Give full attention to the person you are speaking to, beginning with home and your co-workers. Multi-tasking is needed in today’s world, but by itself it’s a never-fail ingredient for stress.
Put others first. It helps put things in perspective and it is in giving that we receive.
Train the senses to take in wholesome things – consciously choosing long-term benefit over short-term reward in what we eat, see, listen to, read and so on.
Read from the mystics. Spend a while reading from the mystics. The thoughts you go to sleep with, remain with you.
Be part of a spiritual fellowship group. Support and encouragement from people with a common goal of centering themselves on the real “I” works wonders.
(The author is CEO of www.globaladjustments.com. She can be reached at email@example.com)
|The visa interview is not an occasion to match wits with the officer. Honest, to-the-point responses are best appreciated..|
What should you go armed with? Your paperwork, high integrity and a smile.
“When we ask a question, why does the visa applicant give us long, canned responses?”
“When I ask an Indian team member for a specific piece of information, why does he give me a long lecture?”
“What is the point of the explanation she just gave? I needed a ‘Yes’ or no ‘Reply’.”
These questions have been consistently echoed by expatriates over years of cross-cultural interaction with us.
The other day, 15 visa officers from the US Consulate, Chennai, took a morning off to learn about ‘This India Business’ at Global Adjustments.
If the American official, who could easily be playing God in our lives as we snake our way around consulate buildings to apply for visas, can take the time to understand and adapt, then we should meet them half way, shouldn’t we?
In this column I hope to be able to do just that — prepare visa applicants to use the two minutes they have at the window of the diplomatic officer to their advantage. If you do not happen to need a visa, the pointers could be applied just as well to any interview to win a job or a client too.
Prepare your documents
Prepare your appearance
Prepare your listening skills
Prepare to talk to the point
In short: Prepare to succeed.
How can you succeed? By knowing what you need to. How can you know? By spending time in learning and preparing. What must you prepare? A style of communication and responses to likely questions.
What should you go armed with? Your paperwork, high integrity and a smile.
Now let’s get to the meat of the matter — answering questions
Do wait till the end of a question always
A brief pause will be acceptable if you force yourself to wait to hear out the question to the end but not if you override the question with a reply, thinking you know what is being asked.
For example, the visa officer may begin: “What city in the US…
And you jump in with, “Oh, I am going to South Carolina.”
“I know that, it says so on your ticket,” says the officer, “I was going to ask which city in the US your brother lives in, it says here you have family in the US.”
“I am sorry, he is in San Francisco,” you say, having to eat humble pie.
Don’t ask a question to buy time
“When do you think you will go back again to the US?” the visa officer could ask.
“Do I need to know about the next trip now?” is not the right response. Instead say, “I am not in charge, but my manager mentioned we may need to make quarterly visits.”
Don’t babble, even coherently
“How many of you on this project team will work for Gillette?” could be one question.
“Gillette has been our client for a decade and we have won their best vendor award,” won’t be appreciated for an answer. Say you don’t know the exact number because you had too much to do with your trip to think of the big picture really.
Don’t force-fit company information you came prepared with to sound knowledgeable as it may not be relevant to the question asked.
Answer to the point first, then slip in the data you wanted to supply anyway.
“That is a good question, now let me think…It will surely be more than 16 of us on this project as far as I can remember. It might be more, as they have preferred client status with us, we have held the Gillette Best Vendor award over the past 10 years.”
Do say, “I don’t know.”
“Who else does Gillette use as vendors from India?”
“Actually, I don’t know that answer although I should find out, sorry.” – Perfectly acceptable!
Do expand acronyms and add adjectives to highlight
“Which college are you from?”
REC Trichy is not good enough.
Say instead: “From the prestigious (or well-known, or leading) REC — Regional Engineering College — in Trichy (south of Chennai or a South Indian town, framing the context for the listener).
If your responses are to-the-point and you ask intelligent questions when the opportunity presents itself, if you stay polite and pleasant at all times, then you will land that visa, that job, that client. Or it is money back, New Managers!
(The author is CEO of www.globaladjustments.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
|At a time when personal interaction has been largely replaced by e-mail exchanges and conference calls, here are tips to improve your communication skills..|
At a time when conducting business in the virtual world is the order of the day, proficiency with audio-visual tools has become mandatory in the global business scenario. Skilled professionals are naturally sought after by the top MNCs.
Soft skills, or the lack of them, sadly, is often the difference between success and failure in today’s technology-based business.
The good news is audio-visual skills can be easily picked up and nurtured. An interactive training programme for such skills would generally cover topics such as telephone/video and conference call etiquette, how to introduce oneself during a business call and when and when not to interrupt. The basics of e-mail etiquette, aspects such as saying â€˜no’ and updating clients about changes in schedule dates are also key elements. Here are some highlights:
Telephone â€” Remember to SMILE
‘S’ Speak slowly and clearly â€” Comprehension is made more difficult in the absence of visual cues, so make a conscious effort to slow down your speed by at least 30 per cent.
‘M’ Maintain your manners â€” Make sure your words and voice are of tape-recordable quality even with irate customers. Use the words â€˜please’ and â€˜thank you’ constantly.
‘I’ Identify yourself â€” This is Suresh Kumar from the XYZ Bank, Risk Department, may I speak with Mr Frost please?
‘L’ Listen carefully and take notes so you can echo what the other person says; this always impresses. â€œSo let me verify, the number is 2432 2233, right?â€ When you say something, check for comprehension. â€œDid I make sense?â€ and wait till they repeat what you said; it helps to recap on both sides.
‘E’ End appropriately â€” Use niceties such as â€œHave a good dayâ€, â€œThanks for calling meâ€ and â€œI appreciate your businessâ€.
Add A to SMILE
‘A’ Ask again â€” â€œI’m sorry to interrupt you, but I didn’t catch the last name, could you repeat that please?â€ Don’t worry what anyone thinks, be bold, it is your job to seek clarifications, and if you occasionally need to ask a third time, then do request that they spell it once again.
‘A’ Apologise â€” â€œI’m sorry to ask againâ€ or â€œI am sorry that won’t be possible by Monday but if I have one more resource on the team, I can send you a good product by Wednesday.â€ Feel confident about telling someone what you need. An apology at the beginning followed by a statement of your need is better than simply saying â€œyesâ€ despite knowing you can’t deliver upon your promise. Don’t choose pleasing someone over the truth. It comes back to bite you later and hurts the situation even more.
‘A’ Active participation is key. So it is important that you speak up while on a phone call, conference call or video conference. If you truly participate and take notes, you will be able to ask intelligent questions, reconfirm a conversation you thought you heard, or gather additional information. Don’t fall into the interruptions trap though, wait for a pause, or if you must interrupt, say â€œSorry to interrupt, I think we left out xyz file in our discussion.â€
An interruption that adds value is welcome. Keep your voice low but audible, the tone polite, with no unnecessary hemming and hawing.
E-mail etiquette and progress report are crucial for client retention.
Make sure to include:
An appropriate subject line and a clear introductory line
Short and to-the-point body text
A clear and polite ending
Here’s a sample:
Subj: Status Report Week Aug 12 to 17, 2010
Dear Mr Frost,
Hope you are well. Here is a Project Alpha status report for the week ended August 17.
Accomplished this week (use past tense verb as first word)
Completed testing of files 1 2 3 (4 is pending from last week as it seems to have a bug)
Identified items required from Bangalore team and sent in request
Designed a template for client additional information with inputs from teams A and B
Plan for next week (use action items )
Identify and fix bug in file 4 testing
Conference call Mumbai teams to ensure no carryover of any file testing
Issues Requiring Management Attention
There is a big Indian festival on August 21 and our teams will need a personal directive from you to incentivise the staff with overtime or we may need additional resources that day.
Look forward to your advice on this. And have a good weekend.
AB â€“ Team Lead xyz Bank.
Do remember to spell-check before pressing â€˜send’.
The Human Touch
A dollop of social graces adds the final touch to the recipe for success mentioned above. For this, stay updated on world events so you can speak to the other person keeping in mind his interests. For instance, if you are communicating with a person from, say Pakistan, sympathise with him about the floods, or if he is from Spain, enthuse about Paul the Octopus’ prediction on the winners of the Football Word Cup. These are good ice-breakers. And when they speak to you, every seemingly inane conversation deserves a response and, perhaps, another question. â€œHow are you today?â€ â€œGood, thanks, and how about you Charles?â€
Remember, a friendly coach to show the way and constant practice will make a new behavioural skill a habit.
It is people that matter most in any business. That’s why, New Managers, you are the oxygen of Indian development.
(The writer is CEO of Global Adjustments, a relocation and cross-cultural training company. She can be reached at email@example.com)
A range of topics, including the forgotten Indian culture, the practice of aping the West and the socio-political participation of middle-class families were debated at a discussion on ‘The life and times of being Indian’ here on Friday.
Diplomats Pavan K.Varma and R.Kannan talked about the cultural richness of the country and stressed the need for people to recognise their roots. Mr. Varma is India’s Ambassador to Bhutan and an author. Mr. Kannan is a political officer with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and also an author.
Opening the discussion with the post-colonial situation in the country, Mr.Varma said mediocrity has seeped into our civilisation and underscored the need to understand what it was to be Indian. Calling the middle-class, socially insensitive and self-obsessed, Mr.Varma said the families have built a citadel for themselves and it was time they evolve from being mere residents to becoming citizens. Contradicting the argument, Mr.Kannan said the middle-class has put the country on the world map by participating in large numbers in the development of information technology. Lower middle-class, on the other hand, were finding even the everyday life a struggle.
On his book ‘Anna: the Life and Times,’ Mr.Kannan said there weren’t many biographies on southern leaders and their contribution to the Indian political system has been hardly known to the world. While the Indian bureaucratic edifice was very much solid, it was important to analyse how the cultural richness of the country declined, he said.
Referring to his book ‘Being Indian,’ Mr.Varma said works such as ‘Arthasastra,’ ‘Vyakaran,’ ‘Natyasastra’ and ‘Upanishads’ were testimony to the greatness of Indian minds, but they were conveniently overlooked by the people of today. “You can’t be a great power by just producing a few engineers and doctors. How many of us know even the most popular Indian writers and historians? Strengthen your Indian roots and then take global wings.”
The discussion was organised to mark the second anniversary of the Indian Immersion Centre.
|As we integrate with the rest of the world, a delicate issue that cannot be overlooked..|
Delhi Airport Terminal T3 has to be seen to be believed. It shows India has arrived.
It can handle 34 million passengers and is the world’s third largest completed terminal.
We proudly sprayed water on the first Air India flight to land at the terminal in an act of purification and blessing.
What can we Indians do to hold aloft this pride of India?
This week’s article truly shifts from the sublime to the ridiculous in its train of thought; a poem by Kipling on cross-cultural adaptation and the taboo topic of toilet use in India.
I do this deliberately to show how the unimportant things become the most important things to be got done first.
If we handle the small things with grace and patience, we could virtually move mountains.
I want to share my utter admiration for the insightful bard Rudyard Kipling whose mind was filled with India decades ago:
Father, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And everyone else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But — would you believe it?
They look upon We
As only a sort of They!
And today I find when I coach expatriates on the subject ‘Working with Indians’ that I interchangeably use “we” and “they” when referring to my own fellow Indians.
I use ‘we’ about Indians when highlighting our strengths or when stating the facts and ‘they’ when describing the challenges to be overcome.
This perspective is taken with utmost respect for our country — highlighting the positives, while downplaying although acknowledging the negatives, is a must in today’s globalised world.
And as Indians who aspire to ‘travel over the sea’ we can help figure out how to handle some of these challenges by beginning in our own country.
Let’s take a simple ‘we’ and ‘they’ principle which affects our daily work and life in this global village. The taboo topic of Indian Toilet Use. Why should we continue to be “like that only”? It is rather upsetting to hear people say that about us.
‘We’ consider water to be the ‘clean all’ element and for us wet means clean. Rural India wakes up to sprinkle water on its front steps, uses the toilet and washes out all areas around it with buckets of water to flush out bacteria. ‘They’ think of ‘dry’ as clean.
Water in toilets or split on the floor is considered messy.
Toilets in the Western world often do not have faucets or taps. Paper replaces water as a source of cleansing.
A stop at the washbasin is mandatory and includes washing with soap and water, as that washes off the millions of bacteria that may well be swarming on palms by that time.
Truth be told, the health faucet or water jets found in toilets today might be the best via media.
So long as they do not leak and are well maintained, they would reduce the use of paper and actually cleanse the body rather well.
Then we must adopt the soap and water routine to wash our hands, shaking off the droplets of water, then wiping dry.
But till this becomes the norm, if we use a public Western-style toilet in the many malls springing up in India, at restaurants, at the wonderful T3 Delhi International Airport we just inaugurated, and indeed even at our work locations, we simply have to play it by the Western rules of “dry” being clean.
The toilet has to be left the way we found it, no spots or stains in toilet BSFAW — Bowl, Seat, Floor, Around Washbasins
Let’s put our cell phones away at least when we flush, and be mentally as well as physically present and attentive.
Then we can run this BSFAW check to leave a clean room behind us.
Tips for baths when travelling abroad
Use the shower curtains that hang inside the bathtubs to prevent the surrounding floor from getting wet.
Shut shower stalls fully if there is a door.
When there is no curtain or door, it is harder, as was the case at an English home I visited recently — crouching with a hand shower then becomes necessary.
Shampooing hair means removing all traces of hair from the bath afterwards.
No one but you cleans toilets and baths — clean — make that your mantra.
And then the amazing last verse by Kipling says poignantly:
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
Patchy communication, low motivation and feelings of isolation — just some of the issues that could impact the performance of far-flung teams..
I was in the physiotherapist’s office recently and he made me do an exercise — standing on one leg and counting the seconds. I barely made it to 20. Then he asked me to repeat the exercise with my eyes closed; I barely made it to 2.
That had to do with proprioception — the sense that is responsible for maintaining equilibrium apart from telling us the optimum effort required for a particular action.
The experiment at the physiotherapist’s demonstrated our difficulty in maintaining our balance in the absence of visual cues.
Exercises help in improving proprioception. While training on a gym ball, the athlete is often asked to balance on it, and as he learns to balance on a wobbly surface, it toughens his core and strengthens his ankles, preventing injury.
This led me to think of situations in our lives when, in the absence of visual cues, we need to adjust our stand on various issues. Working on virtual teams is rather like doing without proprioception.
Today, as we conduct business across borders, we work with remote teams spread across India and the globe.
Constraints of time and resources do not allow frequent one-on-one interactions. But technology makes up for that — we use conference calls, audio and video techniques, besides e-mail to keep in touch. Hence, we are all expected to be on the same page. Easier said than done!
In this context, I present a few thoughts on how we could apply Proprioception strengthening techniques to our virtual work lives too.
Balance. As with the gym ball exercise, if we can recognise early signs that our virtual relationships are getting wobbly, we could avoid falling into verbal or written communication traps, correct our responses to suit the other, check each time for full understanding, and, thus, meet our project deadlines. Balancing our day-to-day project work while taking a long-term view of our relationship could strengthen the core of remote teams.
‘Wobble’ signs to watch out for:
Asking for a change in team members on a project
Irate customer-vendor relationships marked by shouting matches
Unsatisfactory reporting or communication of status updates
Things to look out for while working with virtual teams:
Communication problems as body language can’t be assessed: As we interact remotely, we might miss opportunities to gauge the client’s mindset. So do ask questions and find out whether you are meeting his or her expectations.
The basic insecurity among Indians prevents us from speaking up or seeking a meeting to sort out issues. We hope that things will sort themselves out and go away. So, Indians on teams, empower yourselves to seek help, escalate and report.
The expat, on the other hand, needs to ask for status updates, seek an understanding of the bigger picture, without focusing too narrowly on the bottom line alone. Help your India team meet its deadline by offering solutions that might be in your control.
Also, virtual teams in India often feel that the Westerner does not understand the infrastructure limitations under which the team operates. Clearly outlining expectations and proactively communicating delays helps a great deal.
Feeling of isolation: Remote team, whether in India or abroad, tend to feel that the overseas boss cares more about his own success than that of the team. So my advice to managers based in remote locations is — Meet your virtual teams at some point, otherwise, the members won’t feel connected.
Motivation, or the lack of it, in virtual teams is also a problem. But when feelings of isolation and communication are sorted out, motivation takes care of itself. A conscious multicultural team-building workshop, even via a webinar on both sides, is necessary and is time well spent.
Burn-out: This is difficult to spot as there’s virtually no face-to-face interaction or monitoring among teams that are in remote locations. Again, it is something that the local managers would have to watch out for and communicate to their overseas bosses.
Caution: One problem with the loss of proprioception is that the victim doesn’t realise the exact amount of effort required for an action. You might end up gripping a spoon with all your strength so that you do not drop it. Managing virtual teams presents a similar risk — you might be tempted to micro-manage, not giving your team members the flexibility and freedom essential to make outsourcing a success.
Client retention: In today’s virtual business world, client acquisition seems a do-able target as we can all connect halfway across the world and ramp up our Web sites and services. But retaining the customer seems to be the key with competition nipping at our heels. For this, we might have to use the small touches that matter.
Build trust — with quality, promptness and follow-ups.
Get regular feedback from your customers — what was right, what was wrong, additional requirements, if any.
Address their needs — celebrate your clients’ successes, share them on your Web site/ newsletter/ magazine.
Find common ground with your clients — the customer would soon become a friend, and the relationship a long-lasting one.
Technology helps with this, as we can compile detailed databases on our customers, learn about their cities, countries and companies and use this information in our dialogues to build relationships that last. Business then follows automatically.
Ask them what they love about the city and the list is endless — art and culture, Marina Beach, Amethyst and yes, Kollywood! Says Nicolas Beaumont, a French national who has been in the city for a few months now, “Chennai is a great city. All you need to do is to go out and experience it — experience the movies, the music and the culture. Go to Sathyam and watch Tamil movies. You will be surprised to find that you understand 95 per cent of what is happening on screen. Watch Madraspattinam and Raavanan. You will find yourself reading Ramayana and history of Chennai when you get back home.”
The people here, they say are extremely hospitable and friendly, especially with foreigners. German national Bernd Thommes has been here for over two years and he says, “When I moved in to Chennai, the first thing I was told was how conservative the city is. But today, I own my factory here and all my employees are from here. And I am proud to say that they are all very progressive.”
For their part, expatriates have adapted to everything that is local. The sarees, the malli poo, Carnatic music and even TVS scooty! Says Finnish national, Silva Paananen, who has been living in the city for over two years, “I was quite frustrated when I came here because I could not drive my car. I felt like my wings were clipped. And then I came across a driving school that taught me how to ride a scooty. And now I hop from one concert to other in my scooty and there is no looking back.”
Did they enjoy the local south Indian cuisine? “It is all about how you adapt your palate. Once I got used to Indian food, I was carrying chutneys back home till I settled down to my native food again,” reminisces Beaumont. Chennai is a city that has adopted us like its children they say. “It is not a city that opens itself to you. You need to be open to the city,” reflects Nicolas.
Veteran journalist and historian S Muthaiah, one of the founders of Madras Day, also shares his lively perspective. “Go out and explore the city. There is no way you can expect the city to accept you till you accept and explore it. George Town has some of the most luxurious buildings in the city. But there is no way you can reach these without getting your feet dirty and getting squashed in narrow streets down below. All these encompass Chennai and make the city the colourful mural that it is.”
Madras Week is all set to kick off on August 15 with numerous food fests, art shows, cultural events, lectures and more. And it’s not just expats but even youngsters in the city who are looking forward to a weeklong celebration of the city’s birthday!