Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Assertiveness Vs Playing Safe

As children life can be carefree. Even if incidents occur that are seemingly harsh, a child does not recognize it as such and goes about life, accepting it as it comes. It is much later as he or she moves in to adulthood that the problems of taking decisions are encountered. The choice is often between taking unpleasant decisions and closing your eyes to a problem and pretending it does not exist.

The acid test is bound to come your way when you start working in a corporate or for that matter, in  any organization. I started my career as a management trainee in the oldest steel plant in the country located at Bhadravati, a small town 250 Kms from Bangalore.After about six months of general shop floor exposure, we were posted for 'on the job' training. I was posted to labour welfare department to take care of accident compensation and rehabilitation of employees meeting with accidents. The big umbrella of Labour welfare was huge with canteen, company run schools, sports etc also coming under the department.

One of the employees attached to the department was Ramesha ( not his real name ) whose designated job was "Messenger". The job requirement was supposedly  distribution of mail from the department to other departments spread over a few acres and bringing  back the correspondence addressed to our department. However, in real terms he hardly did any work in the public sector scenario, having acquired for himself a reputation of being  a 'Dada' or goon.He was in to politics and was active in the youth Congress.

Few days in to my joining the department, Ramesha came and told me that the 'Yuvaka Sangha', an association of youngsters in the township was organizing Ganesha celebrations in a big way and sought my contribution to the collection fund. He said I should give atleast Rs 500/ (Converted to today's rates) and after some hesitation I agreed. Later when we were having lunch in the canteen I casually mentioned to friends about the Ganesha celebrations. They asked me how much I had given and when I told them the amount committed by me, they laughed and said that I had been taken for a ride. "A contribution of Rs 50/ would have been more than enough. Anyway, he is a toughie and has talked you in to this. Now you have no other go" they said.

I had agreed to give the money and it was my own decision. But listening to the comments of friends, I began to feel uneasy - "What if this person demanded similar amounts on many occasions in the future and see me as a 'soft target' ?". I decided that at the time of giving the money to Ramesha, I would tell him that this was a one off case and that I would not be able to give such sums in future." Although my friends warned me that by doing so, I would be playing with fire, I decided to go ahead with my decision to talk to him. 

However, when I spoke to Ramesha, I realized that I had taken on more than I had bargained for. He threw the currency note at me "Who do you think you are? You think we are beggars? You are living in the executive hostel, isn't it? Let us see... ". For the next two to three weeks, life was kind of a hell as Ramesha would abuse me in the open office in the local language (I was not conversant in Kannada at that point of time). He would say loudly not to me directly but as if to others in general "You know this 'fatty', hardly few months old in the company,  had the insolence to talk to me insultingly. He .........  " I thanked God that I did not understand most of his rant but one thing that was loud and clear was that I was being abused.

When it was about three days to go before the Ganesha evening function, I took courage and approached Ramesha. I told him that that I had no intention of hurting his feelings and that since I had on my own decided to give him the money, I wanted him to have it. He grudgingly accepted the contribution and a day later gave me an invitation to the Ganesh Utsav function.On the card, the name 'Abid Hussain' was written which was struck out and my name written. I took the card and told him that I would certainly participate.

On the evening of the D day, I visited the township to see the stage and surroundings lit up magnificently with very good sound systems.It was impressive considering that this was the year 1982 and we were in a small town of Bhadravati. When Ramesha saw me there was surprise on his face.He clearly had not expected me to come. The programs of the evening were very entertaining and satisfying. The next day when I met Ramesha, I told him that I was impressed with the arrangements and the quality of the program. He was very happy to hear that and his face lit up. After that I did not have any problem with Ramesha throughout my career in the company. It is another matter that a few years later he overreached himself, physically assaulted a manager in the township and had to pay for it with loss of his job. 

There are other instances; but in view of the need to keep the blog crisp, I am restricting the sharing to this experience. Every day, as professionals we face many situations where we have to take decisions and exhibit assertiveness if necessary. But often we are content to compromise, make peace with bullies ( who could be bosses, subordinates, peers, external contacts) and allow them to take advantage. Those who see us as weak, come back again and again to  persuade us to break rules ,make compromises or please them against our interests or interests of the organization. Hence the importance of choosing wisely  between assertiveness and playing safe each time, every time.. ...