Case Analysis: One of Us
It is necessary for us to work towards collective resolution, else the flames of our conflict cannot but burn or singe all those around us
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Hindsight can be 20/20. which is another way of saying it can be near perfect. For one thing, one may not have to deal with messy emotions, and judgement is relatively unhindered. The inherent drawback of hindsight is that it may come across as being a tad patronising. That is not the intention. Living through emotionally stormy times can be hard and we all develop greater understanding after such events. I would like to approach the ‘story’ of Jimmy Dubash, Varun Singh and Raghav Kashyap as representing any of us in our day-to-day lives. We all have parts of these people in us and they are not separate, or different in any way. From that perspective, let us look at what is the learning from such an unfolding experience.
Jimmy comes across as a pretty solid guy. He is hardworking, meticulous, not allowing the reflected glory of working in the chief’s office impact him as a person. His overall approach to work is clearly noticed in a very positive way by those around him, in spite of being low key and not bullishly self-promoting. I mention that because it is not unusual for us to give the greatest credence to those who are also the loudest, clearly at an untold and inestimable cost. His respect for a systematic, process-oriented and organised approach shows in his appreciation of Kashyap and his mentor. What also comes across is his ‘worship’ of the mentor, Jitu Singham, the ‘terror of Business Systems and Controls’. We shall have opportunity to re-visit this a little later.
Kashyap is someone who leaves the approach and details to those working with him. He seems to be the opposite of a micro manager: if there are issues, he expects the people concerned to sort it out as mature adults and not let their personal upsets impact the organisation. He also comes across as very patient, giving time and space for resolution to happen. He clearly insists on a resolution, though. It does seem likely though that he may have been able to influence the outcome a lot earlier, by raising it with both people and exploring options rather than wait for the conflict to ‘boil over’.
Varun seems to be someone who has impressed senior people in the organisation and comes across as a broadly gregarious and sociable person who enjoys the limelight. His being seen as a (brash) “Punjabi” draws attention to the undercurrents of social stereotypes, which exist as a subtext in the narrative. His persona is in striking contrast to what Jimmy seems to stand for (“who was this Varun, wondered Jimmy, and what did he have to deserve such attention?”).
Needs of Transition
All three share one thing in common: they are all in new roles, which necessitates new learning. However, what is the extent to which they have really spent time with each other, learning, building a connection and preparing the ground for their working together? While that doesn’t come across clearly, it would seem to be a key factor. Transitions can be botched by approaching it in a way that is the same as what one may have done in the past. The reality is that the new situation or role or scope of work needs to be understood afresh with a lens that is appreciative of the novel context. In fact, if anything, stereotypes and negative personal reactions appear to have taken root at the outset.
Emotion and Judgement
Emotion may not always be a very healthy influence on judgement. The inherent balance that is necessary can be tilted by intensity of feelings. Not at all an easy thing to deal with and something that many spend lifetimes trying to master. There are several examples: The feeling of closeness to a friend can prevent one from seeing their faults, tacitly supporting behaviour that may not really be acceptable; or the categorisation of people based on a sense of one’s own inherent superiority can impact how they are dealt with or thought about, with consequences that can be very sad.
A little earlier I referred to Jimmy worshipping Kashyap’s mentor. Shades of a reflected glory, one founded on Jimmy’s own personal functional preference. Because of the way Jimmy sees Business Systems and Controls, he perceives Kashyap in line with that, he can perhaps do no wrong. On the other hand, Varun is seen as a brash Punjabi with scant regard for systems and is categorised accordingly. This becomes the basis of the difference and growing conflict. You can see the impact of a stereotype: a positive one makes for a good relationship and a negative one creates the condition for a progressive downward spiral. One can’t help thinking about the extent to which this becomes like the unfolding of a self-fulfilling prophecy: you see someone negatively and the relationship slowly slides…
What is clearly missing is building a relationship and connecting with each other in a way that can allow them to be aware of each other’s perspective with respect and appreciation. The emotion of disrespect (or condescension), based on the negative stereotype creates the judgement that the other is ‘less’ than or ‘wrong’ and this becomes the worm that destroys from the inside.
Disaster as a Leveller
The unfortunate experience of the destruction of the building and records, the floods and ensuing fire, while it took a huge toll, at the same time seemed to create the condition for collaboration, something that was not happening up to this point. What emerges is the realisation of the way identities or ego’s get so entrenched and so self-righteous in their way of interpreting reality making it near impossible to really collaborate. An ‘act of God’ sets in motion corrective forces!
Identity, Ego and Conflict
Our identity is often connected with what we do, where we work and how good we are at what we do. There is a certain amount of ‘power’ that adheres to that. The more we develop expertise, the greater the sense of one’s own power. In turn, power begets the sense that “I Know” or “I am right”. Ego inflates. In the face of a difference of opinion, the expert takes over. The problem, however, is which expert do you listen to? Both are consumed with their own ‘ego-centric’ sense of being right. One can approach this kind of conflict in a positive, ‘lets-try-and-work-out-a-solution’ way or it begins to fester and the conflict escalates, which is exactly what happened between Jimmy and Varun. This is also where our potential realisation resides: this is the ability to be able to see ourselves and our position and emotion. It is the basis of objective judgment of which we are also highly capable. Without it, we become inexorably driven to destruction.
The Need for Partnership in Organisations
Organisations are complex. Roles are both intertwined (creating dependencies) and complementary (unique though linked) but may also pull in different directions: the requirements of Operations may not always be in synch with the immediacy of Sales, as a result Ops may end up feeling set aside by Sales, or vice versa. Finance may have requirements that don’t always suit Public Relations. Consequently, potential partnership within the organisation, which is highly needed at most times, breaks down. Collaboration crumbles. Positions get taken and there is an overall slide. Silos are often an outcome. This is not unique to organisations alone. One can see it in schools (the perspective of teachers may not always fit with the perspective of parents: Teachers could feel that parents need to more actively support them. On the other hand, parents may feel ‘put upon’. Positions can become entrenched very easily and the two stay away from each other as much as possible.
Arming For the Future
How do we ensure that this kind of conflict does not take over? There are a few things that are necessary: One, we need to keep the overall outcome in mind. Whether we like it or not, collaboration is a necessity for long term survival. It must be protected against competition, else we degenerate into a win — lose position. Two, we must have the ability to notice our own reactions and positions. We need to have insight. However, ‘good’ we are, we can become our worst enemies. Unless we see ourselves and the hardening of our reactions, we are doomed to face (the negative) consequences. Three, we need the humility to set aside the position we have taken and make it move towards resolution. The more seriously we take ourselves, the more sure we are about ourselves, the less we will change and work together.
We cannot wait for an ‘act of God’ to set things right. It is necessary for us to work towards collective resolution, else the flames of our conflict cannot but burn or singe all those around us. The impact on morale and the well being of the organisation as a whole can be disastrous.
Kaushik leads the coaching practice for the Center for Creative Leadership in APAC. He is currently based out of Singapore
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