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Analysis: We, The Role Players

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Each one of us is playing a role. Our position, gender, genes, disposition, etc., determine what character we will be. Accordingly, Tripti, Suyash, Maya, Apurva are playing their respective parts. Let us examine the imperatives and the message that their roles contain.

Tripti, the trainer, by virtue of her situation has two jobs. One, to provide her observations about training and two, to 'counsel' Suyash's prospective boss, Maya — because she has asked her for guidance; but not the present boss, Apurva, because he has not asked for it.

Why do we not find Apurva asking for feedback on his personality, even though he is the direct recipient of Suyash's behaviour? And unlike Apurva, why do we not see Maya, Suyash's future boss telling Tripti to 'change' Suyash, so that when she inherits him, she gets to deal with an 'improved' team member?

Apurva's mind-set is "Suyash needs to change. An outside agency, that is, the trainer has been engaged to make that happen". Apurva does not think that this could be an opportunity for some introspection. He is looking outward - the world outside of him needs to change.

Maya, on the other hand, approaches Tripti, asking for inputs on self. Looking at self and wondering whether she has something that needs redeeming and addressing. She is looking at herself self vis-à-vis Suyash. She wants to understand what she can do to make things work. Where does her own personality come in the way of a productive and viable relationship? Why does she feel so jarred by Suyash.She is looking inwards - the world inside of her needs to change.

Why do we see this difference in their approaches? May be what we are seeing is a gender-based differences in approach to life situations. Let us look at how men and women react to stressful stimulus:

While most people are familiar with the 'fight or flight' theory, there's a new theory in town tailored just for women. Men tend to have a 'fight or flight' response to stress situations while women seem to approach these situations with a 'tend and befriend' strategy. Psychologist Shelley E. Taylor coined the phrase "tend and befriend" after recognising that during times of stress women take care of themselves and their children (tending) and form strong group bonds (befriending).

Psychological Review reported that females are more likely to deal with stress by "tending and befriending",that is, nurturing those around them and reaching out to others. While men resort to fight or flight. "Women", as reported in WebMD "often seek support to talk out the emotional experience, to process what is happening and what might be done. Women like to tell their stories.

Men often seek an "escape activity to get relief from stress, to create a relaxing diversion, to get away."

Women typically have a larger, deep limbic system than men, which allows them to be more in touch with their feelings and better able to express them, which promotes bonding with others.

Let us also look at social conditioning, a significant contributor, to behaviour and attitude.

As males are growing up they are urged to excel and become powerful, to never show their emotions, to be tough, independent, demanding, aggressive and good problem solvers. And women are taught to be tolerant, to be patient, to work for others' comfort, to accede defeat to their significant ones.

These are the reasons why we see women ask for help, talk of their problem because they do not feel that seeking help is a sign of weakness. They do not think that being unsure is a 'wrong'. Hence, they do not mind "asking for direction", on the road or otherwise.

But neither approach in isolation is complete and wholesome. Both have their inherent strengths and weaknesses.

In Hindu mythology there is a concept of 'ardhnarishwar'. 'ardh' meaning half, 'nari' meaning female. (And 'ishwar' stands for God). This word may have several interpretations. However, one, that explains synergy and the 'ideal state of being' is, that it is not the either/or (male or female ) approach towards life that is correct or complete, it is the right balance of male and female attributes, that create a perfect harmony.
Needless to say that the best of both, is the best.

This difference in 'wiring' in men and women will always remain. It will always result in difference in thinking, feeling and behaviour. Yet, in order to mitigate and correctly channelise the inherent and induced behaviour, training, coaching and counselling is done. Moreover, right environment needs to be provided to mitigate skewed behaviour and its effect.

In this light, let us understand the approach that all four role players — Apurva and Maya, Suyash and Tripti - demonstrate.

Apurva: His personality is rather easy and simple to understand. He is the 'boss-man'. He will yell, abuse, growl and get things done. He will be disliked and feared. He will expect others to change. He will have no such expectations from self.

Maya: She is the 'woman-boss'. She appears to be introspective. And anyone who is introspective will often find himself/herself in a dilemma, in uncertain situations. Such people are also courageous. Why courageous? Because it takes courage to poke one's ego, be receptive to flaws that it brings and accept them. If one also has the intelligence and determination to work on it and correct them, then it is a precious capability.

Even if we do not get caught in man-woman perspective, it is clear from the case that Apurva and Maya have totally different orientation towards Suyash.

Where does all this leave Tripti? From a trainer's perspective she has to let both, Maya and Apurva know that training does not change attitude. At its best, training imparts some knowledge and identifies certain areas of improvement and strengths through the observation of manifested behaviour. Based on these, the organisation has the onus of providing the right support and wherewithal to its employee(s) through training, coaching, counselling and creating the environment so that these situations become conducive to attitudinal and behavioural change.

Therefore, Apurva's expectation of seeing a "new and improved Suyash" is like wanting to see a "new and improved soap" after a changed manufacturing process — an unrealistic expectation.

It has to be explained to Apurva that training is not a magic wand. It is a process to observe and evaluate. Behavioural changes do not happen due to and during training. It happens later as part of the various inputs provided to the employee.

With Maya, Tripti's talk is more productive. Here, she provides inputs to Maya on actual attitudinal and behavioural change and not just theory. Tripti facilitates the process of understanding and provides insight to Maya as to how the latter should be conducting herself with Suyash. What she should be saying to him.

Before Maya can deal with others, she has to deal with herself. She has to instil confidence in herself, as a boss, as a professional and as person, someone who can set Suyash straight or show him the door - both confidently.

This talk with Tripti will raise Maya's understanding and competence if she is able to use the conversation productively.

Suyash, a male employee, is competent to an extent, but he is beset with misplaced confidence and wrong attitude. It is clear that he is an enigma to all. "Why does he do that?" They all ask. No one has ever spoken to him to gain an insight into who he is; Why does he do what he does? None of his bosses have attempted to harness his strength and control his 'derailers'.

Maya may have the privilege to be the first one to get into this unknown territory. She will surely find this exercise redeeming and rewarding.

Suyash also needs to hear some plain-speaking. He needs to be told with examples the behaviour he demonstrates. He should be told how and why it is difficult for others and detrimental for him. In all these years, (unlike May who once was his colleague but now expected to be his boss), he has not 'moved' but only gets 'moved'. Such people, depending on their level of maturity will either, shape up or eventually ship out.

Where does all this leave improvement? What about the learnings?

Well, each individual is like a bowl. A bowl lying upside down will gather nothing from the rain pouring down from the sky; but if the bowl is upright, facing the sky, it will receive the shower and fill up.

The author is a HR consultant with Prabuddh Consulting. Her work involves setting up HR systems and processes, talent management via coaching, training, assessment and HR specific projects

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 15-07-2013)