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Two weapons to guard your dignity -part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Rashmi Datt on January 26th, 2014

Define your own rules of the game (what is acceptable what is not)

Recently I was with a client who took a lot of my time. They were pleasant enough, but got very easily distracted into side conversations which were nothing to do with the topic or problem at hand. It was a family business, and the meetings were attended by two cousins and an older woman who was their HR head. The three of them had an amiable relationship, and in the middle of ‘why attrition was high’, or ‘why sales were down in Darbangha’, they would break off inbetween to discuss politics in Bihar, or the food of Bihar, or the Regional Manager of Bihar. I was exasperated at this waste of time, and in my irritation, couldn’t find a tactful way to bring the conversation back to track. Truth to tell, in the beginning, I wanted to ingratiate myself with them, and also joined in the conversations.

Either this, or one or other of them would be late in arriving for the meeting, and we would hang around waiting for his or her arrival.

It took me 3-4 meetings to figure out this pattern. And because I couldn’t pin down when the discussions would end, I wasn’t able to fix my next meeting.

I was inspired by this story of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment in Robben Island, told by fellow prisoner Mac Maharaj. (The Telegraph: Dec 6, 2013: Mac Maharaj on life on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela).
Mandela spend 27 years in Robben Island, a former leper colony off Cape Town, breaking rocks, mining in a lime quarry, sleeping on mats on icy floors, treated to the severe and petty indignities suffered by blacks under a racist prison system. And yet, he always maintained his composure and dignity.
One day, the prisoners were allowed to walk to the quarry instead of being driven in trucks. Walking in rows of four in a column, the warders in front, behind and on each side, prodded ‘run, run’! The dust flew about them as the prisoners obeyed.
Mandela whispered a message: ‘Slow down, guys’. The captives’ hearts thudded with fear as they ran. How could they slow down? Their frightened muscles moved as though with a will of their own.

Mandela crept through the rows until he was in the front and there, and started setting the pace.
Everything was slowing down. The guards were shouting, but they could do nothing as there was no misbehavior from the prisoners-they had not sworn or talked back. And by the sheer process of walking slowly, suddenly the fear that was getting their muscles to move involuntarily had been conquered.
‘It was the slowest walk to the quarry but my overwhelming recollection is of the dignity that went with that walk. It won a round for us without bending to the rules they set. We had made the rules. That gives you a tremendous sense of moral superiority’ wrote Maharaj, Mandela’s fellow prisoner.

So what would be ‘my’ rules? It was actually very simple. All I needed to do was to set my ‘conditions’ in a reasonable and graceful way. When the meeting was being fixed, I needed to ask, how long do you think this will take? An hour? I’ll be there from 11 to 12 noon. And I needed to come on time and leave on time.

Why had I not done it before? For one, I needed to see this problem was occuring repeatedly. Then there are fears-of not wanting to displease the client, of appearing inflexible. But the end result is ending up feeling undignified, and that’s a choice which you have to exercise-if you are willing to live with it.
What are the situations you end up feeling your dignity has been eroded? The boss who keeps you waiting while he attends phone calls? The boss who looks at the computer while talking to you? The colleague who doesn’t reply to your emails? The boss who took a decision and didn’t keep you informed?

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