‘When man learns to understand and control his own behaviour as well as he is learning to understand and control the behaviour of crop plants and domestic animals, he may be justified in believing that he has become civilised.’
—Ayn Rand, author
Most of our goof-ups are in the area of Emotional Intelligence
Years ago, when I started my career, I set out like everyone else to climb the highest mountain and cut through the thickest jungle. A small town girl, I had been made to believe by my middle-class upbringing that the recipe for success was hard work and perseverance. I soon discovered that all the fervour, creativity, technical knowledge and qualifications were not sufficient to pull me through the tangle of human needs and emotions.
Where I floundered was in managing difficult relationships and situations. At the time, it seemed to me that I was a victim of circumstances and in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the real reason was that my own unrecognised emotions and needs were driving my behaviour, and my actions were not wise, rational, or far-sighted. It did affect my output, the judgement that was made about my ability to rise in the organisation, and ultimately, my self-confidence and peace of mind.
Luckily for me, these mistakes started me on my journey into the world of understanding and regulating emotions, leading to a successful practice as an organisation development consultant and corporate trainer helping managers and teams reach their highest potential, and in the process creating great organisations.
We all ‘goof up’ in these areas- to a lesser or greater extent, especially in the early stages of our career- when dealing with seniors, colleagues as well as juniors. In the book I am currently writing, I reflect upon these mistakes, as well as techniques and strategies for regulating our behaviour, so that negative emotions like fear, anxiety and anger don’t ‘hijack’ us into saying and doing (or not saying and doing) things we regret later.
Lessons from the Panchatantra
Legend has it that an intelligent king, Amar Shakti, was worried and disappointed with his three sons. ‘Immature’ and ‘undisciplined’ were kind words to describe them. At his wits’ end, Amar Shakti summoned Vishnu Sharma, a renowned teacher. Could he wave his magic wand and teach life skills to his sons?
Vishnu Sharma, with experience of teaching that spanned eighty years, knew he could not instruct his royal students through conventional means. He had to employ an unorthodox way to teach them. He related to them a succession of animal fables—one weaving into another—that imparted the discernment the princes required to succeed their father. At the end of six months, the king was delighted with the results. The learned scholar had transformed the good-for-nothing princes into intelligent, practical and worldly-wise beings.
Mastering our hungers
These stories which were compiled as the famous Panchatantra dwell on Nitishastra, or wise conduct in life. In the fables, the characters triumph over the most unexpected pitfalls and problems because they are emotionally balanced. The fearless rabbit is on his way to present himself as the lion’s meal peeps into a well and has the wonderful idea of bringing the lion to his reflection and to his end. The king of the doves who when trapped with his team finds a solution by flying away with the net, thus outwitting the hunter. The monkey is told by the crocodile in the middle of the river that they are on their way to cook the monkey’s heart, and the monkey keeps his cool and still manages to find a solution. All these creatures had mastered their psychological hungers- the desire for control, and the desire for importance.