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Category: relationships

Placebo

We know the placebo effect. For those who are sick, sometimes even just pills that have nothing in them seems to do the trick.

The recent vaccination drives for Covid also has led people to talk about this. “I had no side effects whatsoever. Maybe I was just given saline, who knows, haha.”

There are many other placebos in life too.

Like the presence of a mother for her baby. The baby crawls a few steps ahead, and then turns back to check if the mom is looking. And then crawls forward again. The crawling is done by the baby only, not the mommy.

Keeping the light on, for someone afraid of the dark, is a similar example. What lurks in the dark would lurk in the light too. But the light gives comfort.

On calls, sometimes we can’t hear the other side clearly. And we let them know. And the other party after 5 seconds says, “Is it better now?”, without having done a thing.

Placebos abound, and they are good. Especially from a mental health point of view. Sometimes, many times, we cannot be of any real help. But just being there, even as a statue, if someone really needs us, that passive presence can make all the difference in the world to them.

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Securing the crown

There is an amazing scene in the Netflix drama The Crown, which is based on Queen Elizabeth’s life. No spoilers ahead, I think 🙂

In season 2 episode 8, when John F Kennedy travels to the UK, they meet the Queen and her husband. It’s not just the Queen who’s the lead female though. More than JFK, it is Mrs. Kennedy that has got everyone’s heads turning. Smart, charming, beautiful, dazzling, intelligent, a brilliant conversationalist – on and on her admirers go. So much so that even the Queen’s husband is desperate to get a seat near Mrs. K at the lavish dinner table.

But the (dinner) tables do turn, and make for provoking thought. The Queen is extremely uncomfortable. Why? Because she feels threatened by her adversary. Although she’s not really even her adversary is she? One is the Queen of Great Britain, the other a First Lady of another country. And for crying out loud, she is the Queen! She has everything and more anyone could ever ask for. There ought not to be any comparison at all!

Therein lies the catch. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have – even if you are the proverbial (or literal) Queen of England. If there is something you do not have however, and if someone else has it, then that immediately takes the Crown (figuratively only :)). What Mrs. K had, the Queen lacked, or so she thought, and the power of insecurity rises to the fore in some wonderful acting. What the Queen doesn’t realize at the time, is that Mrs. K too has her own share of insecurities. Wow, the two most powerful women in the world back in the 1960s, had so many insecurities…

This is not to poke fun – no, not at all. But just a reminder, that deep down, we are all human, and suffer the same human biases. If we can control the mind, that is much better than having a head with a crown on it.

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Critiques

Author Dale Carnegie of the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People says “Criticize in private, but praise in public.” We saw this nearly a year ago here.

It might seem like obvious advice, but do not be fooled by its simplicity. Just recently, I was part of a call, which had one senior person pulling up several others for something not done by them. The big boss of many of those being picked on was also present on the call.

To be sure, the person pointing the finger was by no means wrong – he had his facts straight – the accused had been tardy, they had not done their work well, they had not informed their superiors about gaps in the information and so on.

But did any of that matter? Not one bit. The call quickly morphed into a verbal brawl, with people supporting themselves, and proving why they were right and then heaping accusations back and forth. Could have just had some nice popcorn on the side and …

But really, it is so hard to put this advice into practise I suppose. It might seem like it takes longer to have 1-on-1 calls with five people rather than just lambaste 5 people on one call. But the negative effects of that one badly organized call can be far worse, as was the case. Preferably, never criticize at all, but if it must be done, then it can be done with empathy, in private, with examples from one’s own life as well, and also leading by example. That would be true leadership.

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Quattro-manageria

According to Harvard Business Review, there are 4 types of Managers. These are Teacher, Cheerleader, Always-on and Connector.

Without knowing anything about these except their names, I’d have thought either the cheerleader or the teacher would be the best. Why? Because the cheerleader manager probably cheers you on, encourages you and appreciates your work. Great way to be motivated and move ahead don’t you think? While the teacher manager might be there to teach you whatever you need to know, and help in your learning process.

The definition of an always-on manager is one who available at any time for questions, feedback or even to just listen. But apparently it’s the connector manager who is the best of all the four.

The connector manager helps by making the most of his/her network – whether with another team member, partner, customer, friend etc. in order to expand the spectrum of teachers you have at your disposal. This is because such a manager realizes it’s impossible for one person to know everything.

The outcome? Apparently connector managers build the strongest, most effective teams, tripling the likelihood that direct reports will be high performers and boost employee engagement by 40%. Pretty impressive!

My takeaway is to try and live the life of a connector-manager for the benefit of everyone around me – irrespective of whether I manage a team at work or not. What do you think? How will you implement this? All suggestions welcome.

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Art of Connecting

Just finished reading an interesting book by Susan McGregor called The Lost Art of Connecting. Indeed this is something most people are struggling with today. Not just because we live in a locked-down world, or an online-over-offline world, but also because we’ve become more and more self-obsessed. So much so that we rarely seek the need to go out and connect with people. Even at the dinner table, most family members connect only with their screens.

Susan’s premise is simple, and similar to what my Guru says about where success comes from. “It is the increased ability to deal with people, and studies have shown that 85% of success can be attributed to this ability, with only the balance 15% being technical education.”

The author suggests that every meeting or discussion with the other person, no matter how important to you, must always be approached with one and only one question in mind – “How can I be of help to that person?” Sounds counterintuitive at first. She says that if this question is answered, it will cement the relationship – because now even though you came in to the meeting for your own business requirement, you now leave with a valuable connection – one that transcends something simply transactional and ephemeral.

No doubt, it will take effort to answer this question – we cant just blaze into any meeting and say “Hey CEO, how can I help you” because we may not have much to help them with in the first place. So this will require thought, leaning on other connections, understanding what the other person really needs/wants etc. Listening is unbelievably important of course – and key to figuring out what others want. Good book, and certainly a refreshing way to think about conversations and relationships!

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Tough times

There are times when it might seem like everything is going against us. It is good to take on any adversity head-on though with this one thought that occurs to only the most spiritual of beings – “Thank you God/Universe for putting me in this position rather than anyone else. Because at least I will be able to bear this situation and it’s consequences, while those around me if subjected to the very same thing, may not survive.”

At other times, those close to you might be going through a tough time. This could be deep rooted karmic retribution at play. Who can really tell, except perhaps those who have truly Realized? In any case, it might seem like there is nothing we can do to help alleviate the pain. At least physically, yes.

But mentally, and emotionally? We can do many things. One, paramount, is prayer. A wonderful opportunity to not just pray, but pray for someone other than always selfishly for ourselves!

There’s a brilliant video I came across recently. A barber got to know that his client was diagnosed with cancer. The client’s hair had begun falling, thanks to chemotherapy. As the client begins to get his head shaved, the barber intermittently shaves his own head too. What a lovely way to show that he cares! The client is moved to tears.

The tag at the end of the video sums it up beautifully. “That’s not your barber anymore, that’s your brother.”

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Masculinity

There’s an excellent interview on Youtube of ex-US President Mr. Barack Obama. It’s a very short clip – hardly two minutes long. He is quizzed on what masculinity is, what it means to be macho. Mr. Obama’s response, as expected of him, is simple yet profound.

He says that “a man doesn’t need eight women around you twerking to show their masculinity”. When we see most music videos / ads / movies / magazines / item numbers in songs etc. – they all seem to capture this exact theme – machoism and womanizing.

Instead, Mr. Obama clarifies that what makes a good man, is “first and foremost being a good human being and that means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful, being compassionate. The notion that being a man is to put somebody down rather than lift them up is an old view.”

Such a lovely thought, isn’t it? In the spirit of equality, no doubt this applies to women as well – because at the core of this life of ours, we are all human beings first.

We become great when we make others around us great, and this starts by treating them as though they are already great.

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Divorced from reality

The world’s richest man? Divorced.

The world’s second richest man – divorced thrice previously.

The world’s third richest man – also getting a divorce now.

No this is not to suggest that if one is super rich, then hanging on to the spouse is difficult. It may very well be the case. But that is besides the point.

Each of these individuals must have gone through some pretty trying times – having a rough relationship can make one just feel like running away from it all. To where? To nowhere, but just away from everything. Can you imagine running away from everything when the whole world is watching you, tracking your every move?

The questions we need to ask are – how much money is useful in success? what is success to us? If we make a lot of money, but struggle with family life, is that still considered success? Is your success defined by you, or by those around you? Do you define your success based on what you want, or based on what you think others want for you? Do others really want anything for you? Time to ponder…

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Chilled out

There’s a simple lesson my Guru taught me once. It’s hard for someone like me to apply – given I prefer to be the silent observer, and rein my emotions in tightly.

One satsang had got over, and there were a few of us standing and talking. I was doing more of the listening, not the talking. There were a couple of people in the group who were cracking jokes one after the other, following up with roaring laughter and in general keeping the spirits of the group high.

Guruji pointed at those happy fellows and told me, “These guys are great conversationalists. These are the people who can strike up conversations anywhere, and build outstanding relationships with the maximum number of people. You need to be like this too. You know why they are able to do it? Because these guys are living in the moment. How can you joke about something in-the-moment, if you are constantly thinking about something that happened in the past, or is likely to happen (or not) in the future?”

Apt lesson for me indeed.

And it is no surprise that “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

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PR / FAQ

PR / FAQ. It stands for Press Release / Frequently Asked Questions.

Surely we’ve all seen these before. When a new service or product is launched, it comes along with a PR / FAQ. The former announces the launch to some detail, while the latter explains some of the nuances that are not immediately obvious.

What is awesome, is that any new product in Amazon (world’s largest company by market-cap ~US$ 1.6 Trn at the time of this writing) begins with PR/FAQ. Begins, not ends. They call it ‘working backwards’. So this is the first step in the creation process instead of typically being the last! They do this because they begin with customer delight and customer experience as the focus. Writing a PR/FAQ upfront highlights to them everything they want the end product or service to feel like, the features it should have, the final look and feel etc. It also gives them full clarity on what the final product should be – right at the start.

This is completely the opposite of what many people set out to do, and I would be the first on that list. When given a task, I prefer to jump right in and begin ‘working’, than pause to think and reflect. This means I might go into several loops of making mistakes, and wasting much time correcting them – mainly because the roadmap isn’t clear.

Starting with PR/FAQ can be applied in many other ways too. For instance, it can help visualize a goal (whether work-oriented, or otherwise) and prepare one’s schedule or timetable and flesh out the details. It can also help with relationships because it gives clarity upfront, rather than postponing important discussions and conversations. The important thing is to begin with customer delight / partner delight / other-person delight, the rest will follow. I also like that when said quickly, it sounds like ‘perfect’ – i.e. “pr/faq” 🙂

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Open mouth please

Here is a common two-threaded problem we each face at some point. We just had a really rough week at work and want nothing more than to plunge into a soft bed with head hitting a even softer pillow. But your spouse or significant other has just told you that they plan to take you out for a romantic candle-lit dinner. Normally this would be an awesome plan, but not today – all you want is to bury your face in that feathery pillow!

What to do then? Maybe you could go along with the spouse to dinner. But that could leave you totally exhausted. Or else, you could take a rain check. And that could have consequences – partner dejected, you feeling guilty etc. It seems like there are only two choices, and that both are suboptimal.

But are there really only two choices?

No, there is a third. This is called Hamlet’s quandary, i.e. to share or not to share. We often get stuck in this quandary. Instead of trying to resolve this problem on our own, the third option would be to name the dilemma. “Darling I really want to go with you for dinner and I really appreciate you planning this for me on the back of my really rough week, but I’m super exhausted today. Could we figure out something that will work for both of us?”

This third more communicative choice, is likely to open up a new range of possibilities and outcomes. This is useful not just at home, but even in the workplace. Like when we have too much work already, but the boss wants us to work on the weekend. Or a client has asked for some important information, but we do not have the resources yet. The bottom-line is this, sharing more with people can increase our vulnerability, but that could potentially result in a much deeper connection with the other person. And this third choice is often overlooked.

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Razor sharp

There are a couple of ‘razors’ worth knowing about. Not the ones we use to cut hair or shave. But some basic principles we can use to make better decisions. The first is Occam’s razor, and the second is Hanlon’s razor. Easy concepts, but useful.

  1. Occam’s Razor: Simple is best. Simple is beautiful. That’s the gist. In an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, we tend to fall for the complicated. If a financial get-rich-quick-scheme sounds complicated and hence attractive, it is probably dubious if not heinous. Likewise when people speak complex jargon, we think they are intelligent. Occam’s razor says that when you weigh alternative hypotheses, the one with the least assumptions should be chosen. Of course, not everything can be simplified as H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” But the idea is to reach the optimal solution with the least confusion.
  2. Hanlon’s Razor: This one is very useful in all sorts of relationships. Maybe we asked someone for some help a few times, and they just don’t get back to us? We immediately get frustrated and think the person doesn’t like us, or that there is some other negative intent. Hanlon’s razor however says that before assuming negative intent, there is probably a viable alternative explanation – like ignorance, incompetence, lack of time or different core-beliefs. By thinking in these ways, the important thing is we transform our minds to having more happier fulfilling relationships. Here too a caveat exists: There are a small section of people who might indeed have ill-intent, and there we need to be careful, of course.

    Finally, if you were wondering why these are called ‘razors’, that’s because using these is likely to help cut through the noise and clutter.

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The one formula for success

In his amazing book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie (DC) shares some amazing lessons on how to … well exactly what the book titles says!

It’s not a very large book, but it is divided into 6 parts, and a total of 37 chapters, each addressing one specific focus area for introspection, improvement and application.

Out of all these, DC himself says in part 4 chapter 8, that if there is only one thing that we take away from the entire book, then it is this one formula. Here is that paragraph reproduced verbatim.

If, as a result of reading this book, you get only one thing - an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person's point of view, and see things from that person's angle as well as your own - if you get only that one thing from this book, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping stones of your career.

Just imagine that. We think success is all about us, our hard work and meeting our targets and what not. Sure these are important, but there are millions of people doing all these things already – but they rarely rise to the top. Because they are too often focused only on themselves. DC has the solution. We only need to implement.

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Scales

We are often faced with situations where we need good constructive feedback.

Maybe you’ve written a poem or an article, but don’t know how well it’ll be received. Or you’ve got an idea – which you plan to discuss with the higher-ups, but are not sure if it’ll fly. Or maybe you just want to know if the dress you’re planning to wear is good. Perhaps we just want to know if the way we spoke at an important meeting was alright.

The reasons for seeking feedback could be many. But the challenge of receiving it is the same. Most responses will just be, “Yes, it was good.” or “Yes, it was nice.” What does one do with such generic feel-gooders?

I came across a nice hack which I feel is very useful. Instead of asking people whether they liked something or not, ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. And tell them that 7 is not an option. And also ask them what it would take to get their rating up to a 10. You’ll be surprised by how much more specific and constructive the feedback can be!

One word of caution though, if your wife tries to use this tactic on you, the right answer is always 11. Kidding! Or not! 🙂

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Swayed by action

Are we swayed often by the sweet words of others? Or perhaps by their inspirational and motivational call-to-action words? It is natural to get swayed by those who speak well. But it would do good to separate the walkers of the their path from simply the talkers. And the world is full of the latter.

One such example is in the world of investing. Twitter is full of them, as is perhaps Reddit too in recent days. Recommendations fly fast and wide on which stocks to buy and which to sell. Newbie investors get easily carried away – often investing the entirety of their hard earned savings, only to realize it was either a ponzi scheme or worse.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb of Black Swan fame says, “Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have – or don’t have – in their portfolios.”

This is easily extended to non-investment real life as well. As Rene Descartes put it, “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”

This simple principle can be used to find the right mentors, guides, friends, colleagues, business partners and any others with whom you need to build a long term relationship. If they do not walk the talk, then it is only talk.

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Free size

Here’s the thing about self-help and spirituality. One size rarely fits all. The goal is the same – to attain moksha or liberation. But the paths are many. Krishna tells Arjuna about karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga in the Gita. Even within these, the actual methods to be followed could be different. One might see great success following a 15-minute meditation plan a day. Others might struggle despite an hour of chanting.

In Dale Carnegie’s (DC) How to Win Friends and Influence People, there is a superb statement. The secret he says, is to interest people and build in them a genuine want, if you need them to do something for you. He gives a couple of solid examples too – such as how to get an irate tenant to pay his full rent rather than leave midway, and how a poor newspaper owner got a celebrity to write a star column on his paper.

But as he himself says, a common pushback would be, “Hey these examples are fine, but do these principles work for the tough monsters I have to face in my daily life?”

Here is DC’s amazing response. “You may be right. Nothing will work in all cases. And nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, then why change? If you are not satisfied, then why not experiment?”

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Extrama

We had an interesting discussion during satsang a few days ago. It was on a topic called Unlawful Love, authored by Thiruvalluvar in the Kural. The author has written with such emphasis, “It may seem all too easy to err with another’s wife, but the disgrace will be irredeemable for all time”.

There are so many examples of people ruining themselves and their images, simply because they couldn’t control themselves. Ravana lusting after Sita, Shantanu (nearly on his death-bed) lusting for the fisherwoman Satyavati, the Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky affair, Tiger Woods and his extra maritals – the list goes on.

This is perhaps not so different from discontentment with our money, gadgets, cars, houses etc. We just want more and more. And quickly get bored. We can probably replace a car or gadget with a newer model, but doing that with a wife / husband? Treacherous!

The challenge lies in the motive behind marriage. For most, it is purely physical, maybe a little emotional. To find someone who can act as a bottomless pit for their partner’s worries and troubles of life. But the wisdom of the ancients suggest that marriage primarily had a deeply spiritual component. The word vivaah in Sanskrit I’ve read means ‘to flow together’. Flow where? Towards liberation, which is the dharma of each individual. Interesting also then is that the sanskrit word for wife is dharmapatni.

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Lending a ear

Back in the 80s when the Internet was first created, people scarcely understood its potential. What is ubiquitous today, wasn’t obvious back then. Why did they think it was doomed to fail? Was it because technology was not ready yet? Not at all. It was because they assumed that creating content would be the work of the large corporations. So a Netscape or a Microsoft would have to create content and put it on the web.

Fast forward to today, and we know who the true content creators are, don’t we? Still unsure? Head over to YouTube, or the billions of blogs on Medium or WordPress, or the millions of webstores on Instagram or Facebook. Not just social media, but ‘social’ itself has become a thing. Stand up comedy has proliferated, as has 360 degree feedback processes. What is it that unites these? All of these are platforms that enable people to have a voice. They are so endearing because there is someone on the other side who is listening.

In the Kural, Thiruvalluvar says that the crown of all wealth a man can have is the art of listening. Despite knowing about the benefits of listening, people rarely listen. Group Discussions in MBA selection rounds are all ‘fishmarkets’ with the loudest prevailing over the rest. Is this the best way to select and groom future leaders? No surprise then that even in office calls today, most people end up cutting others mid-sentence. They also add, as if to sound cool, “Sorry to interrupt you, but here’s what I believe…”, or “Sorry to interject, but my view is…”. Would you like to be interrupted while speaking? Would anyone?

Listening needn’t just be about others. In today’s action-packed stress-laced world, we hardly listen to ourselves, our body and mind’s needs. This is not to say we must indulge ourselves, but we are mostly running after what will make us look good in the eyes of others. Instead, we could stop to listen to our hearts and evaluate what is right for us, rather than for thy neighbour.

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LMGBTY

No this acronym is not about partner orientation.

These 6 words make up the most under used and under appreciated phrase in the English language.

“Let me get back to you.”

Oh the number of times I have made terrible decisions simply because I thought I had to give an answer right away. Almost never do we actually need to answer on the spot, apart from maybe a job interview. And then too, we can always take time to think about the ‘longer-term’ questions, such as on salary, benefits, relocation, change of role etc. Because rarely in life is anything so pressingly important.

Here are a few examples. When the husband gets an invite to a party he knows his wife doesn’t like – but he still impulsively says yes. When the boss asks you to finish a project over the weekend, and this weekend is for taking the kids out, but you still impulsively say ‘yes’. When the recruiter asks if you can join immediately, and you know you have a non-negotiable notice period, but still say ‘yes’. The answers to these questions may be driven by impulse, or even by fear – as though taking the time to think will lead to something disastrous – like losing a friend or a job. If it comes to that, it’s probably not the right job or friendship in the first place. On the flip side, our decision making is likely to improve significantly if we take the time to think a little about our decisions.

“LMGBTY please” may also serves as a good replacement for “I don’t know” as it may make us seem less dumb! We (and me for sure) could benefit from using it more often.

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What to look for in a partner

Ask some youngsters how they would choose their life partners. “My girlfriend / boyfriend / fiancé / fiancée and I love the same movies / books / TV shows / music / food.” i.e. the answers tend to revolve around interests and hobbies.

Such match making could be disastrous.

Why? Because likes, interests and hobbies (can) change. The songs, movies and books we liked 10 years ago, 5 years ago and 2 years ago are not the same anymore. And 5 years down the line, not only will our tastes change, but our partner’s tastes will change as well.

Instead of trying to match likes and dislikes, what is most critical to match is values and value systems. If I’m soft spoken, value humility and honesty and have a charitable bent of mind, it is very difficult to get along with a spouse who is loud, boastful, cuts corners and is miserly. And liking the same type of action adventure movies is not a panacea for this wide gulf of a difference.

This is where some virtues of arranged marriages (advice from family/elders) and the use of astrology (to identify deep-seated character traits of an individual) can help. Not as tools to force people to marry against their will, as is commonly portrayed. But as a mechanism to ensure the ‘core’ wavelength matches, because the rest is just fluff.

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