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Category: speaking

C for critical – part 2

No one likes a dictatorial regime – where only one person calls the shots, much to the detriment of everyone else. But we are each dictators in our own rights.

When we receive flak or criticism from anyone, our guard immediately spikes, shoulders tighten, jaws harden, ego fires up, ears shut down, brain freezes – etc etc. exactly like a dictator would quickly shut down his country’s borders to apparently save himself from his enemies.

What do we want in life? Good results? Or good image? Of course both. But these are somewhat contradictory.

We may begin with some good results which then gives us some name and fame. But can we be right all the time? Can we guarantee the best process and results always? Hardly. Even the best workers may fall wayward. If in such times, one does not seek and implement feedback, then their results will suffer. If the results suffer, how can one maintain or even elevate their good image?

While criticism should not be given as Dale Carnegie says in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People, we on the receiving end of flak can surely train ourselves to look for the message-minus-emotion. Concluded tomorrow…

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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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Need more prep

Generally when we invite a guest speaker over to the youth satsangs, we just share the topic and the date/time and then they are good to go.

A recent speaker we invited though, wanted to know a lot more of the details. How many attendees? What age group? What topics were already covered? What is the agenda? What is the exact sequence of the agenda? Many more questions…and then he also asked for past recordings of the sessions!

It immediately reminded me of an incident with Swami Chinmayananda. Once Swami ji’s flight got delayed by a few hours. His disciples there quickly gathered around him and requested him to give a talk. You know what Swami Chinmayananda said? He said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not prepared, and so I cannot give a talk now.”

He said he was not prepared! Can you believe it? The great Swami Chinmayananda, who has given thousands if not tens of thousands of talks – was saying that he was not prepared!

This is a shining example of his humility, preparedness, diligence and respect for the audience – especially in today’s world, where for most people, once they open their mouth, it’s impossible to shut them up. And their speech is often neither relevant, beneficial or even true!

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To listen or to speak?

Both Dale Carnegie and my Guru cannot overemphasize the importance of listening as a skill. We are all accustomed to talking non-stop especially in social situations. We love to hear the sound of our own voices. And onc they topic shifts to anything even remotely of self-interest, then the words just don’t stop rolling out!

But listening allows us to win over other people, because if everyone likes to talk, then someone must be there to listen? Listening also builds patience, maturity, concentration and empathy over time.

There is one scenario I’ve seen though, where people love to listen and completely shy away from speaking. This is on the stage. Any formal stage, be it big or small – we often hate the spotlight and the associated stage fright aka butterflies.

However, at least from a satsang perspective, there is no better place to speak – no not after the satsang, but as the main speaker! And the reason is very unique here. If we just listen to satsangs, we will get knowledge. But it may not convert to wisdom or action. In order to make that conversion, speaking is a wonderful tool. When we listen to others speak, we may feel like we are understanding concepts. But when we laboriously sit and prepare for a speech, read up copious information to demystify our scriptures, underline the various important points, search for interesting anecdotes and stories, attempt to figure out the ‘real meaning’ and ‘practical meaning’ and ‘deep meaning’, we will encounter on these abstruse topics some epiphanies that will never leave us for life.

Speak we must, at every satsang opportunity. But prepare we must, too, so that our speaking is easy listening for everyone.

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FTP 30 TAP

To a computer engineer, these might sound like some network transfer protocols. But I’m not one, so I have no idea 😁

FTP and TAP are the difference between sorrow and happiness.

It’s very simple.

30 refers to 30 seconds.

FTP is Fail To Pause.

TAP is Take A Pause (courtesy a satsangi).

There are so many scenarios in day to day life that we come across, where we say or do things that we come to regret later on. It could be an uncontrolled burst of emotion, an angry retort to a loved one or friend or boss (these could be the same person 😂), a hasty decision, or just a lazy and unnecessary comment about someone or something.

A 30 second pause will not delay our life. But if it prevents us from saying or doing soemthing reckless, it can surely improve it.

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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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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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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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Giving advice

If someone comes up to you for advice, the best and only to way give any guidance, should be without expectations. Why?

Here’s someone who wants to know from you whether to do xyz or not. The following 4 outcomes are possible, assuming they follow your advice.

  1. You suggest they do xyz. They do it, and good happens. You were right, but they will attribute it to themselves.
  2. You suggest they do xyz. They do it, and bad happens. You were wrong, and they will attribute it to you.
  3. You suggest they do not do xyz. They don’t do it, and bad happens. You were wrong, and they will attribute it to you.
  4. You suggest they do not do xyz. They don’t do it, and good happens. You were right, but they will attribute it to themselves.

In all cases, you get no recognition. Does that mean we stop helping others? Absolutely not. But when we do so, we must have the best intentions in mind while guiding them, whilst having zero expectations. The end result is not in our control. And so expecting praise in return is foolhardy.

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Ear here

What do we listen with? Our ears right? Of course, so obvious.

But that’s what we think. In one of his workshops to students many years ago, my Guru had posed this very question to his audience. They all replied “Yes, with our ears.”

To which he turned around, showed his back to the audience and continued his talk.

Needless to say, the crowd was completely disoriented. When my Guru turned around again, he smiled and said, “We listen with our ears, yes, but mostly with our eyes.”

This is a problem I’ve often encountered. Most people are always distracted, and when I speak, I’m not sure if what I’m saying is registering in their minds. Not because they don’t care. But because they are distracted. How do I know? Because I’m as guilty of this as the next person. When my spouse / child / family member / friend / colleague is speaking to me, the least I can do is to look them directly in the eye, and give them the attention they deserve. We can no doubt draw some boundaries – like letting the kids know that daddy’s going to be busy between 7 and 10 doing office work or such.

But if we aren’t 100% present in the moment, we must ask ourselves – what are we thinking about? The past that we cannot change? The future we have little control over? A social media post that is far less important than family?

Time to listen with the eyes.

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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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Acronyms of a liberated soul

Just a fun post this one (aren’t they all!). Here’s how a liberated soul might react to some common acronyms:

ICYMI – In Case You Missed It – “There is nothing to miss, because nothing ever was.”
BRB – Be Right Back – “How can you be so sure? It is all a play of the Supreme”
AFAIK – As Far As I Know – “We know nothing. Even Saraswati says she knows less than 1% of all creation.’
G2G – Got To Go – “What is the hurry? In a 100 years from now, none of us will matter”
BTW – By The Way – “All ways lead only to Him.”
YOLO – You Only Live Once – “Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
OMG – Oh My God – “Why do you exclaim only in times of need? There is nothing besides God”
IMHO – In My Humble Opinion – “I have no opinion, it is all God’s plan and His doing only”
IDK – I Don’t Know – “Yes, you are right on that one”
LOL – Laughing Out Loud – “I’ll join you, because life is fun.”
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions – “What is Brahman, Aatman, Paramatman, Maya, Moksha?”
DIY – Do It Yourself – “Who else will? You came alone, you will go alone.”

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Directness

2020 has been a rollercoaster year for everyone. Imagine if you could start 2021 on a different, more positive note. Like dividing the year into 4 quarters, and then becoming fluent in Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Spanish. Fluent, in just 3 months each! Is that even possible?

Scott Young, the author of a book called Ultralearning, did exactly this. He went one entire year without speaking any English – his native tongue.

This is not just about languages. Scott takes this to the next level in so many ways. Despite always being a very average student in school, he completes an entire MIT engineering 4-year course in just 1 year, and that too without classroom coaching, but studying online. If all his techniques had to be distilled into one word, it would be ‘directness’. Directness is the practice of learning by directly doing the thing you want to learn.

How many times do we take up a new project, and let it linger in our minds, rather than in action? As he puts it, “Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.” There are plenty of other examples in his book – which all go to show that we each have no limitations whatsoever – except those enforced on ourselves by our own minds.

So, what are you going to learn in 2021?

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On the other side of the world

I’m starving!“, screamed the 10-year old brat to his mom, when his dinner was served to him a few minutes late. On the other side of the world, an entire poverty-stricken family of four had not eaten for 3 days.

I’m shivering here, is there no temperature control?”, complained the first-class flyer to the stewardess, when his private room got a little cold. On the other side of the world, a homeless man couldn’t afford socks to keep his feet warm.

I wish I could be jobless for a while” said the executive, flopping onto his couch, after an unusually hectic week at work. On the other side of the world, a single mother with 2 kids just got laid off from her job as a waitress, thanks to the pandemic.

It’s boiling in here“, the high-maintenance girlfriend remarked to her lover, when the AC in the car took a couple of minutes to start cooling. On the other side of the world, a coal mine worker, subjected to extreme temperature and chemical hazards, could barely breathe.

I hate getting wet!“, shrieked the woman, when a light drizzle began. On the other side of the world, a frail-looking man, with cleaning equipment strung onto his back, prepared to descend into the manhole.

Oh the things we say, and wish for, in our inadvertent callousness!

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Ask and know

A pilot can fly a plane, and understand its broad (aero)dynamics. But one cannot expect her/him to assemble a plane from scratch.

The operations head of a dairy company can manage supply chain and milk delivery to customers perfectly. But expecting her/him to understand the nitty-gritties of bovine health and feedstock is silly.

An expert fashion designer might have the best eye for haute couture. But putting her/him in charge of a fashion company – to deal with all the finances, HR, operations and technology – would be incongruous.

In life, mutual interdependence is inevitable. Not one single thing in this world happens independent of anything else. We wouldn’t even be able to breathe, if it weren’t for the trees around us.

Likewise, it is impossible for one person to know everything. But we are often still too scared to ask others for help. If we are perceived to have low IQ or poor calibre – but that is the perceiver’s problem! And this is rarely the case though – because everyone loves to give advice and most people love to blah blah blah as they love the sound of their own voice.

It is better to ask and find out, than stay silent and never know, or worse, get an inferiority complex, when there should be none.

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It’s (not) only words

“It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away…” crooned boy-band heartthrobs Boyzone back in the 90s. And even before that, Rita Coolidge sang the same words in the 70s, preceded by the Bee Gees in the 60s. That is indeed a while back. But the import is not lost.

While the original connotation was romantic, there are practical takeaways for us. The words we use can have a huge bearing on those around us. Especially the words used when one is irate. And I’m certainly guilty of this.

Picture this. A neighbour greets you:

“Hey – it is so good to see you today after a long time – especially during your morning walk! Have a wonderful day”

versus

“Hey – Where have you been?! You go for morning walks? I’ve never seen you at this time before.”

A simple morning greeting, can have profound differences on the other person’s mood and day. As the recipient of the second version above, my impulsive thought was – “Am I being accused?”

There are 2 learnings here for me:

  1. Use words with care. They are like a bag of feathers being released into the wind. Once gone, it is hard to bring back.
  2. Stay unperturbed about the words others use. We cannot control others. But we can control how we react to them.

‘1’ helps us be better human beings amid others. ‘2’ helps us be better human beings despite others.

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