How to say no?

March 29, 2017

Which are the major decisions you took in your professional life that you feel happy about? – This was the question someone asked me recently.

With a bit of reflection, I could share a decision I had once made. I had said ‘no’ to a very senior officer. Instead of heeding to his demand to offer a short-term contract to an individual, I explained the process that I would follow as per rules. He was not too happy to hear the response. A “No” — no matter how polite and logical it is — does not go well with people who are used to listening to “yes”. It did affect my relationship with his department, which incidentally was key to us. Instead of agreeing to a high-cost short-term arrangement to help an individual, I thought through the process and took the decision to introduce a change in the system, which would be beneficial to the programme in the long run. This worked well; and is still working.

At times, all of us feel pressurized to comply with a request that we are not comfortable with. The problem is greater if it comes from a senior person. Doing something unethical, illegal or simply against our values is one of the most challenging dilemmas in our career.

How does one say “no” in such situations? Here are a few ideas:

Buy time, if possible: It helps to buy time to think over the issue, weigh the various pros and cons and then respond. “I will think over it and get back to you” is a good strategy. But remember to get back within the time you promised. Pressure on you will increase day by day, if you don’t respond; and this will further reduce your confidence to say no.

Ask yourself if you have strong reasons to say “no”: Once you have thought over the issue well, then frame your response, based on facts, logic, correctness of procedures, etc. This way you will be able to justify your answer. It helps to consult some trust-worthy friends and colleagues. You may receive some good advice.

How do you say “no” is the key: Once you have established why are you saying no, you need to present it in a way that the recipient is compelled to acknowledge. Remember, the initial reaction is not going to be good. Be ready for all kind of reactions, outbursts, unnecessary questioning, even yelling etc. Hold on to your temperament. Your attitude, your tone of voice, your confidence all play a role. Remember, if you are right then you have the edge. The recipient would, sooner or later, appreciate the merit of your response.

Having said this, I must add that these situations are a test of our integrity. One has to be ready to make personal sacrifices if one wants to go this road. Lord Milner puts it so well, “If we believe a thing to be bad, and if we have a right to prevent it, it is our duty to try to prevent it and damn the consequences.”


Five ways to self-care

February 25, 2017

Why did you see your doctor last time? I asked this questions to some of my friends recently. Most of them said it was when they fell sick or followed up on a known health condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Very few said it was for general health check-up.

The age-old wisdom ‘health is wealth’ is known to all but still we don’t take care of our health. Most of the diseases are curable or at least treatable if diagnosed on time. Yet, people show up at hospitals during advanced stage of illnesses.

We must prioritise self-care. I would propose the following five ideas:

• Do you have a condition that is unusual even though it is not causing much discomfort? If yes, don’t ignore. See a doctor. Every disease takes time to manifest itself in its rigour. This is the time when it should be worked upon. Early detection results in effective treatment.

• You don’t have to be sick to take a diagnostic test. Several diseases go through an asymptomatic phase with no apparent signs or symptoms. Talk to your doctor and discuss if there are any diagnostic tests you must take depending upon your age and health status.

• Create ‘happy hours’ in your life. You often find them in restaurants or shops when betters deals are offered. Can we not introduce the concept in our life? It would mean finding time to meet with friends, family or doing things that make you happy. It won’t happen unless you pen it in your diary. This will be a way to nurture relationships. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier as I wrote in an earlier post: Bonding with Happiness.

• Everyone knows the important of ‘being in shape’ through exercises, brisk walks, swimming etc. but few do it. Most of the diseases are life-style related and can be prevented. Make a realistic plan that fits in your schedule. Having a goal like losing 3 kilos weight in a month does not work. It frustrates people when it is not achieved. It will be better to have a process-oriented goal like doing 30 minutes of brisk walk five times a week. If you do it consistently, results will follow on their own.

• Life keeps presenting challenging situations. While we must strive for the best, results are not always in our control. Be positive always! Our social network helps here as well. And, yes, surround yourself with positive people.

Find Your Confidence Triggers

January 30, 2017

Confidence, or lack if it, plays a huge role in our life, in determining how far we go. Our confidence shows in ‘I can do it’ attitude; and this pushes us to give our best shot in chasing our dreams.

Most of us begin well, with the excitement of doing or achieving something but a few initial setbacks change it all, making a dent in our confidence.

What can be done to ensure that setbacks and failures do not shatter our confidence?

We must find what triggers our confidence. Confidence triggers may be different for different people. It can be anything that can be done quickly to divert the attention away from the momentary setback(s) and get a sense of fulfillment.

An Olympian used to watch videos of his greatest wins before a crucial match to boost his confidence. Pursuing a hobby and spending time on sports, music, reading etc. can trigger our confidence. A person who is struggling to get a job can do a short online course and this could be a confidence trigger. A person not getting enough job satisfaction can focus more on the tasks that interest him and get the best out of him. Satisfaction of doing some tasks well gives a person positive energy and this allows him/her to attend to the boring and mundane tasks.

Some people stop socializing in their moments of setbacks. It never helps. It is actually counter-productive. There are people in our circle who are trust-worthy and who can give good advice. They may not be able to offer solutions but listen attentively without being judgmental and help us feel more in control of the situation. They also make us see the problem in a different perspective. Most people actually like when someone confides in them. It strengthens relationships.

Don’t analyse your failures too much. The main thing is to act, and do something. Set yourself short and achievable goals and go for them. Success, no matter how small it is, adds to our confidence.  We must make use of our confidence triggers during the moments of setbacks.

Mark Victor Hansen sums it up well, “Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

New Year Resolution: Do make one!

December 29, 2016

The countdown to 2017 has begun. It is time to wish each other a happy new year; and make resolutions.

Making New Year Resolutions is an ancient tradition. Ancient Romans used to begin each year by making promises to Janus – the God after whom the month of January is named. Over time the concept evolved and the resolutions moved into the mould of self-improvement. Now, we find them in the arena of enhancing knowledge or skills (like learning a musical instrument, a new language etc.); doing things for family/improving relationships (like going on a family trip, spending time with children/parents, forgiving someone); and taking care of health (like quitting smoking, going for exercise to loose weight) etc.

A 2007 study from University of Boston found that 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail. Top two reasons for this are: setting unrealistic goals; and not keeping track of the progress.

Why should one make New Year’s Resolutions when they are more likely to fail?

The fear of failure should not stop us. There is an inherent element of failure in all plans. Isn’t it? A successful person is the one who sets realistic goals, makes plans to achieve them and executes them as best as possible. So, go head and do make a New Year’s Resolution for 2017. Instead of being overwhelmed by the majority, get inspiration from the 12% people who did succeed in achieving what they had resolved to do. Be with the achievers.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-01-41Make a new beginning. Don’t let the failures of past affect your determination to succeed. Forgive those how have hurt you. Forgiveness will not only improve relationships, it will free you of bitterness and negativity and you will be able to pursue your dreams with full energy.

I wish all a very happy and successful 2017. May it open new doors for you and bring peace in the world.



Don’t miss the opportunity to hire your best worker

November 29, 2016

Bill Porter was born with cerebral palsy. He decided to succeed in life despite his physical disability. Getting a job was not easy. People would not look beyond his disability. He persisted and got the job of a sales man with Watkins Company. Convincing the customers was even a greater challenge. He was ridiculed, doors were slammed on him but he did not give up. His only support was his mother. Every day she would write two words – patience and persistence – on his lunch pack. When a tired and frustrated Bill opened his lunch box, these two words gave him the strength to carry on, which he did. After the first sale, there was no looking back for Bill. He went on and on and won the best salesman award of his company year after year. I would invite all to watch the film ‘Door to Door’ that is made on the inspirational life story of Bill Porter.

Bill’s story reminds us once again that if we have a desire to achieve something, nothing can stop us, not even a physical condition such as cerebral palsy.

I thought of sharing the story of Bill in this post as 3rd December is the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Around 15% of the world’s population has some kind of disability. It is time to do some reflection.

What should be our attitude towards persons with disabilities?

I would first invite you to watch this video.

Science and technology has made tremendous progress and developed tools/gadgets that make life easy for people with disability. What has not changed much is the attitude of society towards persons with disability. It is not moving beyond offering help, sympathy and some limited action. We have made separate toilets and separate parking slots for physically challenged persons. But is that enough? Separate toilets in workplaces do not ensure employment for people they are meant for.

Let me ask a question: what is the difference between a person who uses a wheel chair and a person who uses spectacles due to diminishing eye sight? Both depend on external devices but the one on wheel chair is seen as ‘disabled’ whereas the one using spectacles is ‘normal’.

The perception of disability needs to change. We need to look at the ability, not disability.

Employers, in particular, must keep in mind that having a disability does not reduce a person’s ability to work. If you look just at the apparent disability, you may be losing the opportunity to hire your best worker.

Go hard on ‘Soft Skills’

October 29, 2016

I was recently invited to give an “inspirational talk” on Intern Development Day in my office. As the speech was part of the interns’ professional development programme, I requested the organizers to get me responses from the interns to the following question:

What could possibly stop you from achieving your career goals?

The question was put up to interns before the event. Around 50 responses were received. The analysis of responses brought out some interesting points, besides helping me finalize my short 15 minutes talk.

40% mentioned issues related to their personality (laziness, lack of determination, self-doubt etc.); health and illnesses; and skills (language and communication skills, time management etc.) that may affect their career goals.

40% highlighted external factors such as growing unemployment; short-term jobs with no or less possibility of extension, issues of work permits and policies that affect job prospects of youths.

20% were the bold and confident responses mentioning ‘nothing can stop us’.

These responses came from young persons of at least 15 nationalities, representing all regions of the world. Hence, I feel like writing on the issue and sharing some thoughts.

Growing youth unemployment is certainly a concern but at the same time, according to McKinsey reports, only 43% of employers can find enough skilled entry-level workers.

I would offer the following three suggestions:

Soft skills shouldn’t be taken softly any more: Only academic and professional education are not enough. Young persons need to focus hard on soft skills: communication, inter-personal skills, positive thinking and creativity. There are very good courses available, including online, that can be taken to strengthen soft skills.

Employers want multi-taskers : Apart from requisite educational and technical qualifications, employers are looking for people who are multi-taskers; solution-oriented; and demonstrate willing to willingness to learn new skills.

Use short-term jobs as an opportunity: The world of work is changing fast. Globalization and technical innovation has changed the business practices and work patterns. Short-term contracts are likely to stay. The future of work is where people will work for different employers at the same time. In this context, it is important to use the short-terms job opportunities to learn new skills and expand your professional network.

Having said that, It was good to note that 20% young persons were very positive, mentioning ‘nothing can stop us’. This positive attitude and determination will be important in finding your niche and being successful in a rapidly changing world of work.

Learn to live with less

September 29, 2016

Once a farmer lost his watch in the barn. He wanted to get it back at all costs because he had some sentimental value attached to it. He searched for a long time and did not find it. He then took the help of some children who were playing nearby. The children went inside the barn but could not find the watch either. The farmer got very disappointed. Just when he was about to give up, a little boy came and asked to give him another chance. The farmer agreed and the boy went into the barn alone. After a while the boy came out with the watch in his hand!

The farmer was very happy. He asked the boy how he succeeded while everyone else had failed to locate the watch. The boy replied, “I simply sat on the ground in silence. In silence, I heard the ticking of the watch and just looked for it in that direction.”

Silence brings peace and a peaceful mind can think better than a worked up and preoccupied mind!

What should we do to have a peaceful mind?

I once had a colleague whose office desk used to be very clean always. Even if there were a few papers or files he would keep them neatly. Files or papers would never occupy more than 10 per cent of his desk’s space. The rest was just an open space. Once I was in his office and a visitor walked in. Surprised to see his clean desk, he commented, “Either you have very little work or you are very efficient to dispense off your work quickly.” My colleague answered, “I don’t know if I am efficient but I think better working on a cleaner desk rather than the one which is full of papers and documents.”

This indeed is a profound thought!

We feel better and think well when there is more space around us, be it in our office or at home. Unfortunately, we have the habit of accumulating things whether we use them or not. This takes unnecessary space, both physical as well as mental as we remain concerned to do something with our possessions. We can certainly live with less. It will help to ‘let things go’ and take up a cleaning drive from time to time.

I wonder how people can manage 3-4 bank accounts, 8-10 different credit cards, 2-3 phones, 3-4 different loans and so on. Our mind is always crowded.  Moments of silence and peace are few. We are becoming less creative. When we lose a watch, we waste time looking for it, rather than sit in silence and listen to its ticking.