“There are times when you wonder what more needs to be done,” I pointed to email on my laptop to Lulu, my parrot.
“Oh, you look puzzled, exasperated. What’s the matter?”
“My friend who is ER Manager writes that he had arranged a training. The problem was the negative attitude of the Union committee in his company.”
“All managers at the factories have this complaint. Not really new to us.”
“Things have improved a bit after the joint session by the consultant but quickly fell in the old hostile pattern.”
“You understand what?”
“The problem.” Parrots are cryptic when they are thinking hard.
“Sorry? I did not get you.”
“To begin with managers are hostile to the union. Union formation to be precise.”
“True. One even asked me ‘How not to have a union at the factory?’ I told him that it was not possible to wish away a union in India.”
“Unless you buy the Union guy out. But that is not the right thing to do. Unethical. In any case, you can’t buy all union guys. Some are committed to the cause of workers.”
“But what should he do? How can he keep the union out?”
“Well, if you ask wrong question, you get the wrong answer. The right question would be ‘How can I retain my influence over employees in spite of a union?’” Lulu nibbled at chillies.
“Hmmm…. The union in his plant existed for a long time. So he arranged a training to improve relations – employee relations, I mean.”
“Training can bring people closer for a while, but it does not solve the problem. Nothing will change if the parties, mainly the managers do not change their behaviour. There is an important aspect of relationship which they don’t understand.”
“Relationship, is history, it’s the past. ‘Relating’ is in the present. So, you must learn new ways of relating because it holds promise of a new relationship. I learned this from Osho.”
“That’s interesting. New ways of relating to rebuild relationship. It sounds so easy, but how does one do it?”
“It is not easy. Certainly not. But unless you create new techniques and for a for relating, the old relationship will not go away. And there is one more factor.”
“The union leadership, I mean the employee-leaders have limited influence over the employees. They usually tell employees what not to do; asking them to engage in certain positive ways is not their cup of tea. Essentially the internal leaders have limitations as leaders. Usually it is so, I mean.”
“So, what’s the new technique?”
“Technique? We would have to do three things: first, do less telling; second, learn to do more ‘asking’; and third, do a better job of listening and acknowledging. Not my words – the great Guru, Edgar Schein says so.”
“How does that work?”
“Asking temporarily empowers the other person in the conversation and temporarily makes me vulnerable. It implies that the other person knows something that I need to or want to know. Again, these are the words of Edgar Schein. You must read ‘The Humble Inquiry – The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.’”
“We do Open House. But hardly ever people speak. Or ask something of importance.”
“Oh! Open Houses are usually used for ‘tell and sell.’ You don’t use Open House for listening to people, for asking them some critical questions that beings out what matters to them.”
“True. How can we do it?”
“One skill is learning to ask. We do not ask and explore. Our questions are like those TV reporters who suggest the answer – and we often do not know whether he is asking a question or commenting!”
“So true. We should ask so that we understand something we do not know.”
“You got it. And the other factor is to allow anonymity. Employees rarely speak about the critical issues without the cover of anonymity.”
“Hmmm…… So you are saying create an interaction where you will listen to employees, empathetically, guaranteeing anonymity.”
“Yup. You got me right.”
“The corporate world is obsessed with telling. Turning 180 degrees to ask may be a tough job for them.”
“Not if they want to discover new ways of relating.” Lulu tapped his head on mine, and fluttered his wings.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Feature Photo by Malte Wingen on Unsplash
Copyright © Vivek S Patwardhan 2019. All rights reserved.