Business & Entrepreneurship

Feedback on Personality is Useless, even if Right!

I was looking for an article that lucidly explained why, in a professional setting, giving people feedback on their personality (problems) is not useful (typically to your subordinates, but even to your peers or others). While the advice to avoid bringing in personality in the feedback is almost universal, it is usually buried under “99 things to keep in mind while giving feedback”. There is this one article I found that specifically addresses the issue. It is perhaps an extract from the book Radical Candor. While it covers most important things (read it), the problem is that the examples it employs are too extreme, which may make people feel that they aren’t making the mistake the article describes when they indeed are. Nobody who has cared to search the Internet for “how to give feedback” is likely to be giving feedback like “you are a jerk” to anyone, which is one of the examples in the article. You would have to be a jerk yourself to give feedback like that. But that’s not what giving feedback on personality is like. You can totally not act like a jerk and still give the wrong kind of feedback. I will perhaps be rehashing mostly what has been said in the article, but let me do that with examples that may actually make the point better.

Consider this. There is a salesperson who isn’t doing well. And they are shy. “You are too shy” seems like valid feedback, doesn’t it? Sales is a job where shyness will hamper the work.

But it isn’t useful feedback. Why? There are two possibilities. First is that the person is indeed shy. If they are, they can’t change their personality. So, the feedback is not actionable. The second possibility is that the person isn’t really shy. Their behavior might have something to do with the circumstances. Maybe they feel threatened, maybe they lack confidence. In that case, you have simply given the wrong feedback. At least being called shy is not particularly offensive. But what if you thought someone had an aggressive personality which was coming in the way of their work and gave them that feedback, but you were wrong in assessing their personality. In this case, they will feel misunderstood and unfairly treated, and they would be right.

So, the bottom line is that no good is going to come out of giving someone feedback about their personality. In the best case, you are right. That they have a personality-related problem, but they can’t change their personality. So, you will not get the improvement you had wanted. In the worst case, you are wrong. And have unleashed a different set of managerial problems for yourself. And your feedback is still not actionable as a wrongly-diagnosed personality problem

I would like to emphasize the hard reality of both these problems. First, personality is really not solvable. People don’t change much. Not even for love, much less for work. Even personal relationships that are started in the hope of a partner changing themselves eventually result in disappointments in the best cases, and disasters in the worst.

And the danger of being wrong about personality problems is also pretty high. The reason is called the fundamental attribution error. When it comes to other people, we have a tendency to assume that their behavior reflects their personality, and not the current situation. We would assume that if they are arguing, it’s because they are quarrelsome by nature (and not because they have been provoked or put in a bad situation!) So, even if the behavior you observe could be explained by a personality problem, it need not be because of that.

Given this rather high probability of being wrong about personality, and the uselessness of giving even the correct personality-related feedback, why would you ever want to give feedback like that?

So, what to do if you feel there is a personality problem hampering someone’s performance? You give exactly the same feedback as you would have given if the source of the problem was not their personality. You give feedback on what the problem is (you didn’t meet your sales targets). You can perhaps go a step further and point out the behaviors that are inadequate, or are desired but missing (you did not follow up enough with most of your leads). Perhaps the person is able to act on the feedback and you realize later that personality was not really a problem. Perhaps, despite a personality problem, they are able to solve the specific problem with their conscious effort, or by working around their weaknesses. In which case all is well. And if because of the personality problem or despite not having the personality problem, their issue is not resolved, you take whatever is the next logical step. Perhaps an underperforming salesperson does need to be let go, whether or not they are shy!

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Own Poetry English

I, Misfit

Misfit

In a big, grand, happy family,
With women cooking lovingly,
Children playing merrily,
Men coming back home after a hard day of work,
Being treated royally.

Fretting over the patriarchy,
The mundaneness of life,
And the narrowness of mind.

Misfit

In the corridors of power,
With men trampling on whoever they can,
And women striving to catch up,
To make it in the world of men.

Fretting over the privilege
Taken for granted; and judgment
On the less endowed flying about.

Misfit

On the roads, behind sloganeers,
Activists in black armbands, determined,
Convinced of their worldview,
Noble, but flawed and incomplete.

Fretting over the lack of nuance,
The disregard for the truth,
In search of revolution.

Misfit

In the streets on the city fringes,
Smelling thick of sweat, alcohol, cynicism
Of drugs, of lives languishing,
Of hopelessness, dead rebellions against the system.

Fretting over the futility,
The pointlessness, the waste,
Misfit – even among the misfits.

Feminism

One Year of #MeToo. Where was I?

It has been more than a year and it is time for me to revisit my post Understanding #MeToo as a Revolution. What had I said?

Almost for the first time abusers have been sacked or had to step aside. But here is the thing. One year down the line, many of them are likely to creep back. The power structure is still there, and it is still owned by men.

Depressingly, this is true. Abusers have crept back. Anu Malik is revisiting your living rooms through TV. Many, many other examples have been painstakingly documented by @IndiaMeToo twitter account. 

What about this?

One totally unintended and depressing outcome would be even more bias against hiring women. Because people don’t change that easily. All the existing biases against women will continue working, and now men in power would “fear” being “outed” for “even smiling at women”. So, no wonder if such people come up with the solution of not hiring women in the first place.

There aren’t definitive reports from India, but many from elsewhere suggest that this might very well be happening.

A new kind of horror will, of course, be if too many innocent people are consumed by the fire that is spreading. There are a very small number of cases that look like it, but the attempts of high jacking the revolution by vested, conservative interests are obvious. I won’t worry too much about individuals trying to get personal vendetta out of it – I think those die down easily. But institutional bad faith can totally destroy it.

This, I am glad, hasn’t happened.

MeToo-unsplash

Overall, in the light of “not much has happened” many prominent media reports are only too happy to write #MeToo off. Indeed not much has happened to the system and to the patriarchal sanction granted to powerful men. But with Priya Ramani fighting a lawsuit and Chinmayi Sripada not getting work, much has happened to the victims. They are still being victimized and they are still speaking up. And it is all a bit too much!

I did say this the last time.

For those asking “What will come of it?” as persistently as the men mentioned at the beginning of this article asking “Where is the proof?”, it’s not going to become a gender-egalitarian world right away. So, don’t bother declaring it a failure because “x hasn’t changed” and don’t pretend to be wisely annoyed when another fight is started.

I am not happy about it, but I have proved myself fairly prophetic on this issue, even if it is mostly on the negative or non-outcomes.

For now!

As to, what should you be doing with it? Still the same!

If you aren’t an abuser, congrats! Sit back, relax and make sure you don’t look the other way the next time an episode of harassment is going on around you. It might have been uncool, unsporting, puritan to protest it in past. Now you have the excuse of a revolution. And yes – stop being sexist in every other way too.

#MeToo is still a revolution and it may resurface, again and again, if the system refuses to budge.

Thoughts

I, Introvert!

Most people, after they have seen me speaking on a stage and interacting with people afterward, find it difficult to digest that the reason I want to crawl into an empty room and spend the next twenty-four hours on my own is not because I am physically tired, but because I am an introvert and am done with people for a while.

“You didn’t sound like an introvert.”

Well, I am. I am an introvert. I am not shy. I am not unopinionated. I, sure as hell, am not uninformed. I don’t lack confidence. But I am an introvert. I am very comfortable in public speaking. One-on-one conversations make my palms sweaty, and the prospect of initiating a small talk makes me faint. I hate phone calls. Please send me a message instead.

Growing up in a society that didn’t care for such psychological subtleties, I was branded shy as a child. Looking back, it was not shyness, just the discomfort with small talk that dominated most of the day-to-day conversations. And that still does! Half-jokingly (the joke was strictly half only, I think), I was also labeled a misanthrope from time to time by my super-social extended family.

Life outside the home, starting with hostel-life as a 10-year-old, could be a challenge initially, but ultimately I wasn’t shy. I was an introvert. Meaning, I can deal with, hey actually get comfortable with and have a meaningful relationship with, people I am familiar with. A close, known group. Of hostel-mates, batch-mates, and later co-workers. It just takes some time to reach there with every new group. That means that the first impression I give, and the lasting impression I leave, can be very different. Former can be shy and docile or aloof, the latter can be difficult or cool – depending on how things turned out between us.

When I didn’t understand introversion, I lived with a slightly odd notion about myself for a long time that “I was shy at home, but not so outside.” Because the “shy period” was usually limited in any new environment after which I found my people! The discomfort with salespeople in shops or elsewhere and some other day-to-day manifestations of introversion were not noticed or ascribed to personality quirks. (And my family always wondered at the public speaking skills of this shy child!)

But then, at some point of time, I understood the idea of introversion and extraversion. And also, the difference between shyness and introversion. Since then I have lived comfortably with the “introvert” label and used it to make sense of my behavior for myself.

And while I was aware that my introversion created problems in certain situations (networking events, my God! And I never aspired for a sales or business development job!), I hadn’t realized until recently that it is considered an active handicap in the western professional world, and hence now in Indian one too. The number of articles on the Internet trying to boost the confidence of introverts, giving them public speaking tips, and generally telling them how to be more like extroverts is astounding, baffling, and to be honest, a bit offending.

And then there is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts… I haven’t read the book, but the fact that such a book exists, and it has taken the world by storm… Dear God! I didn’t know I was living in such an uninformed world.

But yeah – this one I was woefully uninformed on. It wasn’t just the members of my extended family who misunderstood introversion. Far too many people all around the world have a similar misunderstanding, so much so that introverts seem to need an Internet-wide defense!

In case someone needing a lesson (or needing to identify themselves as a perfectly normal introvert) lands here, here are a few things about me as an introvert.

  • Yes, I am comfortable in public speaking. I am not shy. I don’t lack confidence. I am not unopinionated. (Some introverts, and extroverts for that matter, can be one or more of these things. But simply being an introvert isn’t equivalent to any of these.) Since I don’t have any of these issues, there is nothing that stops me from being comfortable in public speaking. Not only comfortable, I am even good at public speaking, part of which is about using some advantages introversion brings to me (about that, see a later point), and part of which is just preparation, technique and some natural flair.
  • Every instance of talking as an introvert involves first asking a question – why does the other person need to hear this? There has to be a good reason. And dear God! Is that reason difficult to find? Small talk never passes the test. Public speaking is fine because the very arrangement that has resulted in the assignment has answered the question. So, are the conversations with a clear, pre-set agenda (the small talk before we come to the agenda? oof!). One-on-one conversations with the audience after public speaking is also fine. Because presumably they know who I am and they initiate the conversation (so they have a reason to hear what I say in reply), and the conversation would typically be related to what I spoke on (so the agenda is sorted).
  • Despite the difficulties I have in socialization, I don’t have a problem in understanding people. As an introvert, I am perfectly comfortable not being the talker in a group; I may indeed prefer not having to talk (see the previous point); I listen, and more importantly, I observe. So, I understand people. I understand them more than most gregarious people who won’t stop to listen and observe. It’s the reluctance to talk without a good reason that makes me appear unsocial. Not the inability to understand.
  • For people who are in need of being understood, I can be a great comfort. If I were a more shrewd person, I would be able to use this understanding to my immense benefit. But since I am not that, the usefulness of this understanding is limited. And sometimes it even becomes debilitating. I can sense disinterest very quickly, and very acutely. Makes me a very bad salesperson. At other times, since I understand a person very well, it becomes too difficult to keep the pretenses up in a conversation that depends on my not understanding them. Do you know what I mean? Makes for a very difficult social (and sometimes professional!) situation.
  • Coming back to public speaking, this understanding helps me be a good public speaker. I can think from the point of view of my audience. If my point of being on stage is to tell them what they want to know and hear, it is straightforward. But even if I am on the stage to tell them what I want them to know, I would be able to do everything possible to make it about them! As an introvert, it is easy (natural!) for me not to be consumed by my agenda, but to remain focussed on my audience. Yes – that’s my introversion benefit.
  • If I come across as someone whom you would like to prove wrong but aren’t able to, it isn’t because I pretend to know everything. It is usually because I keep my mouth shut on things I don’t know or understand. As mentioned several times earlier, as an introvert, I don’t have a compulsive need to talk. I am happy to remain quiet. So, when I don’t know things, I am perfectly fine listening to other people on such matters rather than giving cooked-on opinions. In a new and unfamiliar environment, I may not open my mouth even on things I know about. Same will be the case where it is likely to result in fierce arguments that I have no interest in winning or energy for continuing. I don’t derive much satisfaction from winning an argument. I will get into an argument, only if winning it is really needed for some other end important to me.

Finally, as an introvert, it is very difficult to talk so much about myself. 😂 It is only online or on social media that I can do that. Because if the other person doesn’t want to know this, they can totally ignore it. So – that question is sorted.

Photo by Ismail Hamzah on Unsplash

Own Poetry Hindi

चिंगारी

एक चिंगारी सुलगी तो थी
फिर बुझ गई।
 
कुछ भी जला नहीं,
कोई मरा नहीं।
 
बस किसी की जान
थोड़ी उलझ गई।
Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash
politics

Basic Business #2: Constitutional Rule

Original in Hindi here.

Let’s talk a bit more about our government. Our country is not only a democracy but also a republic. Being a republic means that the country’s sovereignty is not vested in any one individual, and it is also not hereditary.  In plain words, we don’t have any king to reckon with. Our sovereignty is vested in our citizens. The person whom we elect to be the country’s chief (the President) is not our master. They are only a symbol of our sovereignty. They can’t pass on the post to their descendants. They also can’t occupy it any longer than what they are elected for.

We are so used to the idea of India being a republic that we tend to take it for granted. But if you think for a moment, even our former masters – the British – do not have a republic. Their sovereignty is vested in their monarch and that position is hereditary. We also didn’t become a republic just with independence. After our independence, until we adopted the new constitution on 26th January 1951 and declared ourselves a republic, Queen Victoria – sitting in London – was still our queen.

Although it is difficult for a country to not be democratic, and still be a republic, it is entirely possible to have democracy without the country being a republic. The best way to understand this would be through examples rather than definitions. The British government is technically a constitutional monarchy. The word “constitutional” is important here. This means that although the monarch is the chief of the country, they can’t run the country on their whims. The country’s government runs according to the constitution. And that constitution doesn’t accord a whole lot of power to the monarchy. Most of the real state machinery is in the hands of a democratically elected government. And that elected government too must follow the constitution. Because the government is constitutional, it technically being a monarchy doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. The royal family can’t act on its whims and the country is in reality governed for the citizens and by the citizens through democratic means.

But constitutionality is important not just to regulate a monarchy. Our republic and democratic government are also constitutional. We elect our leaders in a constitutional manner. And after they are elected and become part of the state machinery, they can’t just start ruling whimsically. They must run the government in accordance with the constitution.

Let’s see why constitutionalism is important. It is important because it doesn’t matter how people running a state are selected for their jobs, they can’t always do everything right on their own. Whether the government democratic or not, the people who are a part of state machinery have certain powers. And when people get power, they invariably tend to misuse it. Constitutionality is a way to reduce the possibility of such misuse. Even if we have chosen the best person on the earth to be our ruler, they can still do something that is disastrous for people. Because they are humans and humans make mistakes. It happens to all of us that sometimes we make a decision or do something with the best of the intentions, but the results are disastrous. So, even the best person running the government, if they rule with only their judgment to rely on, can commit big blunders whose consequences may have to be borne by a large number of people. And if we have people in the machinery whose intentions were not right in the first place, then the situation is even worse. Hence, we need a constitutional government. It ensures that governance happens in accordance with constitutional principles and laws and is not a slave to someone’s whims.

We can discuss several aspects of the constitution and the state machinery, but let me stop for a moment and tell you why I have been delivering these Civic lessons here. I want to draw your attention to an important idea.

And that idea is this. In a constitutional democratic system, whether it is a republic or a monarchy, the state may have a lot of power, but it doesn’t mean that they are free to use that power in any manner they want. It also doesn’t mean that people powering the state machinery have some sort of divine knowledge of right and wrong. The relationship between the state and the people is not that of a parent and a child. It cannot be assumed that whatever the government thinks or does must be right for the citizens. (Some would say even a parent-child relationship should not be thought of like that, but we can discuss that some other time.) The relationship is also not that of a dictator and their subjects, where the ruler is the master and the subjects must obey them unconditionally. It is important to understand the relationship between the citizens and the state well. The government is not our parent. It is also not our master.

Because our culture fosters almost unbridled respect for elders and authority figures, people often think that they owe the same to their government or political leaders as well. They think that they shouldn’t be speaking against the government or shouldn’t be asking tough questions to their leaders. That’s not right. People In politics or government are also just humans. They have been given certain powers because some people must run the state machinery to keep the society running smoothly. They don’t have any divine rights to that power. They don’t get to dictate our lives. They are not there to lord over us. They are there, as our representatives, to run the government constitutionally.  They are not above the common citizen of this country. Even if they are the president of the country, or the prime minister, or a senior bureaucrat, a minister, an MP or an MLA, we don’t owe them any special respect. Those who really like their work, or just feel like it, are free to give them extra respect. Those who don’t feel like it don’t need to treat them any differently than the other fellow citizens. But because this is a democracy, and our constitution gives us the right, every citizen does have the right to ask them questions. And to exercise this right, we don’t need to fulfill any conditions set by them. We don’t need to vote for them, we don’t need to obey them, we don’t need to do anything to earn their favor. If we are the citizens, and they are a part of the government machinery, they owe us the answers. Period.

If we do not remember this and kowtow to the government or the people running the government as if they were our masters, if we tolerate their unconstitutional autocratic decisions and deeds, then we commit a grave blunder of ignoring and weakening the important rights we have earned after a long and hard fight.

politics

Basic Business #1: Independence and Democracy

Original in Hindi here.

We Indians fought the colonial rulers and obtained our independence, our history books have taught us. After that, we became a democratic country. However, it is necessary to take a closer look at some historical events and facts.

All of us celebrate Independence Day today. Supposedly independence from the British (or some other foreign powers in places like Goa and Pondicherry). But that is not true for all of India. At the time of independence, there were many princely states in India, some of which were significantly large. People in these states were governed by Indian kings.

We earned another fantastic gift in 1947. A democratic government. Most of us tend to equate independence with democracy. We assume that democracy was a natural consequence of independence. However, the departure of the foreigners as the rulers does not guarantee that a democratic government will follow. In Cambodia, the governance of the country was handed over to its king after the French decided to leave the country. Myanmar got a democratic government after its independence, but in just a decade and a half, it was taken over by a military dictatorship. Vietnam’s lot was a single-party Communist dictatorship. Even in the case of Pakistan, the twin of the post-independence India, democracy has been, at best, an intermittent privilege. And as pointed out earlier, in what we today identify as India, not everyone was ruled by the foreigners. They had to earn democracy by removing their very own kings from power! If we look at countries like Canada and Australia, even to this day, their sovereign is the King or Queen of England. But they do have a democratic government. Before quitting Sri Lanka, the British made arrangements for a democratic transition. However, internal fights in Sri Lanka has on several occasions left democracy in the doldrums.

Hence, a few things are important to remember. First, independence from a foreign power is not a guarantee for establishing democracy. Second, having a native government is not equivalent to having a democratic government. We may have an autocracy under a very native king. An even more dangerous possibility is that of a dictatorship under a leader of our own choosing!

This is why we must remain cautious and alert and not take our democracy for granted. We have democracy today not just because the British left. We have it because we also have been able to successfully keep native kings and despots away from power.