Practical Man Management

This article was published in the December’2007 issue of the mgagazine “Educare”

One man’s meat is another man’s problem, so understanding of people and dealing with them is the biggest test of life

In my previous article on practical money management in October, 2007, I had suggested that as everybody had to manage money, practical money management should be taught as a general course and not restricted to students of commerce, accounts, management or finance. Since everybody has to manage people as well, practical psychology should be taught to everyone and not be restricted to students of psychology alone. Practical psychology would imply imparting knowledge in a way that common man would understand. For instance, it is often said that God has given two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more. Being a good listener queers the pitch for both good communication and man management. Other psychological factors can be expressed similarly.

The director of the movie Paheli, Amol Palekar, while talking in the context of his movie, stated that people tend to respond with alacrity in the case of physical problems even if there is a minor scratch, but mental and emotional problems draw a lukewarm response no matter how severe they may be. One reason for this is that such problems are invisible. That apart, since mind and body are connected, all mental and emotional problems are psychosomatic — the result of such problems may come out in the body in the form of serious physical ailments in due course of time. Thus emotional scars need a first-aid as urgently as minor outer cuts.

One of the most important things in life is to be able to read people correctly. The practical tools that are taught in management schools are transaction analysis, MBTI test, gallup strength finder etc. One can google for all that and orient oneself on that. They are more a domain of professionals. The purpose of this article is to try and apply practical psychology in day-to-day life. People are as different as chalk and cheese; what is important to one may draw a completely different approach from another. It is said that “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” but to detect that and follow it in practical life is not always easy.

One of the most fascinating stories that I had read is the story of a lady who left a high profile job of a software engineer to opt for becoming a coffee shop owner for the cause of a smile. Imagine switching from being a software engineer to being a coffee shop owner for a smile:-

“When former software engineer Bonnie Vining was told by her boss to stop smiling so much at work because it was a sign of weakness, she decided that it was definitely time to leave her job and follow her dream. Bonnie wanted to own her own coffee shop, where folks could gather and enjoy each other’s company and, without being self-conscious, smile as much as they liked. Like Murray and Heather’s family and friends, Bonnie’s co-workers thought Bonnie was being too much of a dreamer. But she didn’t let the naysayers stop her. Today people can visit Bonnie in Tucson, Arizona, serving up a cup of Joe at her own place, Javalina’s Coffee and Friends.”

There was once a salesman who because of his predisposition to be authoritative hated his job, as he had to be continually subservient to customers, and this went against his primary nature. After he opted for a career switch and became a policeman, all his complaints vanished because in the new occupation, he was calling the shots.

Perhaps this is why it is said that to know a person well, one has to see how he reacts in crises situations, rather than what he says or thinks or believes or has learnt in life. There is an Akbar Birbal story that highlights this fact. It is a story of one person who knew several languages and challenged anybody to reveal his mother’s tongue. When nobody responded, Akbar turned to Birbal, who stated that he shall give the answer the following day. At night, when that person was asleep, Birbal pricked his ear repeatedly till he said something irritably. The next day, when Birbal gave the correct answer, Akbar asked him how he had found out. Birbal stated that whenever a person experienced extreme emotions, he was bound to express his feelings in his mother tongue and told him all about what he had done the previous night. In a similar way, crisis situation beyond one’s capacity tends to bring out one’s innate nature, which may not be apparent in times of normalcy.

Talking of crisis situations, one must remember that crisis is helpful in managing people because people tend to listen more during adversity than they listen in normal times. It is quite possible that had Lord Krishna narrated the Bhagvad Gita in normal times, Arjun would not have been so receptive as he was when he happened to be scared and confused in the battlefield. So such situations should be seen as opportunities to give the right direction to people. It is not for nothing that it is said, “Circumstances are the instruments of the wise”. One can keep the correct and relevant information and counsel when the moment is right in the context of “strike while the iron is hot”. Perhaps that is why the word crisis is variously defined as the turning point, the decisive or critical moment or a mixture danger and opportunity.

Ancient Hindu texts divide people into satvik, rajsik and tamsik. Looked from a management perspective, satvik means pure and illumined, rajsik implies dynamic or passionate and tamsik is inert or lazy. According to the book “Ancient Indian wisdom for management”.:-

Satvik — Measured and compassionate and completes the work in all respects and accepts individual responsibility; needs little supervision.
Rajsik — Forceful and excessive. He works independently and is obsessed with personal achievement; requires key point supervision.
Tamsik — Supported by others and does the work as far as he is pushed; demands constant supervision.

There is no air tight compartment in which mature is exclusively tamsik or rajsik or satvik. One has to find out which one is predominating in someone’s nature and acts depending on the issue at hand. For instance, a tamsik person can be criticised directly but a Rajsik person must be challenged and made interested in personal achievement. Direct reward is better for a tamsik person but if he is more rajsik, he has to be given more power. One has to try and move all individuals towards being satvik to the extent possible.

One of the best managers of men has been the great American businessman Andrew Carnegie. As a young Scots boy, Andrew Carnegie came to America and started doing odd jobs. He ended up as one of the largest steel manufacturers in the United States.At one time he had 43 millionaires working for him. Several decades ago, a million dollars used to be a lot of money; even today it is a lot of money. Someone asked Mr Carnegie how he dealt with people? Andrew Carnegie replied, “Dealing with people is like digging gold: When you go digging for an ounce of gold, you have to move tons of dirt to get an ounce of gold. But when you go digging, you don’t go looking for the dirt, you go looking for the gold.” What Carnegie probably meant was what Emerson said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” One has to look for that uniqueness in human beings to be able to genuinely respect them and treat them with dignity.

This not only builds good relationships but also leads to better competence because one person’s strength compliments the other person’s weakness leading to complimentary synergy. According to the book The google, after working together for a while the founders of google, Larry Page and Sergy Binn, along with their chief executive, Eric Schimdt discovered their real working identities. The book says, “As it turned out, Sergey was a gifted deal maker, Larry was the deepest technologist of the three, and Eric focused on the details of running a business.” All great businesses are run that way and the sooner one gets into the habit of looking at one’s own and other people’s uniqueness, the more likely he is to succeed in life.

Since Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people was first published in 1936, it has sold more than 15 million copies. It was a New York Times best seller for 10 years. It is still concerned one of the best all time books for managing people for the layman and some of the chapters are self explanatory:-

l The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
l Never say, “you’re wrong.”
l Get the other person saying, “yes, yes” immediately.
l Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
l Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
l Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
l Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
l Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person.
l Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
l Let the other person save face.

l The one about the arguments needs elaboration. Consider these contradictory proverbs:-

l Where there is a will, there is a way.
l Will is no skill.
l Too many cooks spoil the broth.
l Many hands make light work.
l Fortune favors the brave.
l It is better to lose opportunity than to lose capital
l Nothing succeeds like success.
l All covet, all lose.
l A drop of honey catches more flies than a bottle of vinegar.
l Softness evokes no compliance.

These proverbs clearly show that there cannot be any absolute truths and one should see all situations with discretion and discrimination and see how the sayings apply in one particular case. The quality of our relationships is one of the factors on which the quality our life depends but forming absolute opinions negates all that. This is one of the most wonderful teachings of Jainism and is called Syat Vaada. Practising syaat means “up to a point.” One can add phrases like “As far as I know” or “Maybe” while giving negative opinions on other people. This neither makes the facts absolute nor detracts from what one wants to express. Since our perception is influenced by several factors, any opinions about others can only be subjective and relative. Arguments happen more often when we stick to our position too strongly though it may not be the absolute truth which is why making sweeping statements or generalisations is deemed a sign of bad thinking.

“One should remember that A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth”
— Thomas Mann.

It only follows from that that what is written above should also be seen with discretion and discrimination, which means there are some absolute sweeping truths. One of them happens to be perhaps one of the greatest ever quotes in the context of man management: “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.”