Updated: Nov 9, 2021
By Ishita Ray
A multi-stakeholder meeting is coming up for your client. When does she speak, what does she say, how does she say it – are some of the many questions going on at the back of her mind. This is where you come in as a business communication trainer. You prepare thoroughly, you run through the presentation together, probably even do workshops and brainstorming sessions with the team. And yet, a meeting is a place of live action. What the stakeholders say and how they respond to a thoroughly prepared presentation is something you can never predict.
As business communication facilitators, what we wish our audience to achieve in workplace interactions is to get the best possible outcome by causing the least possible damage. Easier said than done though, as many of us know. There are books and articles and papers and journals and blogs and courses about effective business communication and getting desired outcomes.
This blog, however, is going to look at something simple, abundantly available, and accessible resource to everyone – proverbs. Proverbs in Indian languages, to be specific. Proverbs become so much a part and parcel of our lives right from when we are young, we often ignore their potential. They are words of wisdom our grandmothers told us. And what do grandmothers know about business communication, right? Well, more than a thing or two it would seem.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, a proverb is ‘a well-known phrase or sentence that gives advice or says something that is generally true’. Interesting. It gives advice that is generally true, not always true. Well, a proverb knows the importance of context by its very definition – advice is great, but it’s not one size fits all. Proverbs are open to interpretations, they can be triggers for reflective conversations, form the basis of workshops and work as thumb rules in nuanced contexts.
One blog, one proverb, many discussions...
...is how I propose we look at this ‘Proverblog series’ as I would like to call it. I look forward to unfolding the treasure trove of communication approaches that lie hidden in these age-old words of advice in different Indian languages and invite all of you to join the party as well.
I kickstart this series with my comfort language – Bengali. My maternal grandmother, a quiet and soft-spoken lady often told us, ‘Bobaa-r shotru nei’, which means that someone who doesn’t speak doesn’t have enemies. Yeah of course, we’d roll our eyes!
Let’s go back to what we started with – a client’s meeting. To speak up or not to, is often a question. A question that we, as facilitators need to answer.
Here is one way to approach a meeting context with the proverb:
Take the proverb as the baseline: No speaking = No enemies
Remember the guiding principle: Maximise outcome + Minimise damage
How do you combine the two? For example, speak up at moments when you have the deepest insights.
Not a piece of cake, but surely a starting point.
Proverbs can prepare the ground for meaningful discussions during training sessions. They can serve as the single connecting thread in a workshop. What’s more, they could be customized to the context in hand.
Let’s take today’s proverb - ‘Bobaa-r shotru nei’:
What are the situations you can think of when it can be applied? Conflict resolution, negotiation across cultures when you are still testing waters? Others?
What are the situations where it could fall flat? A sales pitch? And, where else?
In what ways could you apply my grandmother’s ‘words of wisdom’ to your training? Make your own checklist.
*All graphics and images from Canva.com
Ishita Ray is a Learning Consultant with more than a decade of experience in academia and corporate sectors. She has formerly worked at Tata Consultancy Services, where she designed learning content and strategy for online and face to face programs in Business and Intercultural Communication. She believes in encouraging dialogue and
reflection to create inclusive and accessible learning spaces for every individual. She can be reached on LinkedIn.