Proverblog # 4: Facing our demons
Two aspects of Proverblog#3 inspired me the most – one, taking a couplet as a proverb and two, the thought of looking inwards about our communication. So I will repeat these two features in this edition of the Proverblog – take another couplet as the proverb of the day and delve deeper into why it is important to reflect on our own communication more often than we do. How could we avoid costly damages to relationships at the workplace? Charity, as they say, begins at home after all.
Today’s proverb is special – it is a doha or a couplet by Kabir, one of my favourite Indian poets. Kabir lived in 15th century India and was known for his wisdoms and philosophy in the form of dohas or couplets. These were composed in Khariboli, a language form very close to Hindi and drawing from Brajbhasha and Awadhi as well. For the purpose of this blog, let us say it is a Hindi proverb. The Kabir couplet that I would like to explore today is:
"Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, Bura Naa Milya Koye, Jo Mann Khoja Aapna, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye."
Composed in the first person, it literally means, when one tries to look for evil all around, one is not able to find an evil person. But when one looks into one’s own mind, no one else is as evil as oneself. Now those are some strong words. On revisiting this doha after ages, I was immediately transported to my childhood as I distinctly remember a teacher of mine at school solemnly telling us, ‘Always remember, when you point a finger at someone, three other fingers are pointing at yourself.” My grown up self often smiles, even laughs remembering the analogy. But there’s no denying at how powerful the message is.
Coming back to business communication, how often have we come out of a workplace situation gone south and felt frustrated at how things have turned out? How something someone said didn’t make sense at all, how we knew someone was wrong from the very beginning, how it would have been better if people listened to what we have been trying to say, how things would be easier simply if people spoke up (or maybe didn’t!). In multicultural and multilingual situations, things could get far worse and far more frustrating. Been there, done that? Well, I am certainly guilty as charged.
The question is, how often do we look back at these situations and wonder at how we approached it - things we said, things we could have said, things we shouldn’t have said, questions we could have asked, and so on? How prepared are we to look at ourselves as the being a part of the problem too? We talk of creating safe spaces to be able to reflect and encourage dialogue in workplaces. But where does one begin?
The primary reason why we find it difficult to introspect is because somewhere the analogy of my teacher works – if we dissect our own approach, we will be pointing a finger at ourselves? Reflection on one’s own communication can seem like a threat. It is scary to face our own demons. Here is where we could add value as business and intercultural communication facilitators. We can play a significant role in shifting the perception from a threat to that of an opportunity – an opportunity to learn, improve and grow. To begin with, we can practice what we preach – share our reflections through stories maybe? Show the courage to share failures, ask questions, invite opinions. And then open up the floor with activities or scenarios to reflect on.
In activity-based or scenario-based training sessions, it is very important to allot significant time for debrief to allow for detailed discussion and reflection. The idea is to simulate not just the scenarios but also the ‘safe places’ that we envision to create at workplaces. And a very crucial part of these debrief sections should be self-reflections – to encourage learners to come out with what they feel they could do differently (not better or worse, but differently).
Daniel Kahneman says in his bestseller ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’:
“You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.”
Talking about one's own problems and challenges is a necessary step for improving the way we communicate.
In contexts where it is possible, using critical incidents as a pivot for sessions, especially those that involve intercultural communication situations, can be very effective. Critical incidents are ‘short case-studies or vignettes depicting a cross-cultural interaction and potential misunderstandings between culturally different individuals1.’ In my opinion, critical incidents need not be restricted to cross-cultural interactions only. In the 21st century workplace, we work in teams where people belong to multiple different groups and backgrounds – in a way of looking, every interaction could be a potential cross-cultural one.
If our audience/ clients could share a real-life critical incident and the workshop could be oriented around it with reflections and discussions emerging out of it, learners walk away with something tangible. What’s more, learners feel they are active contributors to the learning process! The idea of using simulations or critical incidents is not at any point to play the blame game. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. The objective of reflection and dialogue is to be able to understand that looking inwards might be a rewarding exercise to improving workplace relationships and productivity as much as looking outwards.
Back to the context of the proverb of the day, one doesn’t really need to go as far as seeing oneself as the root of all evil. What one can definitely do is to reflect on which parts of our communication are not really achieving the desired outcome we set out to reach? After all, we communicate for a purpose, right?
Do you use reflection activities in your business communication training? Do you use real-life experiences of your learners to begin dialogue and discussion? What has been your experience? Proverblog would love to hear from some of you how you bring in reflection and dialogue in your training sessions.
1. Dela Cruz, K.C.K, Salzman, M.B., Brislin R., and Losch, N., 2006, Hawaiian attributional perspectives on intercultural interactions in higher education: Development of an intercultural sensitizer, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30, 119-140
**All images and graphics created with 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.