Proverblog # 5: Why rock the boat?
You are in a proposal planning meeting with your team. The client presentation is due in two weeks and it will be a big deal for the company if the client is on board. On one of the points in the presentation, there is consensus among everyone present in the meeting. You suddenly realise that there could be a potential pitfall in the clause as there is a market risk that everyone else seems to have missed. Bringing up the point disrupts the consensus that was so harmoniously achieved in the meeting. Not bringing it up risks the loophole to remain in the presentation. What do you do?
You are about to begin a meeting with your team members (virtually, in all probability under the current circumstances). The team shares a great rapport and everyone is chatting with each other while waiting for the others to join. When someone asks why Seema, a woman team member hasn’t joined, someone casually remarks, “Oh she must be still doing her make-up!” Everyone laughs and shares a light moment. You are inwardly uncomfortable about the comment and know it must be called out. What do you do?
You are about to kickstart a project as the lead. The team is diverse in terms of age, gender, nationalities, educational backgrounds, etc. The team gets along very well and the multiple perspectives lead to extensive discussions and sometimes debates too. But they also make the ideas richer - that was the reason they got the project in the first place. Now that the deal is clinched, and the project is underway, there are deadlines to be met, deliverables to be handled and tasks to be assigned. There might not be time for divergent thoughts. On the other hand, losing out on the diversity in thought might make the project vulnerable to blind spots. What do you do?
Let’s face it – communicating at the workplace can often feel like walking a tightrope. Despite best intentions, we never know which way the balance tilts at what moment and when we end up in an undesirable situation. We might cross the Ts and dot the I’s where preparations are concerned, but when it comes to the actual moments of interaction, things can turn south at any point. Matters get more complicated when working in diverse, global and virtual teams that we find ourselves in today. How do we deal with dilemmas at the workplace? Are we comfortable challenging opinions and decisions when there is a consensus? How courageous are we in calling our micro aggressions?
Challenging status quo is not easy. But not doing so unleashes the great risk of exposing decision-making processes to blind spots which were not identified because no one wanted to bring them up.
Today’s proverb opens the discussion to the sticky situations of disagreements, conflicts, divergent thinking at the workplace. The Malayalam proverb “Kakkakkootil kalleriyaruth” literally means ‘do not throw stones in a crow’s nest’, which implies do not say or do something that will create chaos. In other words, do not challenge status quo?
There is a valid point in the proverb, one cannot deny. Why rock the boat, one would argue. What if it affects work relationships, one often thinks. And one of the most important things to keep in mind when disagreeing with general opinion is the golden rule – it’s not what you say but how you say it.
As business communication trainers working primarily with an Indian audience, we know that one key reason many Indian professionals do not speak up or share opinions at the workplace is this – apprehension of disrupting consensus. In a collective society, it is especially difficult to go against the flow as it were. Let’s say our learners are in any of the three scenarios described in the beginning of the blog. How would they react?
Continuing the discussion on reflection in training in Proverblog#4, how could we approach a topic like disagreeing in the workplace using the proverbs and the scenarios shared in this blog? The proverb could be a starting point. One could then move on to use scenarios like the ones given in the beginning to initiate discussions on the topic. Some opening questions could be: how would each person respond in such a situation? Why? Why would they not choose the other options? What would they exactly say?
The activity could then progress into a simulation group activity in which the groups play out the situation. The follow-up debrief after an activity like this is rich – so there needs to be sufficient time allotted to it. An integral thing to remember about the debrief after a simulation and reflective activity is to be able to practice what we are preaching – that the powerful voices (not just in terms of physical voice quality) don’t end up overshadowing the feebler ones.
How do you approach training on topics like disagreeing, conflict resolution, persuasion in business and intercultural communication training? Do you think using proverbs and scenarios would be effective with your audience? What other approaches do you use when training on topics that involve difficult conversations in the workplace?
*All graphics and images created on 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.