A cat has nine lives, they say. So did Proverblog in its first avatar. Yes, you guessed it right. With this blogpost, Proverblog will sign off its first ever season. It has been a great ride with lots of learning for me. In this post, I will look back at the comments, insights and feedback that made Proverblog a very rewarding endeavour and an enriching experience for me.
Back in February 2021, when I was asked if I would like to write a blog – one single blogpost – for BCFAI, I was thrilled. I immediately agreed. The difficult part came afterwards. What do I write about?
And then it struck me. What if we could talk about intricacies and complexities of business communication by starting on familiar territory – proverbs. That too, in Indian languages. I hoped it would strike a chord with people who spoke those languages. What I hoped for even more was that it could be a way to talk about business in a way that is tailor-made for India – with its unique multilingual and multicultural context.
Over the last six months, insightful comments, anecdotes and experiences in response to the nine blogs (well, eight actually, this one is the ninth), have made every effort towards writing them worth it.
One of the themes that resonated with readers is how to deal with silence in business communication - when to speak up, when not to, how to speak up and to what effect. I think all readers unequivocally admitted it to being a challenge, a difficult decision to make and to execute. For example, the comment below:
“To speak up or not to is indeed a challenging situation in a business meeting. I as a businesswoman can vouch for it. I usually listen first then decide whether to speak up or let go but it is not always that simple or easy.”
Another reader points out how silence is highly advocated in proverbs but real-life might be a different ballgame altogether:
“Whether to speak up or not can be a real tussle at times. The sheer volume of proverbial sayings that advocates keeping silent only adds to the dilemma, for instance:
Speech is silver, silence is golden
Everyone is wise until he speaks
From listening comes wisdom, and from speaking repentance:
While these proverbs persuade us to hold our tongues, I believe it is best to speak up if the forum is open to healthy discussion. Voicing one's opinion could lead to one's views being rejected, but at least it would contribute to the discussion.”
When discussing the role of silence, its significance in intercultural communication can hardly be left behind. As a reader mentioned in the following comment:
“Strange though as intercultural facilitators we have to preach quite the opposite to our India teams – ‘Please speak in meetings. Please open your mouth.’ Silence is the enemy there.”
Another aspect of business communication that was deemed important by readers, especially when it comes to training, was self-reflection or introspection. Here is a comment in response to the Proverblog on microaggressions:
“Instead of turning the nozzle outwards, let's point it at ourselves too. We have this sense of accomplishment when we lay out the 'improvement plan' for others. This is frequently followed by moral outrage since the 'other' did not 'improve'. Then we go home to a good night's sleep feeling smug and superior. But how about starting with an 'improvement plan' for ourselves first.”
What always felt reassuring when writing Proverblogs was that in response to a blog, people would often share their experiences or insights on the same theme or the proverb itself. For example, when I shared a doha by Kabir to talk about self-reflection, there was a comment on similar lines quoting the Bible:
“I do like reading Kabir a lot. In another ancient spiritual tradition, Jesus said this:
‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’ Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.’”
Or this insight in response to the Proverblog on the pros and cons of mirroring, which added so much value to the blog itself:
“The effect of mirror neurons is fundamental, perhaps: the just-hatched goslings that followed psychologist Konrad Lorenz everwhere after he was the first being they saw, and fixated on, are also an example of this tendency, which might apply to all higher vertebrates!
The caution you prescribe with regard to the tendency for matching like to like, when encountering aggressive communicators, is very wise. It reminds me of Daniel Goleman's research which discovered how the brain's prefrontal cortex breaks the flow of aggressive fight-or-flight neurons from the amygdala, the brain's seat of primal emotions. According to Goleman, meditation can also interrupt the amygdala's control, and help bypass the yoking of action and reaction in an endless vortex of violence.
You've really brought out how a teacher can help learners mirror worthy communication behaviours and enable them to learn how to pivot away from unworthy ones.”
And then there were these insights which reflected the rich, kaleidoscopic cultural and linguistic tradition of India. For example:
“Parsi Gujarati users do use many, but perhaps not all the mainstream idioms in Gujarati. But there are also unique terms in Parsi Gujarati that speakers of other forms of the language wouldn't be familiar with. I'm referring to regular everyday terms here, not those with religious meanings. (This may be the case as well with other languages and their dialects, where the dialects derive from speakers of different religious communities.)”
What, then, is the proverb for this Proverblog? Well, in case you didn’t notice, I began the blog with it - ‘a cat has nine lives.’ Strange choice for a Proverblog, it may seem. But I chose it for two reasons: one, English is as much an Indian language as any other, with it being the primary language—mother tongue—of 256,000 people, the second language of 83 million people, and the third language of another 46 million people, which makes it the second-most widely spoken language in India after Hindi (including all dialects).
The second reason is the relevance of the proverb to vision behind Proverblog – to create material for business communication that was not only rooted in India, but also one that could be adapted, expanded and thereby, self-sustained. Using proverbs to build learning material is something that can be adapted to learning formats and outcomes, created by anyone who wishes to build the repository and offer enormous scope to form multimodal resources. In fact, many of the proverbs that were used in the blogs were contributed by different people – it was a democratic and accessible way to build a strong foundation.
Further, in response to blogs, readers shared proverbs in other Indian languages that either endorsed the idea in the Proverblog or said exactly the opposite. Or sometimes, there were proverbs in the same language as the proverb in the blog which had a diametrically opposite perspective. And then, there are still so many proverbs that readers, friends, well-wishers have shared that have still not been used. Which only means that the journey of Proverblog has only started. And this is hardly a goodbye, it is only an ‘au revoir’ until it finds new form, new people, new content to breathe another life.
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.