Communication, the Hallmark of Success

28 Aug

communication 7 year old

Most working moms and dads recognize these little notes – i used to get about 5 a day, mostly shoved under my nose, and, most importantly, on top of the computer screen – thus MANDATING that i finally pay attention to my child! (I remember visiting a client at a leading FMCG in lovely Vevey once, and his bulletin board chock full of post-its with messages from his 6 year old saying – daad – u missed the ski-ing competition yet again! and such stuff..)

The point is, that kids figure out really early HOW to catch an (unreceptive) audience’s attention to get their point across.

As an organisation that worked in multiple geographies, and so each one having remote team mates/ clients to communicate with often, this was a really big deal. It started with us four partners (who by the way, hadn’t even all met each other when we started! – so ours was a bit more unusual situation than most!) getting on daily calls – in those days, we discussed fairly mundane issues (in retrospect) but we talked every single day, and ofcourse had the email on pretty much 24X7. We still got many “cultural” things wrong! Like:

– One early employee apparently spied a rat in our first office, and wrote an “annonymous” letter to a co founder who was based in the U.S. saying – “is this what you want your employees to be facing?” Ofcourse that co – founder, having never been to India, got very hot and bothered. It took the two of us who were managing the Indian ops to tell him to chillax since almost every house had rats – infact, we should count ourselves lucky that was the only vermin we got!!

– We were a “secondary research” organization, which meant we trawled publicly available data sources for our analysis. Our analysts would call the “raw research” material – a data dump, and often abbreviate it to “dump”. Imagine their horror when Kyung told them that dump in America meant poop!

(See some references to how communication across different cultures has led to interesting gaffes in my earlier post)

But this daily call/ email sure forged a bond – something really really important in a startup! I remember my co founder Debjani being interviewed for a journal, and saying – our big emphasis – commmunicate communicate communicate! Its true, and Debjani specially was paranoid about communication to the point of getting up at 2 am her time to repeat/ emphasise a point to the teams that needed to work on her clients’ requests!

But the outsourced world apart, communication is almost the most important “tool” that you need in business. In fact, at senior levels, that’s all you do – whether it is talking to the street to get their expectations right in a publicly listed company; pitching your co./ products/ services/ people to the next prospective buyer; getting ‘alignment” with your boss or the other department’s key folks on the right way to do things; motivating your team members to work the extra 2 hours when all they want to do is go watch the latest release in theatres and have a glass of beer after! Actually, now that I think about it, the “communication” is almost interchangeable with ‘sales” (see my earlier post on why we all are/ should be sales people . Interestingly, that features my 7 yr old too 🙂 )

It is why there is a whole industry on “soft skills” training, and many dollars being made in teaching the “art of presentation”.

Indian Govt. Public School Kids

Having made a living almost all my life out of maybe this skill to “communicate” well, I now have a very different perspective – that of how important even basic facility in a language (well, actually not A language, but the English Language) is, to really get ahead in life. This gets set for me personally in perspective now when I teach a class in a government (read public) school in my community. I teach the English language to 3rd graders. These are kids who come from the locality, and have parents from the lower income strata. Some of the kids are really really bright – all of them have that bright spark in their eyes – but, they cannot speak English (the vernacular language they know is Kannada, one of India’s many languages). And it almost breaks my heart to think that these kids in general, (barring the success of our volunteer teaching program) will never have an equal shot at many careers because they cannot communicate in the English language!

Coming back to Achchu, and her figuring out multi modal communication to get my attention, she once sent me an e-mail from the other room saying – Ma! I have to write an essay on a movie for H.W., and I can’t think of a title! (She figured that while I was behind closed doors at my home office, the ONLY way to get me responding to an “urgent” need was email! She was right – I told her to write on Sound of Music!) She even gets the subtleties of – “I know mom is on a con-call, so let me ask her if I can eat forbidden candy. And, I know she will say “no” once, then twice, but the third time she WILL say yes!” Talk about “in your face” communication!

non verbal communication 7 year old

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