Yes And

Are you tired of stagnant conversations that lack momentum, trust and impact ? Look no further than the power of “Yes” and “And.”

An improvisation technique taught in most drama classes, these two words need to be built into our conversations. Official, as well as personal.

What are the negative impacts of words like “No” “However” and “But”?

They shift the conversation away from the other person’s perspective. Break their thought threads. Create agitation and defensiveness in their mindset.

By using “Yes” and agreeing to the parts you can, you allow for a more open conversation.

By using “And,” you build upon others’ ideas, show support and create a sense of teamwork.

By asking questions where you cannot agree, you understand the other person’s perspective, trust is built, and results are reached. You also build agility and fluidity into your own thought models.

Use “Yes, And”. Watch your conversations create measurable impact.

2023

has started, but my days still belong to the slow and lazy winters.

The calendar has turned, but not the weather. And so I say….

Wait.


The Calendar says
The year is hatching


But my days
Are of depth and slowness
Thoughts rooted
in marshy slumber.
Bitter, biting winds
And abstract sunrises.

How then, am I to wish you
A Happy New Year?


Wait… till my winds change
Wait… till my sun rays crinkle
Wait… for the new sap to run
The gait of blood – deep in my veins – will pick up


And together, we will celebrate.

WEN Diwali

When WEN asks me to Compere

their Calicut Diwali Night, I say a Yes.

First off, I love the WEN community and I love the energy of Diwali.

Second, compering is all about communication – and I am a communications trainer.

(Though, come to think of it, all things are about communications.)

Third, these days its all about expanding my comfort zones !

Community-Communication-Comfort – my 3 reasons – is there a hidden root word ?

The evening started out at the carnival, where Salmat, my co-host, and I wandered the stalls and made new friends – with our mikes on. We asked questions, we complimented the beautiful people, we raised the crowd’s energy. We also gave away gifts galore! We coaxed the ladies to sing and dance – we brought them to the games stall, the tattoo stall and we gave genuine shout-outs (shriek-outs ?) to the Malabar Palace chaat counter !

Then the crowd moved on to the more formal venue – where we had a presidential address, a ramp walk, a flash mob. Add to it some amazing crowd work. We asked questions on gemstones, on baking, on trends in all the verticals – having all these entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds under one roof sure helped! It was a like a treasure trove of information.

WEN Cochin ladies came up to address the crowd and distribute some more prizes – and then the floor was thrown open to dance and dinner.

Once we switched off the mikes, we lit into the dance floor. So much energy to ground!

Kudos, Women Entrepreneurs Network, Calicut Chapter, for yet another amazing evening!

Conversations with Life Coaches

Two life changing conversations, with Sayali Kelkar and Josianne Robb!

Life Coaches, researching their business hypotheses.

On both occasions, all they asked for was my time and my stories. Time, I own enough to explore and stories, I own enough to exploit. They would collect some unbiased data for their research, and I would gather some clarity out of my life events – that was the understanding, and that is how it went.

Their questions stopped me in my tracks. I am guessing a coach is as good as the questions they ask. With the caveat “What one sees depends on how one sees”…let me share with you the crux of the two conversations.

Questions

One asked me which situations in my life gave me a sense of control. The other asked me which situations gave me a sense of change and re-invention.

Answers

Surprisingly, both questions had the same answer – all the situations where I stood up for myself. All the scenarios where I made a hard decision in favor of my own self swam up in front of my eyes. Contrary to the general thought process, putting me first did not make me feel selfish or less worthy.

Other than some immediate positive results, over a long term these life-points shaped me into an individual that I like, love and respect.

  • Scenario 1 – Level DramaBollywood

An hour after I had delivered my baby, I knew something was wrong. From where I lay helpless, I sent my husband running to the nurse-station. The nurse came and examined, and she decided everything was normal. I knew she was wrong, but I was drifting in and out of a dream-like stance. When I next thought straight, I sent G again. With the same urgency, with the same results.

As the nurse was re-assuring me with practiced empathy, I broke through my sense of complacency. I broke the alarm box next to my hospital bed. Rather, I started breaking it, and when my husband realized what I was up to, he took over and completed the task. The hospital was now forced to follow protocol.

They did find that I was very near to bleeding out…that decision to sound the alarm saved my life by minutes.

  • Scenario 2 – Business As Usual – Mothers wanting More

When I decided to pursue my life long dream of higher studies. I had found the perfect course, the perfect pedagogy and the perfect institute. And it could all be knit into my life, without over-extending any resource other than my endurance. After some initial hesitation, I went after it, “ruthlessly” (my Dad’s words).

In the city of Mumbai, for two years, I traveled most evenings from Ghatkopar to Ville Parle. For those 6 hours, I left my two little ones under the care of a helper lady. I left my life behind – and entered an arena of learning. A small, modern classroom – some great professors and industry experts – information plus wisdom.

My spouse was shuttling between Mumbai and Shanghai most of these 2 years – on a very challenging project. Mumbai being a stop-over for many of our friends and relatives, there was not a single week when we did not have someone or the other staying over with us. There were two major health crises in the family – one hit my mother and the other, me.

Some minor incidents, like my son gone missing for a few hours and me coordinating the search on Watsapp groups. Because that would be faster and more efficient than me rushing back. I remember the air leaving my lungs like a deflated balloon when he was finally found. Another night when the calling bell of our flat short circuited – firefighters saved my kids and my helper.

It would have been very easy to give up on any of those days – but I completed my masters with a 3.26 CGPA – and learnt so much that I was happy with my growth as an individual after a long time.

Outcomes

As a note to my future self, here are some outcomes from these two monumental conversations.

  • Realizations

I realize I gave myself full marks for standing up and showing up for myself. These were the life-points which forged me in a way I appreciated. Pushed me to make more intentional decisions and not drift. My procedures and perceptions changed.

  • Concrete Changes

The first one – on control – made me open up to take up challenging training assignments, some out of my city. I was declining all those offers believing my kids needed me more. But Sayali pointed out I was not doing justice to anyone. Their little universe had everything in hand – I was no longer the be-all in their lives. It was me too scared to let go – once I did that, we were all happier.

  • Work-in-Progress

The second one – on changes and re-inventions – happened last week. Somewhere, Josianne’s questions made me stop and analyze my direction. To be precise, am I aligning towards entrepreneur-ship or self-employment ? How much of a risk am I willing to take with my training career ? What are the ways I am willing to invest beyond giving my best in each session ? When and how will I stop being the product and become, truly, the entrepreneur ?

Cycling Back to the Coaches

These two extra ordinary Life Coaches made me examine my life and learn from it.

An experience I recommend to all, as

  • We are not all trained to dissect clean and learn neat these kind of incidents in our lives
  • We rarely hold ourselves accountable to our own (add adjective/invective) selves
  • We do not even think of ourselves as our own friend

So, once again, Thank You for raising the right questions and making me work on the answers!

The right Life Coaches are Torch-bearers – Here’s to Sayali Kelkar and Josianne Robb!

May your tribe grow.

A Campus Training amidst the Navratri

Trained around 300 final year students from 6 graduation streams. We were a team of 3, preparing these job aspirants for employ-ability in a 10 day training program with assessments throughout.

It was the IHRD College of Applied Sciences in my city, so I was all the more curious to know the local student body. And the youth never cease to amaze.

The first day of the switch from polished corporate ways to raw campus learning was challenging. I quickly realized the energy level required is way higher. The placement officer was very dedicated, always ensuring the best interests of her students. On my side, I made sure all my sessions were peppered with practical examples and MTI nuggets.

We trained them on critical thinking, creativity, language and grooming. They were the batch that had received no real college experience due to COVID. We went about it in different ways, but made sure every person who attended had 2-3 rounds of speak-up experience in addition to everything else.

They smash all our assumptions. I had to constantly prepare and revamp my sessions, as they quickly ate up the material I had prepared and asked for more. They surprised me with their knowledge on current affairs and their willingness to speak up. Their hunger to achieve made for a refreshing change from the sophisticated corporate ways.

In corporate trainings, I believe in up-skill and not motivation. I rarely cross that line. Here that line cannot be drawn. Many of the feedback forms for me had words like “kind” “helpful” “Ma’am kept giving me chances till I gave up on withdrawing and got it right”. I was so invested I lost my voice every evening but made sure to get it back every next day morning.

On the final day, we changed avatars from trainers to HR. We grilled them. We were relentless about bringing the realities out there in today’s world to their table.

Added to my days of hectic preparation, delivery and assessments, my nights were filled with dancing. The Navratri in Calicut Gujarati Samaj is huge. Aarti at 8 pm, garba at 8.30 pm, dandiya at 11:15 pm. Amidst the huge bollywood styling of this festival elsewhere, we at Calicut still have the innocence and beauty of our elders standing right in the center of our hall, singing for us the ancient folk songs. We dance around them and around the garba sthapana right in the center. My husband being a Gujarati, and me being a happy soul when I dance, every night so far we were there from 8 pm-12 am. Three more days to go. We dance in the auditorium upstairs, we eat at the food stalls below and we socialize. We dress up to the skies.

Some days, when I was the only invigilator in a room full of 60 students cracking the aptitude assessments, my legs refused to go in straight lines. They were going criss-cross in the garba way. I would consciously look around and then stand still till my legs re-oriented.

To end this precious week, let me conclude with lessons I learn from Garba :

It is all about finding your place in the circle. Times when you lose it, keep planning, keep striving to be back.

The center circle is the fastest. To be there confidence matters more than dancing skills.

Pace yourself. Reserve energy for the songs that talk to your heart.

Its about taking up your space fully, without conceit, while not invading others space.

Sometimes, you step out into the unknown just because your friend needs a partner. Personal liberty matters, but not at the cost of your partner’s liberties.

Let your changing priorities, your changing energy and your changing surroundings guide you.

While it is all about enjoying yourselves, there is addendum to everything we do : preparing the next generation. Even when they annoy you by smashing into your neat circles with their clumsy moves.

Training with our Future Tax Inspectors

I was assigned the very challenging task of training our future Tax Inspectors and Tax Assistants on the communication aspects of their job. As a visiting faculty to the NACIN at Bangalore, I had a master key to some strong and brilliant minds. It was one of my first on-site training after the COVID debacle.

I arrived early morning at the Yashwantpur Railway station. I was picked up and dropped off at the campus, where the Director roundly told me off for arriving a day late to the camp. Then he realized that I was the faculty, not a trainee. That broke the ice like nothing I could have come up with!

At sharp 10 am I walked into the room full of candidates who were silently assessing me. I realized I needed some intellectual standing before they would accept me as a mentor, and so I started off my introduction by telling them about my telecommunication patent. I could feel the respect temperature go up immediately. Throughout the session, I needed to keep in mind that these were people trained to work with facts and numbers, not abstract stuff. That kept me on my toes.

Even the story I like to start off with, I related directly into practical realities of our communication. Throughout the day, whenever any of their (or mine) responses could be tied into the way any of the characters of this story reacted, I stopped the class and asked them to find the correct match. They immensely enjoyed each time they bettered their responses.

I prefer to talk rather than present. I also like to explain concepts at their basic level and then involve the class in making up their own abstract models. Sometimes I cover the concept and then get one of them to come up and deliver my slides to the rest of the class. I got them all to come up one by one and showcase their skills in communication in various ways. The truth is, every individual has unique strengths and weaknesses that the rest of the class can learn from. If we, as facilitators, are able to create a trust environment where they do not mind being redirected or re-enforced, the class takes up a momentum of its own. All of this worked well that day.

What did not go down so well ? The practical non-verbals. I realized this part needs more build-up than the timelines allowed. A candidate did try and cross a few lines, where I had to cut them down ruthlessly. After all, the complexities of respecting authority is something our future authorities should know inside out.

Some picture perfect moments ?

When they loitered after a tea break and I had to call out, that I had no preference between stopping at 5 pm, 5.30 pm or 6 pm. The speed with which they all walked back into the classroom in a single file made me laugh out loud with them.

When one of them asked a question: What is the limit to our ambitions ? The concept being covered was confidence at various levels. As a question it had immeasurable merit. As an answer, I told them to examine the Whys. While initially they had trouble relating the two, the coin dropped after some explanation. Then there were those beatific infectious smiles going all around.

One goal I set for myself that day ? I decided to sharpen my skills at paraphrasing. Every time anyone in the room made a complex statement, I would paraphrase them till they agreed that yes, I had understood them well. I believe it was a sharp upward movement for my communication skills that day.

The organic campus, the extremely gracious officers there, and these budding candidates made the training a memorable one. And the feedback collected makes me trust it was a win-win situation on both sides!

May with its Endless Possibilities.

This May, I was honored with two prestigious assignments. One, as a jury at the HR Festival of the reputed CUSAT, the Cochin University. The other one, as a guest faculty at NACIN, National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics. Both institutes need no further introduction. So I will contain my excitement and refrain from using any more superlatives.

Let me dive straight into what I was called in for.

The 37th year of the prestigious South Indian Management Festival, Talentime, organized by the School of Management Studies in CUSAT, had a case study based competition. They called it the Hegde Rush.

I was privileged to be asked to set the case study, be a part of the jury to evaluate the teams that made it into the finals and at the end of that journey, to present to them a power talk on EI and Leadership. All of which proved to be very rewarding tasks, given the competence and assiduity the student teams displayed. The teams which presented had a good grip on their subject. So the other member of the Jury, Ms. Reshma Swaminathan, and I had a good time digging to see how deep their know-how and know-why went. The talk went off on a happy tangent, with the students trying and relating everything I said to their own lives and questions. The organizing team were in another league altogether. To name one in particular, Malini M, has exceptional talents in leadership and organization.

The NACIN assignment was one of training. Communications as well as Personality development. I can say that in the course of that one day, I myself evolved as a trainer. These were people who had joined as uniformed officers in our nation’s service, so they had already undergone a stringent selection process. Only the best had emerged. Now to train with them, I had to assert my authority, as well as get them on my side. Build trust as well as showcase leadership.

Things I train people on, but to establish that for myself in a room with 30+ trainees who were with me for the one day; to make sure they learned, they were not lost in a constant barrage of information, they could practice what they learnt, and ensuring that dignity and respect remained on both sides of the table at the end of a long, hard day…

I started with a story that caught hold of their imagination. I could use it as a metaphor for the rest of the day when I wished to commend or redirect someone. I went on to the theory behind confidence. Then I delved into strategies and tactics. Then I delved into communication a bit. Finally got them all to walk to the dais and present on their own topics. Ended with a session on personality development and finally, yet another story on acknowledgement, apologies and appreciation : the 3 things leaders do, day in, day out.

The glowing feedback I received at the end of both the assignments had me floating around for a couple of days. Which is what kept me from writing this down so far; I believe my two feet have been properly restored to the ground now. Some successes are worth all the silent sacrifices in the background.

Wins, and Setbacks

Yesterday was a day filled with ups and downs. Though you may ask, what day isn’t, in the life of an entrepreneur ?

Let us talk about the wins first. I train a team of interns for their communication and interview skills. Two of them joined their dream companies last week. They joined this week’s session just to say a Hi and thank me. One told me “I logged in mainly to thank you Ma’am. Part of my success is the confidence that your training built.”

The other one said “Your trainings guided me to put my best foot forward; and the interviewers caught on to that confident vibe.”

There is also this skeptical group I have been training with for a while. These are the bright minds who have joined a prestigious MNC after facing rounds of tough interviews. Though they always take home the big pointers, they could not see the point in communication training. Yesterday morning I finally broke through. How ? Gave them personal examples. Of what communication can do for your growth. And when someone asked me isn’t that sugar coating, I replied more like oiling to reduce the friction.

And even then a young girl asked me : but why should I say “not quite right” when what I mean is “wrong”. I told her that is a stupid doubt. After a moment of stunned silence, I retracted and told her that is a good question, there are places where she should go with “wrong” and there are places where she should go with “not quite right”. Then I went on to explain the right fits. Then I asked her had I cleared her doubt ? Once she replied in affirmative, I asked her which of my approaches build me a good network, the rude and abrupt first response or the win-win situation I created with my second approach. She had all her answers. And was I glad I was right in my choice of trainee to showcase the two approaches; she could handle the situation. She was tough, intelligent and she had no chip on her shoulder…she understood the situation for what it was.

And now to some of the inevitable setbacks. Yesterday I also lost a big pitch. I was talking to a company about a 120+ hours training requirement; and in the end they went with a “more experienced trainer.” Please keep in mind I do have 18+ years working for and with MNCs. After around 5 years, it is more about the life in your days rather than the days in your life, in this career.

In the last face-to-face we had, I could see the wavelengths were off. When I talked about questioning skills for their freshers and listening skills for their leaders, they could not understand the why. In their world, they said, the leaders question and the freshers listen. I could have put forward my points, but I decided to let it slide. After all, there are so many leadership styles out there; and ours weren’t in sync. I decided to go for another, smaller requirement they had been talking about during one of the meetings. We both agreed that my style would suit those trainings. And finally it looks like I will be training them, though for a different requirement than what I originally pitched for.

While the rejections do sting, I keep my perspective clear. I will always have the work that I am well aligned to. Because, yes, I am good at training and I am very good at learning. And I have reached this space wading through a lot of success and a lot of failure.

On the topic of rejections, here are some incidents that I want to immortalize on my blog 😉 One company rejected me for their freshers and retained me for their leaders in the same week that another company retained me for their freshers and rejected me their leaders. Yet another company told me that while I am very good at engaging my trainees I need to include more interaction. I found that input valuable. In that particular case, what had happened was that they had asked me to demo on a fresher audience, but at the last minute only the L&D decision makers could attend. And the wholesome, open engagement required to bring out the best in them while training people is not the same as the solid, sophisticated facade that decision makers look for.

Speaking of last minutes, did I tell you about the women’s day program a reputed company had asked of me ? They wanted me to present on work-life balance for their female employees. I went in with slides that kept in mind the wide spectrum of female aesthetics; but once in I saw that of the 180 people who attended that day, barely 20 were females. For a minute there I was running up and down the participants’ list trying to figure out the situation while keeping a smile pasted on my face. What saved me ? An alternate set of slides that I had prepared on a lark, with a gender neutral aesthetic. The earlier night, my spouse had run through my slides and remarked : why should men not have access to such good stuff ?? And I sometimes take his comments seriously!

Yet another last minute story : I was asked to train managers on how to manage their millennial co-workers. I walked into the session and to my horror the managers as well as their millennial team were both present. They had all decided to avail the session due to some network outage on their work platform. I walked on a tight rope for the next 4 hours. I managed to make it more of a team building across generations session than a “managing ” session. It helped that while preparing my material, I had looked at both sides of this coin with a microscope.

In a nutshell, my second career has me happy as a dog with two tails. I enjoy the challenges during the day and the contentment at sunset. My only worry is I might start to enjoy the rejection stories too, after a while.

Speaking to a Room full of Entrepreneurs about Biases

If you possess a human brain, you are biased. If you are a machine, sorry, but you are biased too. We biased human brains programmed you, after all.

What is a Bias ? A Mental Shortcut. Linked to Survival.

Two days ago I was asked to talk to a room full of entrepreneurs about biases. The WEN (Women Entrepreneurs Network) of Calicut, a family of which I am a proud member, held a Women’s Day meet at the Malabar Palace.

I will freely admit, I was a bit starry-eyed. The common link amongst us all, of course, is that we are all entrepreneurs here, looking to further our business. But many in the group are stalwarts in their businesses. Veterans, who have charted their growth stories in the face of decades of overwhelming challenges and biases.

Let me try and put this into perspective. Let me give you Sandhya Mohandas from Sandhya and Associates, the Architecture firm. She tells us of a time when on site, the client would refuse to deal with her, the head of the firm, and ask to talk to a male engineer. In most clients’ eyes, females could be interior decorators, but not architects. Today the tables are turned. Today when her clients try to go into minute details with her, she tells them “Speak to my team about it”. She has come a full circle.

Or let me talk about Mini .S, the lady whose company recruits for MNCs globally, sitting right here in Calicut. There are so many achievers there, this post might end up being guilty of name-dropping.

Addressing such an accomplished and discerning audience is a rare privilege. National level trainers and TEDx Speakers like Sandhya Varma and Aswathi Dinil are part of your audience. These are the women who have survived the biases.

Uthara Ramakrishnan, financial advisor with a Top 20 Motilal Oswal National Ranking for the past 10 years, flagged off the event with the story of Nangeli. Her understanding of investments is phenomenal and now her passion is to spread the awareness.

A panel discussion moderated by Aswathi showed us how to take up the ownership of our own growth story. Education is a good start, but what about the intention to succeed ?

Sophy Lukose, Calicut’s much respected Events planner, told us how, in her early years, she focused only on learning the ropes, never mind the credits. For her, the goal was and is perfection in her work. Today, her name is a brand in itself. Soumya Ram, who owns and operates petrol pumps and has received awards for her work spanning multiple years, told us how she stood her ground and moved mountains to achieve this.

The icing on the cake ? The two ladies we honored that day. One was Santhi Mami, a veteran entrepreneur who started more than 3 decades back, fending for herself and her family using her cooking skills. Today she handles catering for 2000+ people on a daily basis. She is a legend in her Tali neighborhood. In her own words, she kept taking small positive steps, incrementally. She says she loved hearing us all talk and now she wants to know the meaning. So learning English is going to be her next endeavour.

The other dignitary invited was Dr. Peeja Rajan, Consultant at the recently opened UN Gender Park in Calicut. Her range of accomplishments in a room full of accomplished ladies were still startling. Her talk on gender bias was practical and constructive, without resorting to rhetoric. She spoke of gender neutral designs for seat-belts and bus stands.

After this array of deep talents came my turn on the stage, to talk about biases. Try and imagine my dilemma. I have told you 5-6 stories. This room was filled with stories of struggles and successes over biases.

I had come prepared with my own stories against the biases I faced at various points, but this crowd had tough experience in that field.

I decided to tackle the situation coming in from the deep end. I talked about the biases we as leaders, employers and entrepreneurs today, hold. Today, the biases we hold are forceful, as collectively we impact a good segment of the society. I focused on the ways we think. I chose three themes : words, colors and numbers. I talked about using the right words as traffic lights for our cascading emotions. I talked about the use of colors for brand building and persuasion. I talked about the use of numbers to anchor deals. I also ended up relating number bias stories from my own young and inexperienced years.

The talk was well received. One of the ladies told me “You held us in your palms with your focused talk.” And that was enormous praise from this crowd. Shwetha Upadhyaya, the Bhima lady herself, told me she found the talk was inspiring. Shyama Bhaskar, a woman whose beautiful jewellery designs hold me captive every time I see them, came and hugged me with her blessings. My day was made.

Do I sound like a small child with her pockets full of candies? Must be because I do feel like one 🙂

These ladies are my inspiration!