There is an argument I often have with friends, sometimes even with my husband. Frustrated at the inefficiency of the people at his hospital and their complete lack of ethics when it came to priorities, he says he has to routinely scream at people to get things done. He has to shout at the CEO and tell him a functioning blood-analyzer was more important in the hospital than LED TVs in deluxe rooms. To be fair, the CEO listens (and probably does not have a say in the hospital’s prioritizing of expense – it’s a corporate hospital) and always has the grace to not take offence and calms my husband down. Once in a while when I meet this man somewhere, he invariably tells me about these flare-ups and asks me to calm my husband down (he has no clue, does he, about the cause-effect aspect of this particular relationship?).
My husband actually comes back feeling quite miserable for having shouted at the man (he is generally an affable man) and sulks at home, and we have to tolerate this huge elephant in the little flat. As families go, we are not entirely dysfunctional, and the silences trouble me and my son. So here’s this: he shouts (justifiably, I admit), the man feels insulted, he does nothing, the blood remains un-analyzed and the LED TVs stay on. Nothing is achieved and my husband has his moment of near aneurysm. I asked him to do this nicely, sit with the man, explain what the company was losing in terms of revenue because these tests were going elsewhere – put them in hard figures which the CEO types understand. After some grumbling, he agrees and has this meeting. The CEO is touched by my husband’s near apology and sets the ball rolling and voila, the machine arrives and all’s well in hospital-dom. (Please note, I am prone to inventing words which carry a world of tacit meaning but cannot be found in any dictionary – but the idea is communicated. See, I am smart!)
So, as I was saying. Rudeness achieves nothing. If it is from a senior person (in hierarchy and/or age), one takes it as unavoidable, but it does not mean one enjoys it. One sits and lets it fester and then the breach finally becomes so wide it has to snap. And it does. One of my earlier bosses had a habit of shouting at people and used to actually berate me for speaking nicely to some folks. Even he agreed, later on, that my way was more effective, and people did what I requested because I said/wrote it nicely. Being nice does not always come naturally to me so it involves some effort, don’t get me wrong. But that’s just the point. Make the effort if you have to. While power is a good thing to possess – not many people respect you if you misuse it. Respect cannot be demanded, it has to be commanded. The grudging obedience one gets after being rude about something is different from respect. And it never hurts – ever – to put one’s own self down to make someone else feel better. Never. If you say sorry, you are the first person who comes out looking good.
I have recently faced rude remarks from a colleague over some issues. Nothing major, and my self-worth is not connected to what my colleagues think of me, but I was thinking, if the person had said it in a different way, I would react nicely. As it is, I can be icily sweet and give anyone the insults I get, word for word, and one day, if any needless barrage of insults come my way, my dam will break and believe me, it will not be a pleasant sight/read. There are ways to approach things, and if I am at fault, I should be told this nicely – however one views it (and for a while I am viewing it from this person’s side), rudeness is not necessary. If approached differently, similar things can pass by with no resultant bad taste in the mouth. Just saying.
Sometimes there is humor we cannot understand. And then we feel all cross about it because we feel slighted. 90 times to 10 the one who says it says it fairly innocuously, and yet. And yet, the recipients seethe with some imagined insult and because no one communicated well enough. This often happens with elderly people. We tend to use words with a lot more felicity than our previous generation can (and yes, for many of you, I AM the previous generation – no need to rub it in) – and each generation has its own lingo. I once called my brother a congenital moron and while he was going hyahyahyahya, cackling to my face, my dad in the next room somehow construed it as an insult to him, when to me it was just a word, I did not really think of its connection to our parentage. The thundering I got from him that night got even my usually dismissive-of-me-as-though-I-was-nonexistent-brother to come to my room, tousle my hair and sit awkwardly trying to make brotherly conversation.
I remember when I joined Cognizant, I was asked to do a plane booking for my boss who was travelling from someplace to another in the US. He told me to get a Red Eye. Poor ignorant me, I began surfing the net for a Red Eye air service, and off course found none. I was too new to really ask anyone, least of all Deb, about it and agonized over it for a full day before I confessed to him that I found no Red Eye Airlines anywhere. For a moment there was stunned silence on the other side, and then he told me, ‘Lolita, I feel for you – this must be a terrible job to have, you just are not cut out for this’, and then he explained to me what it was. I don’t believe anyone reading this is unaware of what a red-eye is, so I shan’t describe it, but suffice it to say that I was suitably humbled and felt chastised. Moral of the story, if you don’t understand something, say it. The other person will always be happy to explain.
Having said that, here’s another take. My friend’s wife, who was new to UK and did not have an English medium educational background, joined this friend after her wedding. She was from small-town Bengal, a wonderful person, but probably somewhat ill-at-ease amongst all us smooth English talkers. We spoke, and still do, a peculiar amalgam of a language, English, Bengali, Hindi sewn together is same sentences. So one day, in an effort to make her feel at ease, I explained to her how no one in UK is bothered about how correct or otherwise your English is, there is no value judgment attached to it etc, and how, anytime she did not understand something, she should just ask the person to repeat it, and he/she gladly would. Which had been our experience, because all my English education had not properly prepared me to pronounce Featherstonehaugh as ‘fenshaw’ or Loughborough as luthbro. We asked and we learnt. She then looked at me and said, “you know, the confidence needed to ask that question? I don’t have that confidence.’
That then is what communication is about – having the confidence to speak up and be heard, and being ready with the patience to hear too. It’s a clear two way street.