Lessons from the Past 61: Little Things Show Up - and Reveal!
It was a very wet day when I went for my first job interview. I went all the way from the distant suburb of Chembur to Worli in Mumbai. Because of the heavy rains, I arrived dripping from head to foot. When I was ushered in to meet the personnel director, my hands trembled, with the cold and nervousness. But the director immediately assessed my discomfiture. He took my wet raincoat, hung it up, asked whether I would have tea or coffee, poured a cup of hot tea for me, and talked about the squally weather and Mumbai’s flooded roads. We got smoothly into a conversation for the next two hours. The little courtesies showed him to be what he was- a perfect gentleman. It is the little things that show up!
 
I had made an appointment for dinner with Lt Gen Brij Tewari ( retd), at the Delhi Gymkhana. I had written to him  from Mumbai, a week ahead of my visit. However, on the appointed day, I got caught up at a meeting, which finished at eight in the evening. Exhausted, I went back to my hotel, and completely forgot about the dinner appointment. 
 
When I returned to Mumbai, I realised that I had not kept my appointment and made a note to write to Brij immediately and apologise. But, before I got round to doing that, I received a note from Brij. He wrote to say that he waited a full hour and then left. He wondered what had happened to me and hoped that all was well. 
 
Brij had shown immense patience, and an ability not to jump to conclusions. Also, to keep communication open and to wait for an explanation. Most people I know would not have done that. They would have been annoyed and upset, and decided not to have much to do with that person again. It is the little things that show up!
 
Mani had completed a round of three interviews for a senior assignment of commercial director, with one of our client companies. He was a PhD in management, from US, and had worked there for 22 years before returning to India. 
 
I had thought it strange that he should seek employment in India, leaving his wife and child in the US. But he said his wife had a job there which she did not want to quit. Somehow, I had a sneaky feeling that something was wrong—but I could not put a finger on it. There must be something that he was not wanting to disclose. 
 
After he finished the interview in the conference room, with the three-member panel, I invited him to my room upstairs, since it was 1pm and he was to join me for lunch. He eyed the bottle of gin kept on the table. I saw this and asked him if he wished to have a drink. He said yes. 
 
After he had finished, I got up and suggested that we go for lunch. He agreed. But could he have another quick one? I said yes, and gave him the bottle. He poured half a glass, gulping it down neat. I knew then, that he had a problem, and perhaps the reason why he had returned from the US. 
 
It is the little things that show up!
 
A prospective client had invited me to lunch at the Horse Shoe restaurant in south Mumbai. His office was close to the restaurant and he presumably often frequented it. When we took a table, I could sense the reluctance of the waiters around, to attend to us. 
 
Finally, one of them came along. I heard him muttering to the others that the miser was going to be high on complaints and low on tips! 
 
After we had finished the meal and the bill was paid, the waiter brought back small coins in change. He insisted that my host take it, in a manner which fell short of saying, ‘Please keep it sir. I think you need it more than I do’. 
 
One year later, I found that the client was reluctant to pay our consultancy fees. He defaulted for four months, till we stopped work. The restaurant incident should have warned me. 
 
It is the little things that show up!
 
My friend Sonny was going to be married in Copenhagen to a Danish girl he had met at Cambridge. Sonny was a nuclear physicist, very intelligent and also very forgetful. It was only when he was checking in at the SAS counter for Copenhagen, that he realised that he had not taken a decent pair of shoes for the wedding. He asked the lady at the counter whether there was a shoe shop at the airport. He explained the situation. There was nothing that could be done. 
 
When he arrived at Copenhagen, Sonny was surprised to receive a  parcel, containing a pair of black shoes -(which were happily the correct size ) and a bouquet for the bride. Sonny has always flown SAS since then. It is the little things that show up!
 
It happens all the time. Warnings are given in a hidden form. We need to be always alert. It is often in the little things that personal and even corporate attitudes are shown up.
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
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