Friedrich Schiller, author of The Maid of Orleans, had once said—‘Against stupidity, the very gods fight in vain’.
Nowhere is this seen more than in the area of crude intrusions. Some things change and some things don’t. Crude intrusions are one of them, where there is little change over all these years.
In our social environment, crude intrusions put off people who, otherwise, might have become good friends over a lifetime. Most often, we are not trained at home or in school, to understand the limits to which we can go, where an enquiry can become an intrusion.
# Whenever I went to Chennai on business, I would call on an old friend of my mother, who was elderly and lived alone. I was charitable to spare some time to pay a visit, and bring some cheer into a life generally filled with monotony. But I gave this up after four years. With every visit, I had to go through an intense inquisition: Which client I had come to work for, what kind of work was I doing this time, which hotel was I staying in, how much was the client paying me for this assignment and so on. Finally, I had no choice but to either provide answers as politely as I could, or stop my visits altogether. I chose the latter!
# Ravi and Shyama came back from London, where they have now settled, to spend a fortnight in Mumbai and meet old friends. They dropped in to see us and share a meal. We were very happy to meet them again. They saw two new paintings I had acquired since they left India 10 years ago. “Aha,” said Ravi, “these look very nice. They were not here when we visited last. Where did you buy them?” Then, when I told him, “And how much did they cost?” It was here – the question that pried into my privacy!
# We were inviting them for the first time, a nice couple we had met recently and liked. They came to lunch, and we sat and chatted and all was well… till Sheila asked my wife how many bedrooms we had. Then came more questions… “Where do the children sleep? Don’t they each have a bedroom to themselves? Do you have servants’ quarters for the maid?” Sheila had no reason to know all these details, nor any compelling reason to ask. All we could say was, “We manage our limited facilities somehow. It is not easy to have more in an expensive city like Mumbai.” Why did she want to know? How did it matter to her? It was sheer insensitivity, and an urge to intrude into the private lives of others.
In a business environment, it is necessary to know about your bosses, peers, \ and subordinates, so that you are able to help them in doing a good job of directing, motivating, organising and controlling the team. The moot question is: How much should you know and how will you find this out, directly and indirectly, so that it is not considered a crude intrusion?
Many years ago, Mother Theresa addressed the national convention of personnel managers, and she asked this audience, “Do you really know your people?” She meant: do managers take the trouble to really know their subordinates—their hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, insecurities, hobbies, interests—so that the manager knows how to motivate each one of them, and then, also as a group? It was a very pertinent question. But then, how much should the manager find out about the subordinate—directly and indirectly—and could this be considered a crude intrusion?
You go too far, and you cause resentment because it is considered an intrusion. You stop too short and you project yourself as an uncaring boss.
I was once doing some field work in Mumbai for a client in consumer products, and it was decided that the salesman, the district sales manager and I would meet outside Metro cinema and start the field work from there at 10am. We waited for the salesman till 10.30am, when he finally turned up. He was very apologetic—and said that there was an emergency at home and, hence, the delay. Before he could say anything more, the sales manager interrupted, “Alright, let us not waste any more time. Let’s get on with the job. We are late already.” And he started walking ahead—and we followed. The salesman was not given a chance to explain his problem. Was it something that would require him to go back home and attend to it? Did we care? The rest of the workday showed the frozen connection between all of us.
Against stupidity, the very gods fight in vain.
(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)