Focus only on the issue on hand, not on the people involved or on past dramas.
A reader reached out in response to my blogpost of yesterday. He wanted to know how we can be honest with someone that we are obligated to. “What if we are obligated by way of a favor we have taken from someone or if we are connected through a strong familial relationship? How can we be in-the-face in such situations,” he asked.
I am glad this reader seeks clarity. This allows me the opportunity to share a related instance and the learning it offers.
A few of us ex-colleagues got together for a reunion at a visiting friend’s hotel room some years ago. It was an impromptu meeting. As we started partying we called up some more friends and summoned them to join us at short notice. The friend who was hosting us in his room, Rajiv, called up one of our other former colleagues, John, and asked him to come over. John tried crying out saying he was attending it to his bed-ridden father. Besides, it was already 8 pm. But Rajiv persisted. And by about 9.30 pm, John joined us. As he walked in, Rajiv got up to receive him. He shouted out to John, “Dei macha, see, you dare not say no to me. It is only because of me that you have a job!” We were all startled by the cold welcome and this totally avoidable declaration. It turns out that when John was struggling to get a job some years ago, Rajiv had connected him to a friend of his, who in turn helped John get placed at the company he works in now. Anyway, men being men, everyone got back to drinking. John, who is normally very cheerful and boisterous, surprisingly, was sober all through the evening. He did not drink. He in fact offered to drive me back home. Once in the car, John asked me if Rajiv did the right thing in demanding “subservience” in an unrelated context. “Yes, he helped me get a job. But does that give him the right to use that information in unrelated contexts such as this one or for him to keep reminding me of this? This is not the first time he has done this. He always keeps rubbing it into me that I have a job because of his referral,” said John.
I told John not to bother about Rajiv’s actions or analyze them. I told him if he didn’t like the way Rajiv behaved with him, he must tell him so. “But won’t that mean I am ungrateful,” protested John. Of course not! What Rajiv did by way of referring John to a job is done and dusted. It is over. What Rajiv is doing now is the question – and if it is unacceptable, it must be checked, questioned, stopped. As long as John keeps giving Rajiv the room, the space, on the confused pretext of being grateful, Rajiv will continue taking John for granted. For Rajiv, it may not even be an ego trip. It may just be that it is his nature to rib his friends, a tad awkwardly though. But unless he is told to stop, how will Rajiv even know he has to stop?
There are Rajivs in our lives too. We often confuse gratitude for a past action, an obligation, as a reason to postpone telling people what we dislike in the way they treat us. It may not even be dislike. You may just not want to experience that person in that way in a certain context. Or you may not appreciate someone’s sense of humor. Or it may be that you don’t like being bullied. Whatever it is that discomforts you about someone, you must speak up. Honestly. In-the-face. Now, if you bring a past obligation into play, out of context, and postpone sharing how you feel, then you will suffer.
Always separate the issues from the people who cause the issues or the situations related to them. Never link two issues and confuse them. And don’t look at the personalities involved either. Just stay focused on what discomforts you. If it is bullying that you dislike, if it is gender-biased humor that you dislike, if it is being communal that you dislike, then how does it matter who it is or what past equation you have had with that person? Just speak up honestly and move on. Again, as I said yesterday, if the person can’t handle your honesty, and breaks off, so be it. You have one redoubtable stakeholder less to deal with!
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