A very important “collaborative” skillset to have is to ensure successful outcomes when you engage with people. Effective leaders are skilled at influencing others’ behavior by changing their own. This skill can be learned and practiced. I have done it and so can you.
When I worked for State Bank of India more than a decade ago, I was not very social. Having a short temper, mostly self-centered and very unmindful of others’ needs, I was the classic “before” character. During my behavioral sciences training with the bank, I stumbled on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
Reading this book, internalizing the concepts and applying those concepts on people has been the single-most important factor in the transformation of my personality.
I recommend this book with a warning: if understood and applied appropriately, this book can profoundly transform any individual.
Of the many successful experiments in engaging with people, I’d like to relate one particular anecdote, which took place around 1994-95 and produced results quite magical to me.
One evening as I returned from work I saw my group of friends gathered in my street corner. I realized that something was amiss. One of my friends Guptaji was disturbed for the past three days.
Turns out, one of Guptaji’s neighbors in his native village in Bihar (a state in the North-East part of India) was diagnosed with cancer and was admitted to the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Mumbai. The patient’s relatives had come down to Mumbai and were put up in a facility in Bandra (in western Mumbai) managed by the hospital.
Guptaji twice went to the facility to meet with the patient’s relatives, who he knew from childhood, having grown up in the village in Bihar. He had no success.
The problem was that Guptaji only knew his neighbors’ last name. And the name Singh in Bihar, is a lot more common than Lee in Seoul. Furthermore, Guptaji did not have an exact date of their arrival or admission into the facility.
Since the register was maintained manually, in the pre-database era in that facility, Guptaji was at the mercy of the clerk. His repeated trips only made matters worse.
So much so that when I offered to go with Guptaji, he was hesitant. But I not only convinced Guptaji that I would go with him, I also gave him an assurance that he will be able to meet with his people if they were indeed admitted in the facility.
I had total confidence in my newfound people-engagement abilities learned from Dale Carnegie’s book and a few successful experiments under my belt.
Guptaji had no confidence in me, but decided he had nothing to lose. After all, I was going to take him along on my motorcycle so the gas was also on me. The gas and time were a small cost for another experiment, but I didn’t tell him that.
Along we went to the facility and stood in line. There were about ten people ahead of us. Some wanted to make inquiries and some wanted to get admissions.
While waiting in line, I was observing the environment. Lot of noise, some jostling in line, other clerks exchanging information and there were a bunch of huge registers.
As soon as I was face to face with the clerk (Guptaji doing his best to show that was not with me and acting as if next in line), my first statement was a very honest surprise-filled question. I asked the clerk whether that beautiful and artistic handwriting on the register was his own.
That one question made him swell with pride and he said of course it was. I then told him that I was a bank manager, and in 5 years of service I had not seen a register maintained in such a methodical and pristine manner. Now he was blushing. I asked him if he could explain to me how he could manage this kind of volume (of admission seekers) and spend the time to maintain the register that well. He opened up and gave me the whole nine yards. Turns out he devised a method to keep track of dates, room numbers (including floors), number of relatives for each patient, all in that single (but huge) register. He almost had his own database. Needless to add, he was so proud that he would not let anyone near that register.
My next question then, had the desired response. All I asked was if his method was good enough to pin point the room of someone who had arrived in the last month or so.
With the reputation of his register at stake, the clerk not only gave me the number, but walked us both to the second floor, to confirm that indeed that was the family that Guptaji knew.
On the way out of the facility, I spent another five minutes with the clerk, once again sincerely complimenting him on his thoroughness.
I drew a few lessons from this event:
- a. Always look for something related to the other person that you can single out for surprise, praise or amazement. As human beings, everyone is unique. If you cannot find anything, you are not looking hard enough.
- b. Once you find it, be liberal with the compliment but at the same time, be genuine. Flattery or insincerity will be found out very soon and will be counter-productive.
- c. Be prepared to listen. Listen attentively and show genuine interest in the person and what they are trying to tell you.
- d. Lastly engage the other person as a human being whose assistance you need. Let them know that you do not consider them a duty-bound service provider to you.
Very conclusively, I realized that the same person (the clerk) displayed two entirely different behavior, each in accordance with the behavior presented to him.
It is very possible to influence others’ behavior by changing yours.
I look forward to your thoughts and experiences related to engaging people.