This post is about an incident which happened when I was leading the 99acres team while working with InfoEdge in Noida. This experience shook me and I still remember it very vividly. It made me realize the extra responsibilities and sensitivity which a leader must accept. I am a very fun loving and jovial person and some fun / jokes / mockery is a part of my daily life. But sometimes, you need to balance those keeping in mind the position you are in.
Among the 14 members in my team, Neha was one of the best resources I had. Always the go-to person in case I want something done urgently and efficiently. Having worked with her for quite some time and sitting right next to her, she was also a very good friend and we shared a very good working relationship. Maybe thats why I still remember this incident. One day when I came to office I realized that Neha was surprisingly quite. She was talking only formally, and her mischievous look was also missing from her face. I thought it might be some personal issue and let the day pass. But when she was the same quite person the next day. I pondered that could it be because of something I did or said, but I dismissed that thought as soon as it came in my head. I even asked her what happened but she said she was fine.
When she was uncharacteristically quite even on the third day, I started thinking of something I might have done to upset her. On the evening of the third day, I finally asked her whether her behavior for the last few days was because of something I did or said. And to my utter surprise, she said “YES“!! I could not believe that she was upset at something I said and did not mention it to me for the last three days. On further probing, she told me she has talked to her sister, and she advised her to talk to me directly about the issue. And the “issue” was that there was some incident which required urgent attention and I went to Neha with another person (from another team) to debug it. After Neha and myself figured out the issue and what would be required to sort it out, I made a comment “Tumhara response time bada slow hai“. It was just a casual remark to tease her and nothing related to that incident or her performance. It was a part of the “mocking” nature that is very much a part of me.
As I said earlier, I often make sarcastic and mocking about people and situations for humor and this was one such incident. But coming from her Team Leader just after she had finished an urgent task, it was very unfair of me to having made that comment at “exactly the inappropriate moment“. No doubt she misinterpreted it as a comment on her performance and took it to heart. I know how anyone will feel if a work well done is criticized instead of the appreciation which one expects out of such a task. And the fact that she was upset for three days and never told me despite sitting next to me totally hit me like anything. And how unfair of me to even think about something that I might have done to upset her and then dismissing that thought in a blink? When she opened up to me, I cleared up with her soon after and we were back to normal terms and she was her mischievous self.
I learned two things from this incident. Firstly, as a leader, it should be my responsibility to make sure what comes out of my mouth does not hurt others (or is misinterpreted). And given the very casual and informal culture we had in the team, I should have realised that situation (with Neha) was not the right moment for a sarcastic remark, and that too in front of a third person. I learned to be more careful in future and keeping the right balance between fun and serious talk. It is very important that when I joke around, people should not take it a serious remark by their Team Leader, and similarly, when saying something serious, that should also never be regarded as a joke.
The second thing I learned from this incident was following up and making sure your point is clearly understood by the other party or not. I had the thought a few times that Neha might be upset of something I said or did but I never gave it a serious thought. Had I cleared up with her earlier, she might have opened up to me and would not have stayed upset for so long. It is very natural for us as human beings to misinterpret something said to us as something else. Since then, I always try to make sure to get my point across so that there are no wrong interpretations. The same holds true if I am the hearing party. Instead of assuming that “this means that“, I often restate the statement to clarify to the other side what I understood from his / her communication. This way, when I leave the table, I am sure we both are on the same page and no doubts and misinterpretations remain.
I would not say that I am not doing similar mistakes now, but I am more careful and cautious now when faced with similar situations. Keeping this balance between fun and serious stuff is very important. And I am getting better at it with time. Certainly from those times at InfoEdge.