What I learned when Deepali said “Theek Theek Laga Lo” :-)

It was sometime in 2007, or 2008, when I was the team leader of the 99acres team in Noida. This incident happened during a planning meeting for future projects in 99acres which was attended by many senior people in the company. Product Managers, Sales Heads, Business Heads of 99acres and Jeevansathi, and I think even our COO was present during that meeting, not sure about him though. Being the one handling the tech team, I was giving time estimates for the different ideas / changes the top guns had on their list. It was one such idea for which I suggested a time estimation and somebody said that he thinks it should be done in these many days (obviously less than mine). As it was only an estimation, I thought about it a little more and reduced my estimation by a few days. At this point, Deepali Singh, who was the business head of 99acres said “Theek Theek Laga Lo”. The whole room burst into laughter at that point and it was a moment I still remember to this day. (“Theek Theek Laga Lo” is a Hindi slang for “Give me a right price” which is commonly used while bargaining for price while shopping in local markets of Delhi)

What I learned from this incident is that having fun and keeping a light atmosphere is very important, even when discussing the most serious of issues and problems. It was the same that day, I was a little nervous and was taking things too seriously. After this incident, the whole mood in the room lightened up and I was lot more relaxed which indeed helped me to do my job better, in this case, giving better estimations.

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

Though normally I am fun loving and keep on doing something or other for fun, I have often seen myself getting too serious during important meetings, specifically when there are people higher up in the hierarchy attending it. Deepali’s comment diffused the tension and put me at ease highlighting how important it is to have fun at the workplace. I have always believed that if you are having fun while doing your work, then you will be more creative, more productive, will be able to take better decisions and will get along well with co-workers.

A pleasant and happy work culture was one of the most important points that I saw during the three years I worked with InfoEdge. People were not colleagues there, they were friends. Now, even after 2.5 years of leaving InfoEdge, I am in regular touch with all the members of my team and many others too, and I make it a point to meet them whenever I am in Delhi. It wont be wrong to say that I got many friends for life from those three years of working there. All credit to the fun-filled work environment there.

Remembering what we used to do within our team for fun, we used to go out for informal team lunches quite often. Many times, we used to get out just for having ice-cream at the nearby Nirulas or for sipping a glass of juice at a roadside juice seller. There were a few dhabas outside the office which had become popular meeting points over tea and maggi noodels. Within my team we used to play a lot of pranks with each other. There were times when Poorva (a teammate) used to hear random screams from her laptop while coding (thanks to me taking an ssh into her machine and remotely executing a scream mp3 file I have put there), and there were times when I used to return to my seat to find my laptop missing as my teammates have hidden it for revenge 😉

Taking it one step further, I try to apply the same approach to life too. No matter what the situation is, how serious it is, it always helps to take it lightly and have fun along the way. Life is a series of ups and downs, and it is as important to enjoy the downs as it is to cherish the ups. It is all part of the game called life. I will end with a quote –

“When faced with a problem, don’t ask life ‘Why Me?’, Instead say, ‘Try Me'”

What I learned when Neha kept quiet for 3 days?

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.