Why speaking your mind is not always a good idea
In theory, everybody espouses talking straight, cutting through the doublespeak, and calling a spade a spade, not a earth-excavating instrument. But in practice, nobody actually does it
I hate how turbulent domestic flights get in this weather. The monsoon winds buffet the hapless Airbus 320s, making them bounce up and down like ping pong balls, the only upside of which is that you stop brooding over the fact that you’ve crossed your 40th birthday and are still flying economy, and start pondering possible death instead.
I have a friend who says that that kind of tension in an enclosed space always makes him want to leap to his feet and utter a thin screaming cry:
“We’re allll goinnnng to DIEEE!”
He imagines that people will panic and gibber and foam when he does this and that it will be entertaining, and will compensate for the fact that the hot beverage service has been discontinued till further notice. I’ve told him that the crew will probably just knock him out by hitting him on the head with something hard—like a Chicken Junglee Sandwich—and that will be that.
But I get what he means. Kind of.
When I was younger and blunter, I used to have a similar impulse myself. To leap to my feet in an enclosed, freezing conference room (they’re always freezing—they keep the air-con cranked up high to compensate for the hot air being generated) and bellow: “That is a bad idea. An execrable idea. I wouldn’t buy that idea even if you threw in a naked Ranveer Singh and three durex condoms for free to sweeten the deal.”
“I love it”; “I like it, it could work if you rework xyz”; or “I hate it, it sucks.” The younger me wondered (naively) why it was considered bad form to give direct, honest feedback?
But then I discovered that:
■ Chances are that other people in the room think the idea is foul too—if you sit like a quiet little mousie, and let them speak first, the idea will get shot down without you looking like the party-pooper.
■ Some sensitive types may take your blunt-speak personally and you could end up making enemies (no, enemies is not too dramatic a word to use—if it’s Panipat in pinstripes out there, you wanna be a Lodhi or a Mughal?).
■ Never commit yourself. The idea may still get implemented and if it fails, you will look like an all-knowing prophet, sure, but if by sheer fluke, it turns out to be a big hit, then you will look like a fool. That kinda risk is dangerous and if you liked danger, you would’ve become a test pilot and you didn’t, did you?
■ It will slow down the meeting if you throw in a googly like that, and we only have the conference room till 1pm, after which HR has booked it to for a pranic yoga session.
■ If you object too strongly, there’s a chance that the boss might ask you to come up with a better solution and that will serve you right for being such a smarty-panty.
■ The company is not full of idiots, you know. The idea is clearly foul, and so somebody will catch it when it reaches the higher echelons (of course, this is a fallacious assumption, because very often, the company is full of idiots—or, if we’re being kind, very busy people with lots of their own stuff going on. But still, this one helps keep your conscience quiet).
Basically, in theory, everybody espouses talking straight, cutting through the doublespeak, and calling a spade a spade, not a earth-excavating instrument. But in practice, nobody actually does it. That’s why Sprite advertising is always such a sure-fire hit. In our fantasies, all of us are laconic, Sprite-drinking, bullshit-calling-out cowboys. Dirty Harrys, the bunch of us. The folks who’re here to get the work done. But IRL, uh, not so much.
So the next time somebody runs their idea past you and it’s crap, and you feel the urge to jump to your feet and babble about naked Ranveer Singhs, just bite down hard and murmur something neutral okay? And having thus secured your continued stint in the company, go stand around the coffee machine after the meeting, and whisper that the idea stinks higher than a dead pig.
Wine to Five is a weekly column featuring the random musings of a well-irrigated, middle-management mind. Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertising consultant.