Harmony Vs Discord at Meetings

Harmony Vs Discord at Meetings

Managing inter-personal relationships in a sattvic way is the key attribute of a wise manager

 Meetings are a fact of working life, and often they can be a waste of time. Endless meetings, many of them witnessing discordant notes from the participants, can be a pain for everyone involved. Productive and harmonious meetings require careful planning, clear communication from the leader, and cheerful participation from all those who attend.

While meetings are considered important to engage with colleagues and foster creativity, it is the experience of many that meetings are often long and unorganised. A study showed that managers considered 83 %  of the meetings as unproductive. People spend on average about 18 hours a week in business meetings, and feel that they would be better off refusing at least a third of them. Some managers tend to assume that attending several  meetings a day is an indication of their importance - to 'show' to outsiders how busy they are, despite the emotional and stress levels involved. Some business leaders seek and attract appreciation for themselves by holding frequent long meetings as a personal 'ego-trip'. They expect others to please them by listening more attentively, and agreeing to everything they say. This is known as 'hubris syndrome' in psychology, a form of mental disorder arising from possession of power.

 Benefiting from Wise Counsel

Our scriptures are replete with examples of wise kings holding sessions with groups of ministers or sagely persons with genuine intent of benefiting from the counsel.

Such sessions are characterised by three features: the sessions are brief and to the point, there is a sense of respect that every participant enjoys at such meetings with the king showing humility and listening to the viewpoints, and there is a conclusion or decision on the way forward at the end of the confabulations.

Ramayana describes two contrasting sessions to illustrate the above. The first is where Dasaratha calls a meeting of his ministers and rishis to seek their view on crowning Rama as the yuvaraja. Valmiki describes how, in words full of meaning and charming to ears, Dasaratha spoke, saying he had tended the kingdom as a mother cared for her child, and now due to his old and infirm body, he wished to follow the holy custom of his forefathers to spend the rest of his life in austerities in the forest after entrusting the kingdom to Rama. While there were shouts of joyous acclaim to the proposal, the king spoke again, “You agree with my proposal, but give no reason. This will not do. Let the wise men explain why they agree”.

Then, several speakers rose and explained Rama's virtues and his fitness to rule. 

Contrast this to the assembly that Ravana called to mull the next steps after witnessing the  havoc caused by Hanuman following his meeting with Sita at the Ashoka vana.

Speaking at the great hall of council, sitting on his splendorous agate throne, with his key ministers and military commanders in attendance, Ravana, blinded by lust, sought their 'counsel', saying that his desire for Sita entirely possessed him with no question of her being sent back and begging forgiveness from Rama. He added that while a big monkey contrived to cross the sea to Lanka and wrought 'some mischief', it would be hard for Rama and his vanara army to land in Lanka, and “even if they did come, what need we fear?”

Thus, before seeking any 'counsel', Ravana makes his viewpoint clear, thereby expecting everyone to just endorse it. Valmiki describes how everyone of course endorsed Ravana's view with vainglorious words, boosting his ego and strengthening his adharmic stand.

Conflicting Views

An important principle behind productive meetings is to give people space to disagree. The most common mistake people make in dealing with differences is to insist on commonality, and to push hard for agreement and conclusion. The key to enabling collaboration among people who disagree is not to force them to agree, but give freedom to express their own experiences and beliefs.

When there is a conflict of views, there is always the potential for tensions to rise.

Wise leaders handle the situation knowing the difference between healthy conflict resolution and a hostile working environment. In every meeting, the team members closely observe how the leader reacts to any criticism or conflict. Staying calm and balanced by the A leader is vital to de-escalate a situation, which can set a positive standard, and demonstrate how the team should handle future disputes. If the leader loses his balance, makes  underhanded comments, or takes sides, he sets an unsavoury example. By keeping things calm and collected, he would gracefully defuse the situation and guide the team toward unity. 

Meetings, especially interdepartmental meetings, are thus a good opportunity for a leader to stress his vision of growth based on dharmic principles, and build harmony among people. For this to work, the leader needs to remember the maxim ‘Ego is the enemy of good leadership'. An inflated ego narrows one's vision, as it always looks for information that confirms what he wants to believe. As a result, managers tend to lose touch with the people they lead, and falter in creating the right culture that stresses on selflessness, reflection, and courage.

‘Moral Manager'

In Neeti Shatakam, Bhartruhari, the great philosopher-poet, who was the king of Ujjain, shares in hundred verses the essentials of morality. In one of the verses, he praises those who are skilled in the art of inter-personal relationships, saying such people show generosity towards everyone, devotion to saintly persons, diplomacy in handling situations, straight forwardness where learned persons are concerned, patience towards elders and

tactfulness with women. He says the world depends on the skill of such people. Such team-building is exemplified in the popular Vedic prayer that begins as 'sahana vavatu, sahanau

bhunaktu,' meaning together may we move, together may we relish our work, together may we perform with vigour, so that we are filled with brilliance, and may it not give rise to hostility due to lack of understanding. It is worthwhile to mentally chant this hymn before commencing any meeting!

-        R.Krishnamurthy

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