Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Lessons from Psychology: Persuasion and Behavior Modification

Before i start, let me wish all of you a very happy and prosperous new year (VS 2070). I also hope this world, starting from immediate surroundings will become a more enjoyable place to live.

The third set of lessons, which in my views are the most important learnings, I have received in the course, relate to changing unwanted and unacceptable behavior.

I was wondering how I should write about this topic. The first question any one can ask is “what is unacceptable behavior?” and then “who are you to decide what unacceptable behavior is?”

I will play safe. I do not intend to sermonize. Neither do I claim to be virtues personified. And therefore I will not use either first or second person. I believe anyone who tries to bring about a change in behavior of another person does it with an objective to benefit the other person. As such I will use terms Beneficiary (one whose behavior is to be modified) & Benefactor (one who is helping beneficiary modify his/ her behavior) while explaining what I have understood from the course.

The process of Persuasion encompasses three components. The Benefactor, the Beneficiary and the Message.


The effectiveness of the Benefactor as a persuader is found to be based on a number of factors, including expertness, trustworthiness, credibility and liking/ attractiveness.

Expertness:   It is essential that the beneficiary perceives the benefactor to be an expert in a particular area of concern. This will help establish his/ her credibility.  This is the reason we find commercials for aspirin presented by doctors, or people pretending to be doctors.

Trustworthiness:   The benefactor needs to be perceived as someone who is honest. Several things can influence that perception.  For example, if beneficiary detects signs that there are ulterior motives, if it seems that the Benefactor has something to gain by convincing beneficiary, he/ she loses trust in the former. If the Benefactor does not appear to be intentionally influencing, he/she is trusted more. 

Liking:   Attractiveness, can be equally effective as expertness and trustworthiness.  It is, in my view, not just the physical attractiveness, but also emotional attractiveness which can be useful. Attractiveness is also a function of similarity of values, beliefs, camaraderie etc. One is more likely to listen to some one who shares  former's views, values, principles and even preferences.

Credibility: Benefactor has to have credibility when he/ she tries to persuade. The benefactor should not be seen to be demonstrating the same behavior he/ she is trying to appeal for change. I was reminded of the story of Sant Gnaneshwar relating to advising the child to stop eating sweets. How true these stories are. Even proverbs like “ડાહી સાસરે જાય અને ગાંડીને શિખામણ દે” or “सौ चूहे मारके बिल्ली हज को चली” are at the base of this concept. Benefactor has to be credible only then his/ her advice will be acceptable.

It is essential that these factors must appear to be natural and not falsified or concocted. Sooner or later beneficiary will find out fakes and will lose faith in all the efforts for persuasion.

Beneficiary and Message come next…

Till then comments are welcome.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Lessons from Psychology: Attribution

Once I signed in for the Social Psychology program I started feeling, I should have studied psychology much earlier. I would have caused less pain to others who came in contact with me and would have made more people happy.

The course made me aware about cause and effect relationship (causal relationship) between behavior and motives, values, feelings, situations etc. We behave in the manner we behave because of two sets of factors, I have learnt. I can not claim this to be perfect understanding, since I have not scored perfect 100 percent in the course, and to that extent the understanding is subject to correction by those who are Psychology professionals.

Human behavior can be attributed to factors which are internal to one-self like personality characteristics, beliefs and values; and the other set of factors which are external or situational. We have more control over internal factors and relatively less control over external factors.

In social psychology I learnt, attribution is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. Attribution is something we all do every day, usually without any awareness of the underlying processes and biases that lead to our inferences. In course of a normal day we probably make numerous attributions about our own behavior as well as that of the people around us.

The studies provided me with the reasons why do we attribute certain behavior to internal characteristics while blaming external forces for others? Our biases play a major role when we attribute reasons for behaviors. The attributions we make every day are related to our feelings as well as how we think and relate to other people.

As we seek to explain the reasons and causes for our as well as others’ behaviors, we are prone to falling victim to a number of cognitive biases and errors. Our perceptions of events are often distorted by our past experiences, our expectations and our own needs.

Reflect on the following possible common types of errors we commit while attributing causes.

Can you recall the last time you received a good grade in an exam. Chances are that you attributed your success to internal factors, your expertise, your preparations etc. "I did well because I am smart" or "I did well because I studied and was well-prepared" are two common explanations you might use to justify your performance.

What happened when you received a poor grade, though? Social psychologists have found that in such situations, you are more likely to attribute your failure to external forces. "I failed because the teacher included tricky questions" or "The classroom was so hot that I couldn't concentrate" are examples of attributions one might come up with to explain poor performance. Notice that both of these explanations lay the blame on outside forces rather than accepting personal responsibility.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the self-serving bias. So why are we more likely to attribute our success and positive behavior to our personal characteristics and blame outside variables for our failures or negative behaviors? Researchers believe that blaming external factors for failures and disappointments helps protect self-esteem.

Is it not that while we protect self esteem, we are ignoring need to improve? Looking for reasons beyond us, leads to thwarting our development, since we look for reasons beyond our control and ignore those which are within our control.

And what happens when it comes to other people’s failures or negative behavior? We tend to attribute causes to internal factors such as their personality characteristics and ignore or minimize impact of external variables. Psychologists refer to this tendency as the fundamental attribution error; even though situational variables are very likely to be present, we automatically attribute the cause to internal characteristics.

Both these, self serving bias and attribution errors can be viewed as subjective evaluation of reality. Such subjective evaluation is, most of the time, cause for strained relationships and bitterness. And that leads me to conclude that i must practice to be objective in evaluating reality.

I will make it a point to end each lesson with action areas for peace in immediate society and groups we normally be part of.

Comments and suggestions are welcome as usual.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Lessons from Psychology: Reality

It has been long since I wrote here. 

I would break the link and write from my recent learnings.

Different interpretations and resulting misunderstandings are normal and happen with almost all of us. I was looking for explanation why do I differ in evaluating what is happening around me or extracting meaning of what is being said, with limited success.

Recent study in psychology helps me to understand the reasons.

People living together normally experience these situations. They differ from each other when it comes to interpreting events taking place around both of them. One sentence makes multiple meanings to different people.

Professor described the topic as “Psychological construction of reality”. He said, one of the most basic questions we can ask about two people is whether they share the same “reality”. Whether they see the same thing when they are both looking at one. Whether they hear the same thing when they are both listening to it.
Psychologists say in daily life, we typically assume that other people share our “reality” and to a great extent they do, but not always and not completely.

Our perceptions and meanings we associate to the same, are powerfully influenced by our experiences, by context, by where we focus, expectations, motivations, and many other factors. In other words, our experience of “reality” is psychologically constructed.

We often see what we expect to see, and don't see what we don't expect to see.

Can we see what is absurd in these images?


Our perceptions are not just a matter of our expectations; they are also linked to what are our motivations. That is, we often see what we want to see and don't see what we don't want to see.

Papa used to describe a court scene where counsel asks a witness who had broken down “તમે શું કામ રડો છો, તમે મારી છે?” Add emphasis on second half of question and you have a meaning “why are you crying, you have not killed her. Now replace this question mark by a full stop and add emphasis on first half of sentence. It will mean “You have killed her, why are you crying”. One can add emphasis where he wants to add and make different meaning, holding the witness innocent or guilty depending on one’s motivation.

Our perceptions are affected by what we expect to see, by what we want to see, by what we're paying attention to and so forth.

According to the researchers, it's inaccurate and misleading to say that different people have different attitudes concerning the same thing, for the “thing” simply is not the same for different people, whether the thing is a football game, a prime ministerial candidate, political leanings, or tastes.

We also become blind to changes taking place in the vicinity of what we are focusing on while interpreting the same. We could be focusing on specific aspects in happenings in our surrounding or looking for specific information from what is being told to us. Psychologists call this change blindness.

This point is explained very effectively in a video which we can find at this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voAntzB7EwE. This comes from British psychologist and professional magician Richard Wiseman. In this case, it was blindness to changes in color made while our attention was focused elsewhere. Perceptions can also be influenced even when our attention is focused directly on the item of interest.

We evaluate “realities” subjectively and come to conclusions which we want to arrive at. In nut shell, our perceptions, conclusions, meanings are a joint function of what's going on out there and what's going on within us. What is therefore required for bringing peace to our daily life is that we evaluate our realities more objectively; keeping in mind others may have their own reasons to interpret the same realities.

Comments and discussions are welcome.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Experiences First - 3

Canteen services debacle

This ugly incidence remains carved in my memory for multiple reasons. It was a result of national level trade unions having given a call for strike across the nation. The union sponsored by the party in power obviously was interested in establishing their strength by ensuring that the production in all units remains unaffected. The government also had instructed managements to do what ever can be done to maintain production continuity. Management appealed for continued operation of plants. The appeal to employees including supervisory personnel was taken a bit too seriously and representatives of the groups not joining the strike demanded facilities above normal levels. I was then responsible for Canteen services besides other administrative ones. The contractor’s employees providing canteen services were members of striking union.

On demand from the Leadership of Union which had not joined strike, and Supervisory personnel, it was decided that evening meal services should be augmented in terms of both quantity and quality. I had recommended not to do so, since strength of canteen workers also would be depleted. But the decision was there to implement. 

Knowing my views Head of Administration involved him self fully and made contractor agree to providing food items which are normally difficult to be prepared in an industrial canteen. Why should he not? He was also expecting his pound of flesh.

Add to this decision it was also decided, obviously on recommendations of some groups, that the services should be free. As it is employees were paying a token mount for meals coupons. The system was more for getting advance intimation for quantity to be produced. Free service meant no such support. I opposed the proposal and went to the extent of mentioning that if that is going to be the decision, count me as on leave. I was convinced the decision shall have disastrous effect. As a solution Time offices were advised to collect requisitions and pass on the same to canteen administration. 

Normally evening services started around 6:30 PM. On that fateful day requisitions were being received till  7:00 PM.

Administration boss, who was so supportive came to my office along with Engineering counterpart and they checked the quality of food being prepared and were happy with the same. Little knowing that superior quality would have cascading effect on quantity requirement, more so because of being free. Both the gentlemen were planning about next day’s services. I cautioned them and requested to take any decision only after experiencing what happens during evening meal service.

Services failed. 

Canteen could not serve half the requirement by normal time. Meals were being served till much after second shift end time of 10:00 PM. Union and Supervisory group leaders made frantic calls to Directors and ultimately succeeded in summoning them to plant to placate the furious leaders in plants. 

That was shameful failure on my part. I reached home around 1:00 AM after the condition normalized it self.

Next day morning when I reached canteen, what I see is friends from Corporate office, including the Executive Director and my very dear friends,  were already there to support canteen in general and me in particular. They were there not because they were asked to be there, but they genuinely felt like helping me knowing my weaknesses.

Post lunch that day, I submitted a note to management outlining what happened and accepted failure to perform, identifying lack of my commitment to decisions taken, as possible reason. My immediate boss must have agreed with my submission. However, on that note CEO wrote, I can not quote, but it meant, “he is a sensitive person and needs to be supported” and that was all.

I recall the gentleman to whom i reported later, another fatherly figure to me, whom I consider as my mentor, used to advise me, and he had to do this repeatedly, that one must develop “Sakshibhav” when it comes to decision making and later implementing. In the process of making decision, he would advise, one must objectively state his considered views, but when superior wisdom has taken a decision, one must implement without questioning. His advise would be “do not get attached to your views” and accept superior wisdom.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Experiences First - 2

Employee grievance handling

As if the platform for teaching me lessons was waiting for me, this happened. Managing Transport fleet was one of my responsibilities. And we had a balanced three pronged fleet of Buses. This wisdom I had inherited. Three fleets meant, in case of failure of up to two of them plants shall not suffer for want of operators. One of the fleet operators was State Transport. While they were reliable, the upkeep of buses was wanting, obviously, since Gujarat had not experienced “Vikas” it has done in recent past (!!), sarcasm is intended. The Drivers also were not the best you can find in the market. As it is that group of professionals have miserably failed in getting accolades and appreciation, due to some reasons for which they them selves are to be blamed. One such reason is habit of indiscriminate consumption of intoxicants.

Commissioning of plants late 70’s resulted in massive recruitment and by the end of the decade, strength had swollen. The transport requirement had gone up not just in magnitude (number of buses playing for shift had gone up to 12) but also demand for extending bus routes, since employees were commuting from all over the town and even nearby towns, had gained momentum. As if to make matter more difficult for us, neighbors had already extended the routes and were picking up employees from nooks and corners. We had only one union till then, or at least effectively there was one.  Demand for such extended facilities and getting the same accepted was an easy membership enhancement drive. Groups of employees marching into our office with demands of extending the bus routes were normal happenings. I remember one day a lady representative, obviously union leader of some variety, who came with a group of 15-20 and was explaining why we should extend one particular route, which touched her house obviously, giving justification that a neighboring company’s buses are already plying on the same. I was humble in my suggestion that she should better join that company, if that is the most satisfying perquisite.

In such a scenario, one State Transport driver one night chose to arrive at sight in high spirits and as if that was not enough picked up quarrel with some employees while dropping them mid of the night. This was taken up as an issue next day when second shift ended. Employees refused to board State Transport buses and threatened to march into Township close to plants where Director and CEO resided.  By the time I could reach site (and that was not too late) they had carried out the threat and had woken up Director. A thorough bred gentleman as he was and a fatherly figure for all of us then, was smoothly talking to the group when I reached his house. Giving the reins in my hand, he actually called me by my first name (use of first name then was limited to extremely close individuals unlike present day salutations, which most times sound very insulting) and promised the crowd that I will settle the issue. I was unable to do so since by then demand raised was to produce Transport Supervisor who, employees felt was responsible for letting the drunken driver elope. I patiently (some of you who know me, may not believe) argued that disciplining TS called for same process as disciplining any one from the group. Obviously that was not enough. By then Union office bearers, who were normally looking for issues had reached site and so had the IR Managers and CEO was woken up by the noise made.

A small group of leaders were taken into CEO’s drawing room and I was also ushered in. CEO listened to them. The State Transport driver was forgotten and demand for extending bus routes which was not “being heard” took the priority. CEO advised us (IR and me) to listen to the demands starting next day, which was 15th August, and see what can be done.

That we discussed the demand, undertook a demand survey, used linear programming and queuing techniques, had multiple route surveys, created pushes and pulls in different directions etc. which took a couple of years to reach conclusion, is a matter of past. The delay was partly designed only to ensure matured decision. By that time I moved and the successor implemented extended routes.  

Monday, 22 July 2013

Experiences First - 1

Before embarking on softer aspects of life, i would narrate some experiences first and the learning from them.

I am privileged to have served a Public Sector Undertaking for most part of my life. I enjoyed working for the PSU since i was in the service of the nation and not any nincompoop entrepreneur serving his own selfish ends. I was also privileged to have some friends who worked with me for entire period and were extremely intelligent. One of them a product of premier management school in India, had that inherent knack of also being a great motivator. He could make Aurangzeb sing to his tune.

But that does not mean I should start with a vote of thanks to this friend. I am otherwise also a very poor public speaker when it comes to proposing a vote of thanks. This friend of mine had personal experience of a vote of thanks speech he asked me to deliver at one long service award function. It ended in two sentences. Thanking the awardees, their spouses and the Directors, I mentioned all others were performing their normal duties and need not be thanked.

I have selective memory syndrome. This has nothing to do with my age. I have always been like that. I either remember most enjoyable moments or such instances which I should have forgotten and gone forward. The later set I remember for the learning they provided.

Whatever be my state, I have memories of few instances. For maintaining dignity of all those who came in my professional life while at that PSU, I shall not name any, making sure I am not judgmental, nor personal. I shall share first these instances and then help you agree with me in describing Culture which defined the PSU.

  1. Cross functional movement: I am an engineer not by design, but an engineer all the same. At least I was recruited by the PSU as one. What I am going to narrate here is a set of facts coupled with an arm chair analysis of what happened. And therefore any error in conclusion is mine and without meaning any offence to all my elders. Late 70s at the end of commissioning of integrated first set of plants, possibly, it came to light that number of engineers in some discipline was a bit too much for operation. And since second burst of expansion was a bit too far, these engineers had to be gain fully utilized while providing them general managerial exposure. Seniors in Engineering were concerned more about the pace of growth (!) this group would have experienced in relative terms. The same Seniors were otherwise considered as tough characters. And we had experience of such performance demand. Many of us were terrified to be in close proximity of some of these seniors. Tough without and soft within. They were “Coconuts” personified.
Some of us, including yours most sincerely, were tipped and even elevated and transferred to non-engineering functions. It was then taken as norm that in such promotion and transfer cases, individuals need not bother about transfer part and continue to enjoy the comfort and care of parent discipline. This was a common phenomenon. The Seniors demonstrated these qualities consistently and uniformly across teams. CEO then, was absolutely clear in terms of his decision and insisted that transfers also should be given effect. My seniors got closeted with me and at length explained why such cross functional transfer will benefit me. They however stopped short of telling that “you are otherwise no-good as an engineer”. I, on the hind sight, feel they were correct, and I benefited tremendously by that cross functional movement. I have remained indebted to these seniors of mine eternally. This move helped me look at jobs in a rounded way and objectively, and made a better manager of me.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Urge

I am not a prolific writer. But one certainly knows what he can do at my age. And I always had that Urge to write.

You still need motivation (very funny, at my age also I need to be motivated!!). And Vishveshbhai has been one of the motivators to be credited (or blamed, that readers will decide) for this creation.

Then came the question, "what are you going to write?"

Blogs in my view, are created to talk to one self. Or going further to say loudly, what you may not be able to say in private environ. They also are created for "confessions", only the priest is not around.

And I thought I should frame ground rules for me to follow.

I have decided, I will write only about feelings, emotions, learnings and my experiences.

I have also decided, I will not name individuals, Vishveshbhai referred above is the only exception to this rule.

I have decided, there will not be any malice. There will not be any judgmental reviews (who am I to judge others?). There will not be any politics.

The ground rules and the resolve must get reflected in naming what I create. And hence the name. I looked for definition and synonyms before I decided the name. And Thesaurus.com gave me this:

Main Entry:
introspection  [in-truh-spek-shuhn]  
Part of Speech:
brooding, contemplation, deep thought, heart- searching, introversion, meditation, reflection, rumination, scrutiny, self-absorption, self-examination, self-observation, self-questioning, soul-searching

The Synonyms describe my purpose. And that is what I plan to do.

Comments shall be welcome, if they are to benefit me.