Employee Speak: Binno Joseph, CEO, The HR Practice ; V5 Issue 1

About Binno Joseph

Binno Joseph an alumnus of XLRI has a decade and half experience that cuts across five diverse industries. He started his career with Madura Coats, at their Madurai Plant. He joined The HR Practice in the capacity of a CEO on June 1st, 2011. He has worked with Hindustan Times Media, Accenture, HCL and Pepsico amongst others. In his own words every now and then he loves to push himself into ‘higher planes of discomfort!’ Here is catching up with him as he shares his moments of truth with the ‘Prerana’ readers.

  1. Have you always wanted to be in the field of Human Resources or were there other dreams that you had while growing up?

    Honestly HR was something I heard of only in the final semester of my engineering. My first dream was to be a pilot, then to be somewhere with the services. I almost joined the air force clearing SSB, in the engineering cadre.

  2. What challenges did you face in pursuing your dreams? How did you tackle them?

    I am not sure whether many people are endowed with clarity of what they are good at and not so good at in black and white. In that sense the first step was to know what/where I want to be. But I guess it’s always there at least as a hazy image. The challenge was to translate that to a touch and feel picture of where one should invest the 10000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about.

    I started with engineering because I was good with numbers. But then I realised that talking to machines was not my calling, I wanted to get to somewhere that gives me legroom to use my right brain a bit more. So I got into the management stream which again was somewhere in that hazy image I talked of before.

    In reality one has to deal with a variety of constraints; for e.g. in a designated role, you have deliverables in domains which might not be in adherence to where your heart lies. For one, I kept seeking opportunities within the constraints of a designation to see if I can bring value in ways unique to me. To me, that was slightly different from looking at it say, as “I seem to be dragged into this for a living …”, and when I did manage to, those were moments of satisfaction and pride.

  3. That’s interesting! So then, how did you stumble upon HR?

    Sometimes I think planning ahead is a lot similar to driving in peak traffic. A regular person behind wheels sees the three buses blocking his/her way ahead, whereas a good driver can visualise the path and he is not concentrating on the constraints ahead. When that split second opportunity comes, he is ready with the right engine speed and is on the right gear to propel. Everyone else loses out while he advances.

    Two values are central to me – courage and pride. Thanks to my parents, I did not come under extreme pressure to be always orthodox in my outlook. Hence I had the freedom to take some risks earlier on in life. Pursuing HR was one such adventure for an engineering graduate as was seen by my near and dear ones. Though my dad did not use these precise words, he more or less conveyed to me “I will not hold you guilty of failing, if it is from trying out something that you believe in.”

  4. What factors helped you succeed in this alternate professional life you adopted?

    I guess there are multiple perspectives possible to every single situation. If one extends that a bit, there are multiple ways of coming to the same end result also. As Dr Kalam puts it, the peaks are crucial, but one should be able to enjoy the sides of the mountain too! In other words you always have the opportunity to bring in that unique value to whatever you do rather than waiting for the D day and the perfect role.

  5. Having worked with large Corporations what prompted you to join a boutique HR consulting firm like The HR Practice?

    Despite being an engineer I am someone who listens to my right brain a lot to the extent of someone saying “That’s a pie in the sky!” And I believe it.

    On one hand it was a belief that you can bring ‘original’ ideas to the table as against say enjoying excellence in execution. Execution excellence is characteristic of big organisations with set practices and thoughts. And on the other, the realisation that one has probably reached a milestone on the learning curve and here is the time to dip into that gold mine and unlock potential. My initial conversations with Anu reaffirmed these thoughts…here was a model where success is measured by how well one strays from trodden paths rather than a vision that is built on compliance.

  6. Did you encounter naysayers, people who discouraged you from pursuing an unconventional career? How did you deal with them or are dealing with them?

    Not naysayers so to say but well wishers who encouraged me to look at it clinically. Well actually prodded me to use my left brain as well! Having said what I have said about listening to my heart, I am also someone who does consume a lot of data and enjoy doing my own analyses with as much inputs as possible. So, most of these conversations with my well wishers included a presentation of two things. One was certainly my desire and conviction. The other was an assessment from a logical point of view. At no point in time was I telling them “This is my decision …this is none of your business” or that “You won’t understand”, it was rather on the lines of “Let me take you through my line of thinking.”

  7. Having joined and been with The HR Practice and its team for a month now, how does it feel?

    If my boss is not reading this …let me just say this is still the honeymoon period and I want to enjoy it for a few more days!

    On a more serious note, the last one month has put me through as many different contexts as I would have gone through in the last decade. The Positive side of that is.... this very same scenario has induced me to exercise my own thinking much more.

    The effort that goes into getting into the client organisation’s shoes and mind amazes me. There was this young girl who said she is associated with manufacturing industry assignment for the first time. I have crisscrossed industry landscape with years in manufacturing too. She taught me a few things that I did not know…well, looks like I am in for some exciting times that would stretch my limits! Looking forward to it ….

  8. In your experience what is the single biggest factor that stops people from following their dreams?

    In my view the biggest riddle of life is making a decision (does that make me sound like Socrates or Plateau?). Life always presents one with multiple scenarios and one goes through the fear of having to regret a decision later on. I say this truly is the battle; constraints are there everywhere. Rather than saying one is constrained by such and such …...it is about taking your own decision and staying on course far enough to be able to realise your dreams.

  9. Instead of living their dreams, many are stuck in jobs they do not like, with bad bosses, and nightmarish workloads. They want to be independent and do what they like, but they don’t want to step out of their financial security zone. What can these people do to build a life of their choice?

    It is important to be armed with awareness; awareness about self as also awareness about what one is getting into. If the surprise factor has not been taken into account then that will be one more demon to deal with! “Forewarned is fore armed!” And if I may add, everything starts with a desire though ‘hope’ is not a management tool! As Robin Sharma puts it “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”

How effectively authentic are you at the workplace? : Activity Corner; V5 Issue 1

Answer the following questions in the work context with a “True” or a “False”. Honestly!

  1. I am aware of my values.
  2. My behaviour at work is in alignment with my values.
  3. I know what I want in my career.
  4. I am not doing everything I can to achieve my career goals.
  5. I do not regret the career decisions I have made.
  6. I do not know what my natural talents are.
  7. I use my natural talents at work as best as possible.
  8. I know my limitations and hence don’t volunteer for work that I know I am not capable of doing, even if it is very rewarding.
  9. I often express my views at work.
  10. I express what I feel about an issue without hurting other’s feelings.
  11. I often take a work decision based on what others think rather then listening to my inner voice.
  12. I often behave the way my colleagues expect me to behave.
  13. I am transparent in my communication to my colleagues about difficult issues like bad performance.
  14. I am a very different person at work than I am with friends and family.
  15. I am careful about not flouting any organisation rules or norms while doing what I believe in.
  16. A lot of times I am not sure why I behave in a certain way at the workplace.
  17. I love my job.
  18. I give my whole self to work.
  19. If there is something that creates disengagement from work for me I discuss it openly with my manager to address it.
  20. I am my natural self at work and don’t feel the stress of having to be somebody I am not.


Score your responses by giving a point to every ideal response as given below.

The higher your score the more effectively authentic you are at the workplace. Revisit these questions after a reasonable interval of time and see whether your score has improved. As long as there is an increase in the score you know your efforts to improve your authenticity quotient at the workplace has been effective.

The Other 90% : Book Review; V5 Issue 1

Title: The Other 90% 
Author: Robert K Cooper
Publication details: Crown Publishers, a division of Random House Inc., 2001
Number of pages: 320 pages

“Have I given my best at it?” This is a question that Robert K Cooper the author of the book ‘The Other 90%’ makes the reader reflect on right at the beginning of the book. Conventional science has proven that human kind does not even use one thousandth of its capabilities; and there is no doubt that human kind can scale greater heights if even a small fraction of this untapped capabilities are put to use. The author believes that the opportunity to go beneath and beyond conventional thinking and self–imposed limits exist for each of us by knowing and practicing simple but effective steps. In his book he proposes techniques that will help existing and aspiring leaders to make a subtle difference in the way they think, act and react towards making them successful in their business and personal endeavours.

The four key stones for tapping the unexplored capabilities and to undertake a search for the other 90% are:-

  1. TRUST (building and sustaining exceptional relationship)
  2. ENERGY (increasing the calm effectiveness under pressure)
  3. FARSIGTHEDNESS (envisaging and creating the future)
  4. NERVE (exceeding expectations) 

For each of these four key stones the author gives mostly simple and practical mechanisms, techniques and suggested theories, drawn from his own personal life experience, his learning from his grandfather and inspirations drawn from great people such as Lance Armstrong, Mother Theresa, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Galileo and many many others.

The ‘Trust key stone’ is an exploration into oneself, into one’s capabilities and also the feel that one exerts upon the people who one works with and leads. By possessing original ideas, using all the 3 brains a human being has (scientifically as explained by the author – gut in the intestine, feel of values and goals in the heart and the intellect in the brain), valuing others and living the life by setting trust as your greatest asset (like a lighthouse), one can have great stepping stones to tap the remaining 90%.

While talking about the ‘Energy key stone’ the author explains how the greatest energy of a cyclone lies in the central calm epicenter. It is imperative to understand the right amount of energy required for completion of any task. Techniques such as being quick without rushing, tapping on natural talents for excelling in life and maintaining a balance in emotions are learning modules. However, the most important point focused in the ‘Energy keystone’ is to ‘live the life.’ Spending time with family gives you more energy by putting more life in your day. Following this lesson will continuously replenish the energy we need to tackle bigger things in life. And more importantly this energy bank can give a continuous and perennial flow, if there is a good dosage of humor in one’s life. The author says, “Every single day, humor is a gift of energy. It startles us out of our routines. It puts things in perspective. It brings us closer together. It helps us face difficult times.”

“Little plans have no power to stir your blood” – Dreaming big is essentially not only just daring. The suggestion of the ‘Farsightedness key stone’ is based on research indicating that most successful and happy people have developed skills to keep looking farther ahead than they have to. The author’s lesson on ‘Extending the Time Horizon’ focuses on this topic. By relating the memories from the past to current realities, current potential and navigating towards desired results by altering and adjusting the course with regular plans, one can achieve that big dream eventually.

Nerve is explained as “an approach to life characterized by courage, exploitation and spirit.” This keystone encourages one to rise above adversity and challenge the boundaries of possibility in one’s life. Practical approaches suggested in this module includes – how to develop the skin of a rhino and soul of an angel, climbing one’s own mountain by shaping the edges of your own competitiveness and caring as if everything depends on one’s caring.

The lessons in this book provide a variety of practical ways to excel in a pleasure filled world with greater grace, ingenuity and empathy. The only requisite for the practitioner is to know what they are and when to use them. The revolutionary explanation of competitiveness in this book will certainly inspire every reader to unlock his/her vast untapped potential for leadership and life. 

" Competition is not in comparison with what others do, rather in excelling in one’s own capabilities and performance. "

Most of his work is useful and much of it is original. Cooper successfully ties together the physiological, mental, and social aspects of his topic. And although his personal accounts are quite frequent, they are mostly short and touching. Most of the content is the type of stuff you either immediately internalize or you do not internalize, rather than carrying it with you as an assignment. An exception is the admonition to frequently ask yourself what you've done lately that was exceptional and what exceptional things you plan to do in the near future. Another point I found especially useful was to know what your main values are. It sounds obvious but he takes it to another level by showing how people frequently are not living according to their values. Usage of famous quotations at the end of every chapter, exemplary combination of art and science and insights to little known techniques make this book truly a life guide.

Be more effective at work by being yourself, by being Authentic : Feature Article; V5 Issue 1

Kamal has a participatory style of managing his team. He likes involving his team in the decision making process. Kamal has just joined a new organization. His new manager is a ‘no nonsense’ kind of a boss and likes to act tough with his team members. As per him people need to be just told clearly what needs to be done for things to get done on time. He instructs Kamal to not follow his usual approach of discussing with team members, taking their ideas and then planning work. Eager to please his new boss he is now following this new style of managing his team. However he is constantly feeling stressed at the thought of having to just give out work instructions without any consultation with the team. He is not comfortable with this approach and is not able to focus on his work. Kamal is not being true to his natural style. He is not being authentic! And he feels drained of energy and feels really wretched. Look back and try to recall instances where you have not been authentic. How did each instance make you feel? My guess is that you must have felt the same as Kamal. What about the instances where you have been authentic? That would have been a different feeling altogether right? You felt good!

What is Authenticity?

Be more effective at work by being yourself, by being Authentic

Kamal has a participatory style of managing his team. He likes involving his team in the decision making process. Kamal has just joined a new organization. His new manager is a ‘no nonsense’ kind of a boss and likes to act tough with his team members. As per him people need to be just told clearly what needs to be done for things to get done on time. He instructs Kamal to not follow his usual approach of discussing with team members, taking their ideas and then planning work. Eager to please his new boss he is now following this new style of managing his team. However he is constantly feeling stressed at the thought of having to just give out work instructions without any consultation with the team. He is not comfortable with this approach and is not able to focus on his work. Kamal is not being true to his natural style. He is not being authentic! And he feels drained of energy and feels really wretched. Look back and try to recall instances where you have not been authentic. How did each instance make you feel? My guess is that you must have felt the same as Kamal. What about the instances where you have been authentic? That would have been a different feeling altogether right? You felt good!

What is Authenticity?

" Authenticity is a state of healthy alignment between one’s values and behaviors. "

In a study that ‘Center for Creative Leadership’ conducted on the choices and trade-offs facing high-achieving women managers and executives, it was found that authenticity has the following five defining characteristics, some of which are interrelated:

  1. Clarity about one’s values, priorities, and preferences
  2. Acceptance of the necessity for choices and trade-offs in life
  3. A strong sense of self-determination
  4. A willingness to work toward aligning one’s values and behaviors
  5. A high degree of comfort and satisfaction with decisions made earlier in life

Individuals who are authentic have a good understanding of themselves and their priorities. They know what is important to them as opposed to what might be important to other people and society. 

You spend approximately 8 to 10 hours at work Monday to Friday. If you're not being authentic while you work, then you are not being the "real you" more than half of your waking time. That is a lot of stress on you. Only when you are authentic will you be able to bring your whole self to your job and participate fully and honestly in your workplace. Being authentic is energizing and promotes growth, learning, and psychological well-being. When you behave authentically with others¸ they respond with authenticity making your interaction with them that much more effective.

Enhancing your Workplace Authenticity Quotient

There are compelling reasons to align your inner and outer self so that your work behavior becomes comfortable and natural, allowing you to be more effective at the workplace. There are several ways to increase your authenticity level at work.

  1. Self awareness: The first step to be authentic is to know who you are and what you want. A thorough understanding of yourself is important in being authentic. This can be done by the discovering the following about yourself through a process of Self Reflection.
    • Values - What do you care most about? Is it building a successful career? Is it giving back to the society? Is it spending time with your family? Is it being able to live a full life? Is it financial security? Is it following your dreams?
    • Strengths and Weaknesses - What would you consider your strengths as? What are you able to do effortlessly – number crunching or nurturing a relationship? What do your friends say about your strong points? How do you and others define your personality traits? Are you analytical, emotional, funny, creative, upbeat, warm…? What are some of the skills you wish you could be better at?
    • Interests, Likes, Dislikes, Preferences and Passion - What do you enjoy grappling with the most? Is it people, ideas, beauty or data? What work do you find meaningful? How will you know you are passionate about something? The good old definition that “you will work for free” is always there. But let’s say you can’t do that, then what? Another definition that you can refer to is “ Passion educates, sparks creative fires, innovates, motivates, improves, focuses clearly on problems and solutions, creates an inner sense of joy and well-being, transfixes permanently, increases contacts and builds networks, provides a raison d’être and is deeply rewarding.”
    • Fears - What are some of your fears? Are you afraid of losing your job? Do you fear being judged and criticized? Is there a fear of being disliked? Do you fear facing uncomfortable challenges? Because of your fears you may be reluctant to break bad news to your team or admit you are providing lousy service to your customers.
  2. Conduct an authenticity assessment: Now that you have clarity on what you are and what you want, assess how aligned are your current behaviours and choices at the workplace with your true self. If they are more or less aligned then great, if not figure out what is that you are willing to do or let go to achieve alignment. Perhaps you are now willing to speak up your mind despite your discomfort in doing so, to get your ideas accepted or you are willing to sacrifice greater financial security to work in an area of your choice. The key point here is to be clear on what is most important to you now and what you will and will not do to get there. This clarity will equip you to establish your authenticity.


  3. Take action based on the assessment: Knowing what is good for you is just the beginning; taking real action is what counts. You need not make drastic changes, but take small steps towards gradually aligning your behaviours with your most important values. Say you want to start your own Company someday, you can start by saving for the initial investment required to set up the business. You can start identifying the possible areas that you would like to do business in. You can even start training yourself in the skills required to run a business successfully.


  4. Garner support: Ever tried to accomplish something without the support of your family, friends or team? It can be tough. So share your authenticity aims with trusted colleagues and friends. They can be great a source of feedback and reinforcement making it easier for you to stay on track.
  5. Rely on yourself: While your friends and family can be supportive, there are also chances of you encountering resistance from them if the course of action you are proposing to take is unconventional. Don’t get discouraged by that and have faith in your own judgment about what is right for you.
  6. Be yourself and practice honesty with others: Don’t put on a tough act if you are gentle by nature. You will find that you can get more things done with your gentleness than your “put on” toughness.  You can’t maintain a front for long. Say the truth even if it means having a difficult conversation. No point in telling your boss that the project is progressing just fine when you know that it is likely to get delayed. He may at least be able to help you reduce the delay.
  7. Admit your mistakes: A key part of being authentic is being able to admit that you have made a mistake rather than ignore it and worse still put the blame on others. Being authentic involves being honest to yourself and others including being honest about the mistakes you make.
  8. Be open to feedback and learning: Apart from ‘Self awareness’ your openness to feedback and willingness to learn can improve your authenticity quotient. Feedback will give you a greater understanding of how you are impacting others and whether it is in line with how you actually want to impact them. Learning can equip you with the skills required to get to the place where you want to be.
  9. Be prepared for dead ends: The road to pursuing your dreams may not always end in that treasure at the end of the rainbow. It may take a couple of trials to hit the right road to success. It is important to not give up when you come across a dead end or a bump.
  10. Remember who you are even when you succeed: As you climb the ladder of success retain your “specialness”. Be true to your natural personality, likes, dislikes and priorities.

Balancing Authenticity with Workplace Boundaries

So does being authentic give you the license to behave rudely with a colleague since you felt you had to act in accordance to your true feelings at that time? Does it mean it is alright to dress up in jeans since that is what you are comfortable wearing when your organization dress code is formals. Well if your priority is (and I must say it never is) to jeopardize your relationship with your colleagues and your career prospects in the company then the answer is Yes! What I am trying to say is that there is a fine balancing act that you need to do between being true to yourself and respecting others rights / workplace boundaries. 

So then, will there be a conflict on of how you want to be and the way you are actually required to be? Will there be a conflict between you and others? Yes, but then it does not have to be this way. In the workplace, you can be honest and transparent without alienating everyone and learn skills to participate both productively and authentically. Here are some pointers for you to do this.

  1. There are some basic norms to be followed for being a responsible and civil citizen within a community. While it might feel authentic at a point in time to express yourself exactly the way you feel, your perceptions may not be correct and your urges may not be appropriate, so external norms can provide you with a reality check.
  2. Also most organizations have clear rules regarding employee behavior. Suppose your behavior which is authentic as per you crosses one of those boundaries, say in a case of sexual harassment, you will be putting your career and your reputation in jeopardy. Understand and keep in mind what the workplace boundaries are.
  3. The way we communicate can affect our level of effective authenticity. Delivering a message in a respectful way to your colleague will be far more effective than expressing it rudely.
  4. You need to strive for a state of authenticity that meets both your goals and workplace requirements.  For instance if you like being independent then let your manager know that you would be more effective if he/she gives you more freedom.
  5. Evaluate your current career choice. You may find that within the current career choice there are things you like doing more of. Seek opportunities for the same.


Are you thinking that this authenticity business is a lot of hard work? You are right! Developing authenticity is not easy. It requires being courageous and making a whole lot of effort and overcoming hurdles ranging from societal norms to organizational cultures. Also, you have to work hard to stay authentic, periodically reviewing your priorities and choosing behaviours that match those priorities as your circumstances change. But, the question you need to ask yourself is not whether you can afford to be authentic but whether you can afford to not be authentic, for the rewards are just too good for you to give it a miss.


Body Language : Basic Managerial Skills; V5 Issue 1

Research has shown that in a face to face communication, when incongruity exists between what is being said and the way it is being said, only 7% of the message is actually conveyed through the words. We communicate 38% through the tone of our voice and a surprising 55% is communicated using our ‘body’ (Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% rule). Body language is what we “convey” to each other without the use of words. Knowledge of body language can help us in correctly interpreting what the other person is trying to say at the work place. It can also help us in becoming more aware of our own body language. This awareness can help us manage it better in order to communicate effectively. By gaining a better understanding of how body language works and by working on making our body language positive, we can have more effective interactions and establish better relationships with our colleagues and customers.

Key Elements of Body Language

  • Body Posture: The way a person holds his/ her body can communicate a lot about a person’s state of mind.

  • Eye Contact: Eyes can reveal moods and feelings, as well as intentions and interest. We can tell a lot from the way a person holds your gaze or the lack of it.

  • Facial Expression: Our facial expression is perhaps the most easily read of all signs and also the most difficult to control.

  • Gestures: While movements/actions of our hands, legs and body can differ in their interpretation across geographies, most of them are easily understood and are defined in the cultural context.

  • Touch: Whenever applicable, the manner in which a person touches another can reveal a great deal about his/her character.

  • Personal Space: The distance maintained by a person while talking can indicate the level of trust and openness between individuals. Every person has a well-defined personal space around him/ her known as the body buffer zone. The distance increases as the intimacy decreases.

Interpreting Body Language signs

  • Body language showing attentiveness: A person who is being attentive will listen closely and ignore distractions.The body posture is likely to be still rather than fidgety. He/she might lean forward a little bit towards the speaker with the head remaining slightly tilted.The gaze of such a person is mostly direct, without much blinking. A furrowed brow is often accompanied with such a gaze to indicate concentration, while slow nodding will indicate understanding and approval.

  • Body language showing aggression: Aggression can most easily be seen in a person’s facial expressions. Disapproving frowns, pursed lips and sneers can signal aggressiveness. Long and constant eye contact can be interpreted more as a ‘cold stare’. This is often accompanied with occasional narrowing of the eyes. The fists could be closed or clenched and he/she might invade the personal zone (by moving closer) without permission. Gestures such as finger pointing, banging closed fists on the table, standing in a tense and erect manner with arms held akimbo can mostly be interpreted as aggression.

  • When a person is lying: A person who is lying will avoid making prolonged eye contact. He/she might make eye contact for a very short while and then break the gaze and look away, and do this continuously. Hands touching face, throat and mouth in nervous gestures can also give away a lie. Expressions are limited only to the mouth movements, rather than the whole face echoing the same emotion which is being mouthed. A liar might unconsciously place objects (books, a coffee cup etc.) between themselves and you while conversing.

  • Boredom: A bored person will be distracted and will tend to fidget with objects around them. He/she will look away continuously from the person who is speaking. Tapping toes, swinging feet, drumming of fingers and stretching are considered to be actions associated with boredom. He/she may also slouch in the seat, or stand with sagging shoulders.

  • Some common interpretations: Relaxed posture, good eye contact, nodding in agreement, smiling/adding humour, leaning closer and gesturing warmly with palms open are generally interpreted as positive body language. Conversely, tense body, arms folded tersely in front, hand on face, fidgeting, impatient gestures, distracted gaze, leaning away and unpleasant facial expressions are counted as negative body language. Being seated at the edge of a chair, clearing the throat time and again while speaking, stammering, sweating etc. are mostly considered to be signs of nervousness.

  • Combinations count more than individual gestures: Body language counts more when a cluster of expressions are read in combination with each other rather than individually.

  • Social and cultural context: Interpretation of each body language element is governed by social and cultural context. For e.g. while pointing at things/another person is a common practice in the Western world, it is considered especially rude in China to point your forefinger publically.

  • Transitions are more important than positions: Interpreting transition from one body position to another is more meaningful than trying to read a single, continuous body position.

  • Masking: People often use various methods to mask their body language. While some body language is involuntary (e.g. sweating) and cannot be masked, some others (e.g. facial expressions) can be masked with continued practice. Close observation is the key here.

  • Mirroring: Mirroring of body language generally indicates agreement. During a discussion, the person opposite you might imitate/mirror your gesture or follow your change in posture to indicate that he/she is ‘with you’ or to make you comfortable and put you at ease.

Tips to communicate positively using Body Language

  • Stand straight with feet slightly apart and firmly planted in the ground. In case you are seated, occupy at least 80% of the chair and make sure you do not slouch.

  • Gesture with open hands while speaking.

  • Keep the hands away from the face.

  • For a small audience, maintain eye contact with as many individuals as you can while speaking. For a large group, make and hold eye contact with different sections of the audience.

  • Facial expressions should be in congruent with and at the same time as the words being spoken.

  • Try and vary the tone of your voice rather than speaking in a monotone.

  • Smile whenever and wherever applicable – it is the most universally understood body language!

Ladder of Inference : Management Funda; V5 Issue 5

What kind of ladder are we talking about?

The Ladder of Inference is a model which explains why we tend to ‘jump to conclusions’ when we are faced with a particular circumstance. Initially developed by Chris Argyris, and later used by Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, the Ladder of Inference describes how we make sequential interpretations from a set of observations, form beliefs, and then commit to take actions based on those beliefs. It is as if we rapidly climb up a mental ladder, drawing conclusions on our own, with little or no data to actually support these conclusions. Finally, we end up taking actions based on these conclusions which almost always causes breakdown of communication.

An Example

I have given an assignment to my team mate Rashmi and have specified the deadline for the same. I feel that the assignment is not too difficult and the time given to finish the assignment is adequate. The deadline comes and goes, without any response from Rashmi. I write a mail to her reminding her that the assignment was due. She however, does not get back to me with any explanation for the delay. The following day, I receive an SMS from her informing me that she is unwell and will not be able to make it to office for a couple of days. I immediately link this with the unfinished assignment and think to myself that Rashmi is faking an illness in order to get away from the deadline. That’s why she avoided talking to me and just sent me a message instead. I start to recall that she did not seem too enthusiastic about taking this assignment up. Maybe she felt that this assignment was a burden and hence did not consider it important.I figure out that she is clearly not interested in taking up additional responsibilities. She is also very irresponsible since she did not get back to me with a response on the stipulated timeline. Based on these beliefs, I decide never to include Rashmi in any new assignments in the future. I start to behave very curtly with her after she is back from her leave. And even though she finally does a very good job on the assignment, I never include her in any future projects and continue to maintain very low levels of trust in her.

Here is the ladder I climbed in my sub consciousness in the episode with Rashmi.

So how do we avoid leaping up the Ladder of Inference?

We can avoid ‘jumping to conclusions’ by remembering the following three points:

  1. Reflection: By becoming more aware of our own thinking and reasoning (Is it fair to judge Rashmi based on non-conclusive data?)

  2. Advocacy: By making our thinking and reasoning more visible to others ie. saying what we are thinking. (Explaining to my colleague why I don’t give Rashmi any more additional responsibilities and checking whether my reasoning is correct?)

  3. Inquiry: Inquiring about other’s thinking and reasoning ie. asking questions to understand others’ thinking. (Asking Rashmi - Is there any reason why you did not respond to my communications on the assignment deadline? Do you feel that additional responsibilities are a burden for you?)

Along with being more conscious of our own reasoning, the use of advocacy and inquiry in the right manner should promote understanding between the parties. For e.g. had I used advocacy and inquiry with Rashmi, I would have found out that she had been extremely unwell in office the day before the assignment deadline and hence had not been able to respond to my communications. She had left me a voicemail on my phone, which I had unfortunately missed.  Even though, she had almost completed the assignment, she had been unable to complete the last bit by the deadline set. And contrary to what I thought, she was extremely interested in taking up additional assignments in order to increase her learning.

What role does this ladder play in the communication process?

Understanding this ladder and incorporating our understanding into daily practices can be a pivotal component of a learning organization. It gives people ways to self-check the various interpretations of events, which in turn will prevent breakdown of communication. As Chris Argyris cautions people, when a fact seems self-evident, it requires us to be especially careful. However, the use of advocacy and inquiry in the right proportion is very important. A ‘high’ of either of these two, can lead to a one way communication instead of a two way understanding.

The ability to make deductions from available data and information is an important cognitive skill. The Ladder of Inference shows to us both the power as well as the dangers of this ability, and can help us differentiate between its use and its misuse. When embedded into teams as a regular practice, this ladder helps in eliminating lack of understanding between team mates, break down of communication and feeble compromises.


Crossword on Workplace Communication : Activity Corner; V5 Issue 1

Check out how conversant you are with the communication lingo in organizations by solving this crossword.


2. An employee who publicly reveals a wrongdoing taking place within his/her company (7,6).

5. The process of discussion with a view to arriving at a mutually agreeable settlement.

6. Forums, podcasts, bookmarking, blogs and social networking sites are types of ________ (6,5),used by HR professionals to source candidates and create peer networks.

8. The fundamental type of communication that supports other communications and provides observable expression of emotions and feelings (3,6).

10. Having a name from Botany, it is a very powerful unofficial communication.

12. A sender’s manipulation of information so that it will be seen more favorably by the receiver.

13. Communication type where two people at the same level interact in organisational context.

14. A communication model where all the people interact with one designated person in the Team with no interaction with other Team members.

15. <g>indicates what in an email?

16. A description of an organization’s purpose: what it does, what markets it serves and what direction it is going in.


1. The social manner in which people interact with each other within a group (5,8).

3. Cultures that rely heavily on nonverbal and subtle situational cues to communication (4,7).

4. A Web log written for and posted on the Internet.

7. Most important part of communication which involves receiving, processing and interpreting the information given by sender.

9. The barrier when same words have different meanings to different people eg. Hai.

11. Symbols used to show Emotion in E-Mail.


Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently: Book Review; V5 Issue 1

Title: Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently
Author: John C. Maxwell
Publication details: Jaico Publishing House, 2010
Number of pages: 247 pages

Have you come across people who inspire, create positive energy, and develop better relationships just through their communication? Here is a book which will tell you how they do it. “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect” by John C. Maxwell an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author illustrates the importance of connecting with people and not just talking to them. He also explores the principles and practices that can make one’s communication more effective in any context be it communicating to your team member or presenting to an audience.

The book opens with a chapter on the necessity of connecting. There is a lot of noise and chatter in the world and it is difficult to filter through and be heard clearly, accurately and with intention. But we must find a way to connect to people if we want to have any influence with them. Then Maxwell reveals the five principles of “Connecting” viz., connecting increases your influence, is all about others, goes beyond words, requires energy and is more skill than natural talent. Maxwell reinforces each principle with anecdotes, data and quotes including those from people who have commented on his blog. So to illustrate that connecting requires patience he uses Henry David Thoreau’s quote “The man who goes alone can start the day, but he who travels with another must wait until the other is ready.”

Maxwell then goes on to detail out the following five practices that can help us connect:-

  1. Connect on common ground (connecting based on common interests and values)
  2. Keep it simple (ensuring one’s communication is not complex to understand)
  3. Create an enjoyable experience (making your communication interesting for the listeners)
  4. Inspire people (communicating such that you motivate your listeners)
  5. Live what you communicate (importance of establishing credibility and supporting your words with actions)

Each practice is broken into sub practices. So for creating an enjoyable experience the sub practices include take responsibility for your listeners, communicate in their world, capture people’s attention from the start, activate your audience, say it so it sticks, be visual and tell stories. And again they are supported with numerous examples. I like the story Maxwell tells to illustrate “Talk to people not above them”. A preschooler on asking his dad about why his apple was turning brown was given a response of “Because after you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came in contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, thus changing its molecular structure and turning it into a different colour.” There was a long silence and then the boy asked “Daddy are you talking to me?” Funny, but drives home the point right?

After each principle and practice has been defined and demonstrated, Maxwell explains how to apply it to one-on-one situations, group situations and larger audiences. For instance while talking about connecting going beyond words he suggests that in one-on-one situations connect emotionally through touch, in group situations through honoring the group’s efforts and rewarding their work and in larger audiences through facial expressions, laughter and tears. The book also offers a lot of practical tips. For example he suggests using a connection checklist comprising of Integrity (did I do my best?), Expectation (did I please my sponsor?), Relevance (did I understand and relate to the audience?), Value (did I add value to the people?), Application (did I give people a game plan?) and Change (did I make a difference?).

The story telling style makes it easy to read and make the lessons more memorable. The format of the book is such that you can open any chapter and gain some valuable insight. Regardless of what role or position or function you are in this is one book that can help you be more effective at what you do.

The Craft of Connecting : Feature Article; V5 Issue 1

When you connect meaningfully with your customer or team you can satisfy your customers and ensure high team morale. Effective communication can help you connect meaningfully with people. And what is the business impact of doing this? Well, Watson Wyatt’s 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study found that between 2000 and 2004, companies with most effective communication programs returned 57% more to their shareholders than companies with the least effective communication programs. Good communication is among the top five characteristics needed by teams and leaders to succeed in a complex working environment. A key factor that emerges from studies of successful managers is that they have a regular and meaningful communication process with their staff. They connect! Let’s look at how this meaningful connection is established.

Crafting the connection

For communication to achieve positive results for you, it is essential to clearly establish objective of the communication, timeframe for it and how and when it is to be done. Every conversation you have, every communication you make in the work context is taking you a step closer to a goal. So it is important you craft each one of the communications with care. Here are a few practices which can help you do this.

  1. Set and manage expectations - Think of your communications as a set of requests and promises. Promise something only if you can follow through with it.Also, if the “promise” is not clearly defined and understood, the actions will not meet expectations. Eg. If there are gaps in understanding between you and your Manager, your performance will always be disappointing to your Manager. It is therefore good to clearly communicate your understanding and get agreement on it.

  2. Say the same thing to everyone - Consistency in communicating a message is important, whether within your team or across groups. Gone are the days when it was possible to develop tailor-made communications for different groups. In today's networked society where information spreads fast through blogs, social networks and other kinds of speedy media, every group can become aware of the communications to others / other groups.

  3. Say often and say it in different ways - Ever wondered why after having mentioned about a task to your subordinate it never gets done. Some messages have to be repeated to be understood and to have the desired results. So send an email, include it in the monthly goals and talk about it your team meetings.Different people absorb information in different ways. So present information in different ways. Speak, write, in small groups, individually or using pictures and diagrams.

  4. Timing is everything - Well timed communications create positive energy. Even though the communication itself may not be pleasant, timely communication prevents negative energy from being generated.  A feedback to an employee has to be given immediately after the behavior has occurred. If the company is facing some tough challenges it is better to convey the true picture as fast as possible rather than giving way to rumors about the same.

  5. Walk the talk - In any communication that requires the receiver to follow what is advocated, the communicator should take the lead. This demonstrates the communicator's commitment. So don’t just say “Cut costs” demonstrate ways in which you are cutting costs yourself.

  6. Build in transparency - Base your decisions on visible and logical factors. People want to know why they are being asked to do or not to do specific things. Such knowledge not only helps them execute their tasks more effectively but also helps them accept the instructions and decisions more willingly. Even adverse decisions like a retrenchment can be made acceptable if employees understand their rationale.

  7. Maximize openness and minimize defensiveness - Sometimes, maybe it is your communication style that generates emotional reactions instead of thoughtful responses. Try changing the questions you ask. Instead of asking “Why are we falling short of this month’s sales goal?” ask “What do you think we can do to ensure we meet our sales goal?” In the first case you make the listener feel defensive, and in the second case he/she will feel involved in the solution (versus being accused of the problem) and will be receptive to brainstorming alternatives. Take a leaf from’ Appreciative Inquiry’ here. AI is based on the premise that “organizations change in the direction in which they inquire” And if organization culture is built around “Appreciative Inquiry” – things which have gone well as against organizations which inquire into problems, some of the results are enhanced cash flows, cost reductions and increased staff morale.

  8. Get the communication tool right - Select communication methods appropriate for target audience. For instance for communicating with an employee in another location you may want to use e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, social media and other web tools. There are some very interesting possibilities in the new age communication tools. While company intranets can serve as central hubs of information about the organization for employees, teams can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain ongoing conversations with questions and answers on a blog. You can even use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies. The CEO can keep a blog or a podcast and companies can use RSS feeds to send regular news to employees. If an organization plans to use new age communication tools then it is important to effectively implement them and provide necessary training and support in the use of the same. This will ensure that employees experience higher levels of communication satisfaction.

Connecting effectively by knowing your audience

An important step in connecting to people is being aware of who you are connecting with and what essential information they need. Typically this is what will work with the four groups you regularly communicate with at the workplace.

  1. Executive level (board of directors, executive staff, your direct manager)
    • High level
    • Address their concerns in their language
    • Focus on impact on business and ROI
    • Be immediate
    • Take hierarchy into consideration (depending on the culture)
  2. Team level (your direct reports, consultants, vendors)
    • Detailed
    • Explain the technical background
    • Outline and explain requests, and justify outcomes
    • Contain clear instructions and clear conditions for satisfaction of requests


  3. Internal customers level (peers, other functional groups)
    • Be clear, concise, and simple
    • Quick and precise
    • Explain the when, where, why, and why not
    • Exhibit extreme patience
    • Repeat over and over again
    • Make it easy for recipients to access facts on their own


  4. External customers level
    • Be politically correct
    • Be aware of revenue impact
    • Be conscious of security and breach of contract issues
    • Take the lead from the marketing/sales departments as to the approved methods of communicating with outside customers


Internal Communication Best Practices

Here are some internal communication best practices that organizations, managers and individuals can follow.

  1. Two way is the best way - If you want internal communication to succeed it is essential that communication be ‘two way’ i.e., employees should not only receive communication, but always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss and express their ideas. Asking for feedback identifies problem areas where messages are misunderstood or not received at all. One-way communication can fail because those delivering the message are not always in a position to know whether it has been received or understood. Thus internal newsletters, is not a substitute for managers communicating directly with employees.

  2. Don’t hold back bad news - Very often good news is given, bad news is withheld. Be it feedback on individual poor performance or difficulties the company is facing, if they are not shared and discussed with the employees an important opportunity to build trust and to improve performance is lost. So don’t just share the good news, but also share bad news if any. People put in that extra "discretionary effort" when they are kept informed openly and honestly on aspects of their job and the business and they feel that they are being listened to with empathy.

  3. Make communication automatically happen, regularly - Can you do this? Oh yes, by ensuring that the necessary triggers are in place! By ensuring communication is an integral part of organization processes and systems you can ensure ongoing communication. For instance feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should be an integral part of organizational performance and individual performance management system. Provide regular, on-going opportunities for employees to provide feedback to management. The opportunities can be provided through employee surveys, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organizational culture that supports open, two-way communication.

  4. Encourage communities of practice - ‘Communities of practice’ are formed by people who collaborate to share best practices around a common vocation or passion. For e.g., Researchers tapping other experts across the globe for specialized knowledge in developing new products. Invest in developing these kinds of networks and deliberately design them to foster measurable business results.

  5. Measure Improvements - The trick here is to measure improvements in your performance and not just communication since you are ultimately using communication to achieve your work goals. Have there been changes in the way your team communicate with customers? Are you getting closer to your customers? Is the perception of your department changing for the better? Is staff morale getting better? Is the team working together well? Is employee retention improving? Is good information being created and communicated throughout your department on a timely basis?


Be it giving work instructions, aligning individual goals to company goals, inspiring team members or understanding team needs, communication forms a key factor in making these connections successful. One important point to remember is that all communication should be made with genuineness and honesty to achieve the desired result. Only when your communication is sincere and conveys what you really feel, will it be really meaningful and make a connection.


Interviewing : Basic Managerial Skills; V4 Issue 4

Effective interviewing is the key to identifying the best candidate for a job, and creating a positive impression on the candidate. Ineffective interviewing can be a put off for good candidates, lead to bad hiring decisions, be a waste of your time and efforts and negatively impact your company’s Employer Brand.

Tips for effective Interviewing

  1. Prepare:Understand the job description, skills required for the job and candidate’s resume details. Provide the candidate information about your company and job, beforehand. Thus valuable interview time will not be spent in understanding facts already available to both of you. Schedule adequate and uninterrupted interview time and appropriate space. Write down in detail the skills you want to hire for to help you make a decision when you meet the first suitable candidate instead of waiting to meet the “ideal” candidate.

  2. Build a rapport with the candidate:This is essential in being able to elicit high quality information from the candidate. You want the candidate to be able to demonstrate himself/herself at his/her best which is more likely if he/she is at ease with you. Being warm and opening the interview with a few easy, non threatening questions can help you achieve this.

  3. Create a positive experience for the candidate: Treat candidates well from the moment an interview is scheduled. Little things like giving directions to reach your office, offering water when they arrive, not keeping them waiting for too long, thanking them for coming etc can go a long way in creating that positive experience. Whereas discrimination, rudeness, inappropriate questions etc can all leave a bitter taste in the candidate. At least 80% of them will tell up to 10 people about their bad experience!

  4. Use a structured interview format: Research shows that the best way to conduct a job interview is by structuring all aspects of the interview process and content. Asking different questions of each candidate leads to a skewed assessment of who would best perform the job. Ask questions to get particular information, only in the context of a core set of questions asked of all candidates. To avoid the same questions being asked by multiple interviewers, record details of your interview.

  5. Ask the right questions:Be prepared with questions and the way you will ask. Open-ended questions such as "Tell me about X project and your role in it" will get a better response than closed-ended questions such as "So you were leading X project?” Avoid questions that address issues irrelevant to job performance. Understanding the context (i.e. degree of difficulty) of a candidate’s past job performance is critical in ranking competing candidates and choosing the most suitable candidate. Use evidence based answers drawn from past performance. Theoretical knowledge or speculative answers (‘would do’, ‘could do’, ‘should do’) have a low correlation to actual skills/attitude and performance. An interview should focus on specific and key role requirements of the job and not on finding reasons for rejecting the candidate.

  6. Ensure you have face to face meeting and fast closures: You learn much more about candidates when you interview them face-to-face than over the phone. It is important that the time between the initial contact with the candidate, first interview, second interview and the offer is less since good candidates get other opportunities and you can lose them.

  7. Avoid common interviewing errors: Some of the common interviewing errors apart from, not selecting candidates smarter than you, that you need to watch out for are listed below. Detailed note taking during the interview, being aware of possible errors and a reasonable period of time between interviews may help reduce some of these errors.
    • Leniency /Central Tendency/ Stringency ErrorRating all candidates as superior/average /poor.

    • “Similar-To-Me-Error”, Physical Attractiveness: Evaluating an interviewee favourably because he/she is similar in some ways to you or is physically attractive.

    • Stereotyping: Forming an opinion about people of a given gender, religion, race, appearance, or other characteristic without any evidence.

    • First impressions: Making a snap judgment based on people’s first impression.

    • Negative emphasis: Rejecting a candidate based on a small amount of negative information.

    • Halo/horn effect: Allowing candidate’s one strong/weak point to overshadow everything else.

    • Nonverbal bias: Undue emphasis on nonverbal cues like a soft voice that have nothing to do with the job.

    • Contrast effect: Strong candidates who interview after weak ones may appear more qualified than they are because of the contrast between the two.

  8. Sell the company and job opportunity during the interview: Most candidates are evaluating several jobs simultaneously. So, prepare a couple of powerful selling points that you will highlight during the interview. Don’t try telling the candidate everything before you have established that there is mutual interest. Provide candidates with information that will create an interest in them for the job and your company.