Rules of engagement

Updated: Dec 23, 2019, 07:48 IST | Anindita Paul | Mumbai

The dramatic reinstatement by court of Cyrus Mistry as chairman of Tata Sons overturned former mentor and brand custodian Ratan Tata's decision. Experts tell you how to swim the tide while taking on a senior at the workplace

In October 2016, Cyrus Mistry's unceremonious exit as the then presiding chairman of Tata Sons rocked corporate India. Mistry, who had taken over the position from Ratan Tata in December 2012, subsequently launched legal proceedings against the group, challenging his dismissal. More than three years after the saga began, a special two-judge panel of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal has reinstated Mistry as the executive chairman of Tata Sons and has also labelled the actions of Ratan Tata against Mistry as 'oppressive'.

Even as details of what transpired between two of corporate India's reputed heavyweights continue to tumble out from behind boardroom doors, those in the know claim that the ordeal is far from over. Even in cases where the stakes are not as high as multi-billion-dollar enterprises, clashes between employees and their superiors can often be daunting affairs. "While the consequences of challenging your seniors, especially in a volatile job market, can be unnerving, silence at the workplace is not always golden. Remember that you have been hired to contribute to the organisation and not to only be a 'yes person'.

Cyrus Mistry and Ratan Tata. Pic/Getty Images
Cyrus Mistry and Ratan Tata. Pic/Getty Images

In fact, being too complacent about the status quo can easily mean that you are neither doing your job well nor helping the company succeed. Many senior executives look to their subordinates to speak up, as a lack of new ideas can be one of the biggest barriers to innovation. Even if you think that your boss would much rather go along with his/her every decision, others in the company may wonder about your silence and perceive you as someone who lacks leadership qualities," says success coach Sushma Iyer Rasal. The trick to not letting your disagreements devolve into ego clashes and/or retaliatory battles is to voice your dissent in a healthy manner, she suggests.

Psychologist Priyanka Bajaria prescribes adhering to the 'GIFT' communication strategy when framing your dissent.

Sushma Iyer Rasal
Sushma Iyer Rasal

Go: with facts, not arguments. It's important to state your thoughts in a manner that is not perceived as argumentative. Helpful opening statements such as "I have observed..." or "I would like to bring to your attention..." can help, as can 'I' statements that emphasise your views instead of 'You' statements, which suggest that you are blaming your boss.

Intention: before you approach your boss, reflect on and be aware of your intentions for doing so. If you approach him/her with an intention to prove them wrong, your subsequent dialogue and actions will reflect that. However, if your intention is to be collaborative and find a solution to the problems you are facing, your approach will be more assertive and less aggressive.

Nidhika Bahl
Nidhika Bahl

Forum: identify the right opportunity to speak to your boss. If your grievances could potentially present your boss in bad light, a one-on-one conversation would be a better choice.

Tone: when addressing your boss, be mindful of your tone. Remember that you have the right to disagree with your boss, but not disrespect him/her. If you do lose your temper during the conversation, always follow it up with an apology and clarify your intentions.

Priyanka Bajaria
Priyanka Bajaria

Iyer Rasal also advises that you always criticise the action, not the person when addressing your boss. "Make sure that you focus all communication on challenging the decision, and never make condescending remarks against your senior. If you criticise the individual, the clarity of outcome that you may expect from this dialogue will be lost as the discussion transforms into a personal battle," she explains.

Dealing with the aftermath
Winning in a tussle with your senior is only half the battle won, says leadership coach Nidhika Bahl.

"Don't expect the relationship with your boss to bounce back immediately — just because you may have moved past the disagreement doesn't necessarily mean that your boss has as well," she says. She advises the following strategies:

. Take initiative. While you could be tempted to play victim, focus on opening an honest dialogue about what happened and why, with your boss. This will bring you one step closer to finding common ground and putting the bad blood behind you.

. Acknowledge how your boss was impacted by your actions and apologise for any harsh words. However, don't offer unnecessary excuses or explanations. Sometimes, it may be best to involve a third individual to arbitrate the meeting.

. Offer at least a few ideas on what you can do to prevent any recurrences. Think about what could have been done differently, then try and establish processes as safeguards.

Life coach Hemant Lawanghare stresses on being aware that it is the merit of the case that has earned the victory and not the individual. This situational awareness gives rise to behavioural intelligence, a guiding force that drives your behaviour in challenging times. Finally, if the situation at hand still seems hostile, remember to keep your behaviour unbiased and demonstrate behaviour that positively reinforces the five essential pillars of workplace relationships — common purpose, trust, mutual respect, security and growth (of the self and the organisation).

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