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15 June 2012

On First Impressions.....

"I don't think first impressions matter much. I think that you can know a person only after multiple interactions with him." my son commented as I was driving him to the school today.
"Why do you say this?" my curiosity was aroused.
"There is this boy in our class, Harsheel. When he first came to the class, we all thought he was very quite and reserved. But now, after 2 weeks, we find that he is the naughtiest kid in the class." he responded.
I got into the parent mode....
"Considering the relationship on a long-term, probably you will get multiple opportunities to change the first impression of people. However, it may happen that sometimes the first impression is the only chance you will get of communicating yourself to others. If you goof up in the first impression,  you will be lucky if you get a chance at a second or third impression. To that extent, first impression is important." I told.
"Let me cite two instances from my experience where first impression was drastically different from the later impressions. In one of them I was the victim (if you could use the word) and in other case I was the perpetrator." I continued.
"Ujwal Joshi was one of the consultants assigned to a project that I was managing. Thru the initial phase of the project, Ujwal had major attitude problems. He had all the required knowledge to take over the leadership of the project, but he continuously underperformed in the project and worst of all, he had attitude problems."
"Over my years of experience, I have come to know that it is better to communicate the attitude issues up the organization as soon as possible. I immediately informed Ujwal's manager and had Ujwal removed from the project"
"Just before removing Ujwal from the project, I had a heart-to-heart discussion with Ujwal. I told him that while I appreciated his knowledge, his attitude issues meant that the knowledge was not useful for my project."
I looked to my son if he was following my narrative. While he pretended to be not interested, I could see that he was rapt in attention.
"Almost immediately after I got Ujwal removed from the project I had a major crisis in the project and I was forced to get Ujwal back into my project. You can understand that I was quite apprehensive about bringing him back in my project, but I had no options", I continued.
"However to my great surprise, the new version of Ujwal turned out to be exactly opposite of the earlier version. He took initiative, ensured that the he was available to the team to resolve any challenges and was able to deliver some high quality work in the project. He always had the talent, but now his talent was focused on supporting the customer."
"Later he told me that my one-on-one talk with him helped him to change his perspective and understand where he was going wrong. He understood that he was performing one level below his capability, whereas he should be performing one level above his capability." I progressed.
"Ujwal was lucky to have got a second chance to demonstrate his capability. Normally in an organization, one does not get such second chances. Imagine if he hadn't got the second chance. Both me and the organization would have carried the perception that Ujwal had attitude problems."
"That is the reason why the first impression is so important."
End of story no. 1
The story no.2 starts in 1998. I was working in SAIL Durgapur and had taken study leave to do an MBA in Finance from Kolkata University from 1995 to 1997. After my graduation, I went back to Durgapur and rejoined my original department. Soon I had a discussion with my AGM. This was a new person. My previous boss had moved on with a promotion.
My new boss asked me what I wanted to do.
"Since I have completed my MBA, my career goal is to move into Finance area", I told him, "But as long as I am working in your department, I will put in my 100%."
Somehow, he did not 'hear' my 100% part. He focussed only on the part about my career goal being to move to Finance. 
He did not say anything at that time.
A few days later I was in my morning shift which start from 6.00 AM. Normally, in a morning shift, by about 7.00 AM, we would have completed our main coordination activities. So, on that day, at 7.30 AM we were all (morning shift staff) sitting in our control room and I was reading the morning papers when my boss walked in.
As soon as he saw me reading the paper, he shouted at me in a loud voice, "Ramaswamy, this is not a library. If you  are not interested in working in this department, you can leave. But I won't allow you to misuse this department"
It was so totally unanticipated outburst. I just put the paper down and said 'I am sorry' and left the room.
A few months later, our department organized a 'Power Engineers Seminar' for SAIL executives at Durgapur. The seminar consisted of Power Engineers and Senior Executives from various plants under SAIL. This was a prestigious seminar and I was made in Charge of the organizing committee.
I put in a lot of effort and the seminar was quite a success.
After the seminar was over, my boss called me up and told, "Ramaswamy, you have to improve your communication skills. When you told me that you will put in your 100% I did not believe you.  But now, after seeing you organize this seminar, I can see what you meant. You should have communicated in a more smooth manner."
I did not know what to say. As he mentioned, his first impression of me was wrong, but I got the opportunity to rectify his perception.
Normally, in life you do not get such second chances. And that is why first impression is very important.
End of story no. two.

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