'The biggest advantage a company has in today's day and age is its reputation.'
'When something of this nature takes place, their reputation takes a beating.'
Is passive-aggressive behaviour the same as abrasive behaviour?
What do workplace harassment guidelines say about abusive behaviour?
Does there need to be a legal solution to this pressing problem?
"The only way abrasive behaviour will get addressed is if it is tackled at three levels," Amit Chincholikar, the global chief human resources officer at Tata Consumer Products, tells Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com.
"The first is education; letting people know that abrasive behaviour doesn't get you anywhere. This can start as early as in schools and at homes where it must be clearly communicated.
"The second is demonstrably letting professionals know at the workplace that if this surfaces, then there is no way for such people to grow in the system.
"The third is taking very visible, direct, public action when abrasive behaviour surfaces, especially at leadership level."
Looking at the other side of the coin, do you think junior employees manipulate situations to maintain competency or hide mistakes.
When they are genuinely getting direction towards where their behaviour is not right, they try to flip it around and say the manager is being abrasive.
How should such situations be handled?
Again, you are right. A small minority of these kinds of people exist in every system.
The key is to look at two things.
The first is patterns of behaviour.
If this is happening over a period of time with a particular employee, then obviously you can see a clear pattern emerging in the fact that the required output of work is not getting delivered. And that these are the nature of complaints that are coming in.
The other -- though it is extremely unlikely, I've learned not to use the word impossible -- is that there will be a manager who is abrasive just to one particular individual and completely different with the other members of the team.
But, since being abrasive is very often a show of power or domination when is wilfully used, it is extremely unlikely to be restricted to one individual.
So it becomes pretty easy to call out when you when you look at an individual's behaviour over a timeframe to establish whether there's a certain pattern or not, and with multiple sets of individuals to see if the pattern is consistent.
It is also very important for managers to realise they should be able to see these kinds of behaviour. Being naive is not an excuse. You can't say I was unable to spot when I might get accused of being abrasive, etc.
It's a reputation risk so managers need to be careful in these situations.
It comes down to the nature and frequency of your communication with your team. The key is to recognise that it creates the opportunity for surprises on both sides if you are not engaging often enough.
And that can lead to this kind of allegation either from a junior employee's perspective, or from a manager's perspective.
You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Bad behaviour will surface, it will show.
Is passive aggressive behaviour the same as abrasive behaviour?
No, I don't think so.
Abrasive behaviour is very public, very humiliating and very, very obvious.
Sometimes, passive aggressive behaviour, when channelised or used well, can actually benefit both parties.
Again, I would say frequency is important.
You normally associate individuals with types of personalities, right? If an individual is naturally aggressive in some way, then it is a matter of how often does it get to a stage where it can be classified as abrasive.
Being able to use passive aggressive behaviour constructively, but sparingly, can actually be a very, very strong way to communicate your point.
If you have a manager who normally never loses his or her cool and at a particular instance, it happens and the displeasure/anger is well understood, then any reasonable individual would see that the manager is usually not like this. There must be a reason for her/his behaviour.
I keep going back to the example of how we deal with our children. If we are constantly strict with them, they do not think it is unusual when you take a decision that is stricter than normal because they are used to you behaving in a particular way.
But if they are used to you dealing with them gently or kindly and at some stage something happens that makes you really angry, they will realise -- or you will realise -- that this time they have really crossed the line. Or you have, and that something has happened to make you react in this particular way.
What do workplace harassment guidelines say about abusive behaviour?
There are two types of harassment.
Guidelines are clearly prescribed by the law as to what constitutes sexual harassment. It need not be directed at you but it is something that you find offensive and therefore feel harassed. This gives you the right to lodge a complaint with your internal affairs committee.
But there are no specific law-based guidelines for other kinds of behaviour; companies frame their own guidelines.
For example, we have the Tata Code of Conduct, which clearly calls out acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; what you can, and cannot, do. It gives you an idea of the behaviour that will get called out and addressed.
At the same time, an organisation's guidelines are only as effective as its demonstrable implementation. Otherwise, it just remains something in a policy book.
For such guidelines to succeed, three things are required:
a. People understand it;
b. People practise it;
c. People see it reinforced.
Can such behaviour cause mental issues for those who are at the receiving end? In such cases, how does the company tackle it?
Yes, I'm most certain it can causes mental issues whose severity may depend on a multiplicity of factors.
How do companies tackle it? Again, there are there are multiple options for mental well being.
For example, we have an anonymous counselling service that allows people to reach out about any kind of issues they may be facing -- personal, professional, etc -- if they don't feel comfortable raising it within the system.
If it is something that is raised within the system, and established, then it is incumbent on any company to ensure it gets visibly addressed by taking relevant, public action against the perpetrator.
The company must also help individuals seek whatever form of counselling the individual believes is needed. They also need to ensure individuals don't feel they are targeted because they faced a harassment situation and made a complaint.
These mechanisms need to be visibly laid out and demonstrably executed.
Organisations need to realise and very visibly communicate that there is no shame in someone feeling mentally harassed and therefore seeking any kind of support externally too.
The key is to maintain confidentiality and sensitivity so that it doesn't become public. Unfortunately, the awareness that something like this needs to be addressed is still inadequate in society.
Do businesses underestimate the benefits of civil behaviour, in terms of how it can benefit their bottom line? Do they underestimate how abrasive behaviour can hurt their bottom line?
The biggest advantage a company has in today's day and age is its reputation. When something of this nature takes place, their reputation takes a beating.
Reputation risk is something any self-respecting, environmentally conscious and global company would avoid because it has a direct impact in terms of how your product is perceived by consumers.
People do not wish to see something like this; people do not accept it because it doesn't sit right with 95 per cent of the population.
If you see what happened at Nike in 2018 -- though that was sexual harassment; some internal leaders sent out memos with remarks that were sexually suggestive and demeaning about other executives in the firm -- its reputation took a beating as a global brand. Female athletes started pulling in their contracts.
Once there is a reputation risk, the value association that company brand enjoys comes under severe threat.
We've seen it happen with individuals like Tiger Woods as well. People don't wish to associate with you if your brand -- individual or corporate -- is seen as being remotely associated with something like this.
This is not just true of large corporations, it is true of small brands like the mom-and-pop shops that exist in our neighbourhoods. People value the kind of experience they get, either as employees or consumers or customers.
Companies that underestimate the impact this can have on their brand are being naive.
How strong is the law when it comes to tackling abusive or abrasive behaviour in India, given that court cases drag on for so long? Is it a viable solution?
Personally speaking, why do we need the recourse of the law to find a solution for abrasive behaviour or harassment of a non-sexual nature?
In my mind, the solution lies within the organisations themselves. The moment we invoke either the legislative or the judiciary, we are saying the onus of solving these issues lies outside of us.
Let's take an example that none of us can ever forget, the Nirbhaya case.
While the law changed -- and that was a very important step milestone -- to what extent did the number of such terrible cases reduce? I don't know what the data suggests, but it does not seem that the cases have come down in the way it was envisioned.
The only way abrasive behaviour will get addressed is if it is tackled at three levels.
The first is education; letting people know that abrasive behaviour doesn't get you anywhere. This can start as early as in schools and at homes where it must be clearly communicated.
The second is demonstrably letting professionals know at the workplace that if this surfaces, then there is no way for such people to grow in the system.
The third is taking very visible, direct, public action when abrasive behaviour surfaces, especially at leadership level.
Quite frankly, the people who are in powerful positions and could perpetuate this are in a minority. It is in the hands of the majority to ensure it is possible to control this and not allow it to get to a stage where it becomes a way of life.
In the future, leaders who are more empathetic will emerge.
People will be acutely conscious about the need to demonstrate empathy while continuing to focus on results. It's not an either-or situation; both will need to coexist.
The need, therefore, is to find constructive ways to get this addressed at an individual or at an organisational level.
The late Margaret Mead (the renowned American cultural anthropologist) said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.'
Amit Chincholikar's photograph: Kind courtesy Tata Consumer Products