Owning our relationships (Co-authored by Roopika Saran)
This week I want to talk to you about sustaining the most important relationships in our lives – with our spouses, significant others, children, parents, colleagues and friends. Relationships need time, attention and nurturing. Sustaining any relationship is an ongoing effort and we have to constantly work at it. In the corporate world, we have goal setting sessions, review forms, 360 degree feedback and engagement surveys, among others, to have regular dialogues. But we don’t really have any such mechanisms to share, reflect and learn with regard to being a better spouse, parent, child or friend. And if we are to become better at relationships, don’t we need to have richer, more honest conversations on how to improve these relationships and not take them for granted?
I am grateful that my life-partner, Roopi, has written this piece. Please read on:
It was a typical weekday evening. Vivek travelling for work. Me at home with the kids, managing homework, dinner, and the joys of parenting. Our three kids, Janya (13), Aarav (11) and Imara (2) were strangely feisty with each other that day. The older two had been fighting about silly things all evening and I was getting irritated. When they started up at dinner, I barked in full volume and force. “Stop fighting! Can’t you just make a list of all the things that you do that irritate your mother and stop doing those things!” The rest of the dinner was quiet and quick.
As I was putting the littlest one to sleep, I heard giggling and chatting from Janya’s bedroom. Brother and sister were bonding. How sweet! I peeked in and they seemed to be having so much fun that I slinked away.
An hour later, they came to me, beaming proudly with 4 sheets of paper in their hands. “Mama – we made that list you wanted!”
I had already forgotten.
“The list of things that we do to irritate you… it’s really long… 85 items already and we are not even finished.”
My face flushed. “What? How is that possible? 85?”
They had taken me seriously and actually made the list. Not only that, in just an hour, they had come up with 85 things they do that I get irritated by. I scanned the items, sure that half must be wrong or exaggerations. But there was not a single item that I could cross out. I half smiled at them, taking it in.
Janya read my expression and said with a naughty smile, “Maybe number 86 should be ‘Making lists of things that we do to irritate you’”.
Aarav offered adorably, “Sorry , Mama. We only realised when we were making the list that there are so many things we do that bug you.”
Janya said, “We have decided that we are going to try not do these things anymore, but some of them are hard to stop.”
I sent them off to bed with hugs. And sat on the sofa thinking; with the list in my hand. This list was like a mirror to myself as a mother. ‘Hiccupping loudly’. ‘Eating too slowly’. ‘Eating too fast’. ‘Interrupting during phone calls’. ‘Walking noisily’. ‘Whistling’. The list went on and on. Maybe it was too long? Maybe I needed to not have so many buttons that they can press? Maybe I needed to be more tolerant of their inherent selves? Maybe I needed to learn to let some of these things go?
What I loved most about this exercise was that the kids reflected on aspects of their behaviour that irritated me, and by simply putting it down on a list, they ‘owned’ it. They became more conscious that they were doing those things.
And it made me so much more aware of how my kids perceive me.
After all this quiet reflection, I wanted to take things full circle with my kids. I sat down and made a list of things that I do that irritate them. We had a great conversation about how we all have things that get us irritated. And that in a happy, loving family, we should be more aware and try not to press these buttons for each other.
I have tried to become more tolerant, not get snappy easily and let some things go. It has led to more peace and acceptance at home.
It was time to try it out on our marriage. So, Vivek and I did the same exercise for each other. He made his list of things that he thinks irritate me. I made mine. We laughed our way through sharing it. It was hugely beneficial for us. And as we celebrated our 16 year anniversary yesterday, it was the first time that we spoke so good-naturedly about the ways we irritate each other and made a humble pact to avoid those things.
As 2014 comes to an end, this became a great way to reflect on our relationships and think about how we are being perceived by our loved ones. It led to such powerful introspection, self-awareness and in turn, real change.
As Aarav told me just yesterday, “Mama, I think we can erase some items from your list. You are not bugged by our whistling anymore!”
In every relationship, whether it is between a parent and a child, between spouses, amongst colleagues or friends, it helps to own our behaviour and be aware that each of us is responsible for forging peace and harmony. Even in the corporate world, we need to think about how we are perceived by others and how we can become calmer and more tolerant of each other.
Making the effort to become a better parent or a better partner or spouse, can, in turn help us become better Godrej team members. Quite simply, if we are happier outside of work, it will make us better at work. This is something that we believe in very strongly at Godrej. In fact, the ‘Whole Self’ pillar of our people philosophy is based on this belief. As leaders, it is just as important for us to role model these efforts, as it is to ensure that we groom high performing teams and focus on business priorities.
So, why not start the New Year by asking your family, friends or colleagues to make their lists? We would love to hear about your experiences.