November 25, 2017

The Art of Conversation in daily life

The power of speech that is unique to us humans is also the reason behind the amazing development of the human race. It is indeed interesting that, on a daily basis, we use this amazing gift without giving it much thought.

With the increasing number of options in digital and virtual communications, I feel the art of conversation is not dying but it is taking up newer dimensions. In the age that we live today, everyone is short of time and hence it is all the more important we re-learn the art of conversation.

The conversation I’m talking about is not of a professional type. While that too is important, we learn so much about professional conversations and communications in our B-schools and boardrooms. The type of conversation I have in mind is the one we have in our homes, our drawing rooms and our dining rooms. When every family member is hard-pressed for time, it’s vital we revisit the important of the art of conversation in daily life.

The importance of open-ended questions

The first requirement of being a good parent is listening. Do parents engage with their children effectively? It’s easy to say that generation gap, the scarcity of time and career pressure prevents long conversations, but we are talking about quality of conversations here.

Parents could begin with simple questions over the dinner table: “So, Priya, how was day? Shashank, how’s your science project turning out? Priya, what was the highlight of your football match today?”

Note that they are open-ended questions that aren’t answered by simple yes-no (“Did you enjoy your school today?” “Yes!” End of conversation), so there’s a lot more coming up. Children can pour their heart out, share their concerns, express their joys and feel connected. “Dad! Today our PT teacher taught us somersault! Awesome!” “Mom, you are amazing! Your tip for improving my stamina on the football ground is showing results!” “Mom, I need your help with my science project. How about this Saturday evening?” “Dad, my friend Pratik needs your help with Economics. When can I ask him to come over? May be this Sunday morning?”

Helping with decision-making, not making decisions

By a little effort and with the right conversations, parents can make the most of the time they get with their children. They can help children adjust in new surroundings, confront tough situations, make the right decisions, and, most importantly provide help in building confidence by letting children take decisions themselves. Don’t take decisions on the behalf of your children; show them the pros and cons of issues, explain them the likely outcomes of each decision and then watch them grow by taking responsibility of the decisions they take.

Conversations on the dinner-table could go like this:

Mom: “So Priya, what have you decided: between the tennis practice match on Monday and preparations for your Sanskrit test that’s scheduled on Tuesday. Which one will you choose?”

Priya: “Mom, I’m utterly confused! I want to have both! I love tennis, and yet I don’t want to do badly on my Sanskrit test.”

Dad: “Oh I know, you like Sanskrit! Tough choice, eh?”

Priya: “Sure it’s tough Dad! You know I love Sanskrit!”

Mom: “So Priya, what factors would you use to decide between the two?”

Notice how first Mom reminds Priya it’s time to make a decision. Then Dad not only echoes Priya’s confusion but also gently acknowledges that he’s taking enough interest in Priya to know she loves Sanskrit. Priya feels her Dad knows her likes-dislikes, invests time in her and understands the strong parental bond there. Next, Mom slowly guides as to how decisions are taken: not in a haphazard manner, but by weighing various factors appropriately.

You’d also notice the parents haven’t shown their own preferences, much less pressurize Priya into one decision or the other. Many things happen due to this. One, Priya learns decision-making. Two, she feels she’s appreciated as an individual with an independent voice in the family. Three, it strengthens the family bond. Four, she realizes she can always take help from parents whenever she’s confused.  And finally, she will learn to own up whatever the outcome of her decision.

Not the best conversation!

Compare it with the communication below, which carries very subtle negative undercurrents.

Mom: “Priya, what are you going to do about your tennis practice match next Monday? I hope you remember you have a Sanskrit test coming up on Tuesday.” (Shows undue urgency. The second sentence hints that Mom believes Priya isn’t responsible enough to remember her tests.)

Priya is now on the defensive, instead of being open. “Well, it’s not my fault the two are on consecutive days. And, Mom, have I ever forgotten any tests, especially Sanskrit?”

Dad (looks up from his WhatsApp chat): “What’s so special about Sanskrit?” (While Dad meant to ask why Priya gave so much importance to Sanskrit, Priya interprets this differently. She thinks her Dad doesn’t even know what her favorite subjects are! And besides, Dad is always busy with WhatsApp!)

Priya (irritated), “Why do I have to keep reminding you Sanskrit is my favorite subject?”

Mom (showing signs of anger): “Priya, that’s not a very polite way to talk to your Dad!”  (and turning to Priya’s Dad) “And I really wish, for the 20th time, you’d not use WhatsApp during dinner!”

See how a little change in the initial wordings made a huge difference later on!

Summing up

Children are maturing earlier than before. They are also becoming more assertive and it’s important to respect their individuality. A little care in framing your sentences can make a huge difference. Showing a lack of trust in their abilities to make the right decisions not only weakens them but also weakens the bond within the family.

It’s not necessary to hold long conversations within your family to stay together. Short, respectful and meaningful conversations can go a long way in reinforcing your family’s cohesiveness. If Dad had avoided WhatsApp during dinner-time, he could have better framed the remarks!

November 10, 2017

Is your passion hurting your startup?

A few days back, I read an article on Forbes. It reported that the 3rd most important reason why startups fail is “Not the right team”. What a revelation!

Founders of startups, when they begin, are so fuelled by their passion they work crazy hours. And it is perfectly understandable, given the faith they have in their idea, their product. If they had 50 hours a day, they’d still be craving for more, such is their passion!

I am aware passion is a wonderful thing, and an absolute must if you wish to succeed; there is no alternative to passion. In the history of mankind, no great task has ever been achieved without tons of passion.

But are you aware the same passion can sometimes hold you back in chains and can keep you from growing?

“I can do it better”

Startup founders are the ones who have found a solution to some tangible problem. Their solution is ingenious, inexpensive, easy, fast or novel in some way. In other words, founders are doing something better. Effectively, founders are pretty good with their core solutions.

And it’s here that the problem begins.

When founders hire people to grow their team, they often believe the people they’ve hired aren’t doing as a good a job as the founders themselves. So the founders put in more time and do the stuff themselves instead of getting it done by the new hires.

But they quickly reach a limit. There are only so many hours in a day, so the founders can’t afford doing everything themselves.

So what happens is they can never grow beyond a limit, because they aren’t delegating things right.

Here’s what you can do:

Instead of taking up everything, every activity, founders need to focus on the following.

  1. Get the right hires. Invest a lot of time and resources in hiring the right people. Having one great team-member is worth five or ten mediocre team-members. Make sure you get the right people, even if you have to wait. That also means you will need to understand the hiring process much better.
  2. Invest your time in training: No matter how good your new hire is, she will still need some training. The objective of the training is make the new hire familiar with your setup, the skill requirements and, most importantly, align her output with your vision.
  3. Be demanding, but also give time: Most likely, your startup is built around a new idea. There may be few, or may be zero, examples in past of how things can be done with such an idea. Hence the new hire will need some time figuring out things. Be demanding in the quality of output, but also be patient.
  4. Remember the whole is bigger than the parts: There might be times when you, as a founder, feel you could have come up with a better design, a better code, a better print than your hires. Hold yourself from doing everything yourself. If you think something can be improved, explain what can be done and get your team-members to do that; don’t do everything yourself. Sitting alone, you can never achieve much, so don’t rush burdening yourself with too many tasks.


As I said earlier, passion is a must for success. But don’t let your passion keep you, the startup founder, from delegating as many tasks as you can. Remember, you, as a founder, are a team-leader and your job is to explore newer ways of solving problems, networking, leading your team and scaling.

Instead of getting trapped into the mindset of doing everything yourself, learn to get the right people and get the best out of them. That way, you’ll be able to scale faster and work better. Good luck!

Deepak Bhatt is a communication, media engagement and publications professional. Currently he manages communication at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), one of Asia’s finest B-schools. He can be reached at