14 July 2016 12:11:59 IST

Even hardened cynics can soften their stance

Circumstances force Debu to reconsider the way he relates with his colleagues

Debabrata (Debu) was a small town boy, the son of a junior government official. When a neighbour bought a new Maruti Zen, his father was dismissive of it, saying they had too much black money.

Debu was a voracious reader, devouring English classics. He had a prodigious memory and could easily recount a quote befitting every situation. Whilst in college, if someone flaunted their wealth, he decimated them with, “I tend to agree with Balzac that every great fortune begins with a crime,” to impress the girls. It was another matter that nobody had heard of Balzac.

He later made it to one of the IIMs, where he was the best debater over two years.

Professional career

When it came to placements, Debu was picked up on day 1 by a reputed start-up in the analytics space.

Within a span of five years, his company attracted two more rounds of funding and their market capitalisation touched a billion dollars. It was Debu who always made the presentations to new investors and with every round of funding, he earned a promotion.

He did not have too many friends at work. How could he, when he ran down his colleagues at every opportunity? The CEO was aware of this but it clearly did not bother him. Why else would he have allotted him additional stock options? At current valuations, Debu was worth over $10 million.

The acquisition

Things were rosy for him for a while. Until one day, a large $20 billion company from the US acquired a controlling stake in Debu’s company at a valuation of $1.2 billion. Promoters and all those who owned stock options were locked in for two years, and all jobs were protected.

Debbie, a philosophy major from Cambridge, was deputed as the CEO. She had a reputation of being a very good judge of people and was responsible for the successful integration of many previous acquisitions.

The original founder and CEO was now the COO, reporting to Debbie. Debu was moved to the business development team.

Debbie came across as someone who rarely pre-judged people and as someone who could easily be trusted. She was articulate and her choice of words always put the other person at ease.

Inflection point

Six months later, Debbie started her individual review meetings with the senior team. Debu’s meeting was set up for 10 am.

“Hi Debu, how are you doing?” said Debbie as she walked around her desk and shook hands with him.

“Doing great Debbie, thank you,” said Debu.

Gesturing towards the sofa, she said, “Please sit down.

“There is something important I wanted to talk to you about and get your opinion on. We are in the process of completing another acquisition. The person I chose to lead the post-integration team was dead set against having you on his team. He says you tend to run down others and do not collaborate,” she said.

“I really don’t know how to react. I guess I am smarter than many, which is why they think that way,” Debu tried to reason.

“The truth may be much farther than you think, Debu. I have worked across cultures and found that often, it is deep-seated insecurity within us that tends to negatively colour our perception of others. Don’t you think that when we judge others negatively, somewhere within ourselves, we feel we are the opposite? And that’s why we continue to run down others?”

Debu continued listening.

“You know you are now part of a new organisation — one in which we value collaboration the most. I am sorry to say this, but if you cannot learn to collaborate better, there may be no place for you here. I would hate to see your stock options turn worthless. You are a great asset to us and I am willing to help you change. ”

The dramatic change

Debu felt as though a bolt of lightening had struck him. Her threat was real. And for the first time in his life, he did something he had never done before — he asked someone for help.

“Can you help me here, Debbie?”

“Sure Debu. Let me tell you my story. At the start of my career, I had similar issues. I found it difficult to suffer fools around me. Then one day, I realised that the problem was actually within me — in my mind, I thought negatively of every colleague. That doesn’t seem right, I thought to myself.

“So to change my outlook, I made a list of all my colleagues and wrote one positive word to describe each of them. From that day onwards, I remembered them only by those descriptions and my relationship with them changed overnight. Try it.”

Debu did just that and there was a dramatic change in the way he related to others and how they responded to him.

Six months later, when Debbie made another acquisition, she had Debu lead the post acquisition integration team.