HumourJuly 14, 2017

Dear Gyan Pitara

A 'pitara' loosely means a box or chest full of... whatever you want it to be. In this case, the 'pitara' is full of not-entirely-helpful, but always funny, advice on professional dilemmas in the development sector.
by GP
2019-05-14 00:00:00 India Development Review Dear Gyan Pitara
3 Min read Share

Gyan Pitara considers having worked in a variety of roles in the development space not so much as a sign of inconsistency than as a certificate for giving gyaan.

Gyan Pitara is currently working on a love story set in the M&E world (spoiler: limited impact) and wondering when anybody will start paying for advice.

The first in a series of not-always-helpful advice for development sector professionals in India.

1. Extreme Earnestness

Dear Gyan Pitara
This colleague who sits next to me at work is a nice person, and very well meaning. But he starts off every day by telling me (and everyone around him) a motivational quote. And emails us inspirational speeches or clips at various times through the day. He is very earnest about it—and it drives me up the wall. How do I communicate that I do not want to be motivated?
Yours truly,
Unmotivated and liking it

Dear Unmotivated,

I can completely empathise. This is a more challenging situation to handle than someone who is a non-performer, intrusive, rude, or just one of the wide variety of people you’re forced to deal with daily. Seriously, how do you tell someone that their earnestness gets to you?

I would suggest that you start using his quotes to have a conversation about the things that really matter to employee motivation.
For example, does your organisational mission and vision mean anything tangible? Do employees have autonomy to perform their work? Is there a sufficient level of investment in developing employee skills or careers, or recognition for performance (not just monetary)? How can you get half-decent coffee in office?

Once you start linking inspiration to tangible things that can be improved, and ask for volunteers to lead these initiatives–with a specific nod towards this colleague–I can guarantee that these emails will stop.

Or, you can just delete them without reading and stop complaining so much. Just remember: even puddles can have rainbows!


Related article: How to appear broke ‘enough’ on your next donor visit

2. Faking it

Dear Gyan Pitara,
To avoid unproductive meetings, I have started scheduling fake meetings on my calendar, and sneaking away to a coworking space just to get my work done. I’m afraid that sooner or later, I will be found out. How do I escape random meetings with my sanity (and my productivity) intact?
Yours truly,
Hiding in my safe space

Dear Hiding,

Sadly, this phenomenon is widespread throughout any line of work. So unless you intend to spend the next couple of decades hanging out in hipster joints eating overpriced salads (side note: who likes coworking spaces? They’re awful!) and anxiously looking over your shoulder, I would suggest you take decisive action to deal with this.

Suggest to your management that they can supplement the organisational budget by imposing fines on people who a) turn up late for meetings b) set up meetings without an agenda and c) don’t send out any pre-reads until at least four hours prior to the meeting.
And voilà! Not only will you find the frequency of unproductive meetings significantly reducing, the organisation will also have more money for happy hours. It’s a win-win all around.

And just in case, find a broom closet you can hide in and work out of. Those salads can really add up.


Related article: 7 of your nonprofit colleagues we met on Tinder

3. Being human

Dear Gyan Pitara
Am I supposed to own up when I have made a mistake? It seems like no one makes mistakes; I’ve never seen or heard anyone admit to one. My desire to get ahead and my desire to do the right thing are clashing right now. Help!
Yours truly,
Not saying I make mistakes but I could someday, I mean, I’m only human, okay I’ll stop

Dear Not,
Wow, take a moment and calm down. You’re not alone in facing this problem.

87% of all employees fear telling their supervisors about any mistakes they have made (you may question that figure, but I’ll never admit I’m wrong). This is driven by a variety of interconnected factors, including a fear of being judged, social norms that punish failure, and your annual bonus (what’s that, you ask?).

I could send you links to some great TED talks about why embracing failure is good and how it encourages people to take risks, but I won’t. I don’t want to be responsible for you suddenly feeling too empowered and making all the mistakes you want.

There’s a whole cottage industry of empowering articles behind paywalls that talk about this, but the gist is: if you’ve made an honest mistake and haven’t caused too much damage, then own up to it and discuss what you’ve learned. It shows character.

If you’ve made the same mistake more than once, then consider resigning. And if you’ve done something potentially criminal, then you should be calling a lawyer, not emailing me. Please don’t tell me what you’ve done. I don’t want to know.

Yours (only if you haven’t done anything too wrong),

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