The module was ‘assertive skills’ and I gave situations to my MBA students for role playing them. One group had this – “A group of your friends are forcing you to go to the pub which you do not like. What do you do?”
They had a very animated discussion as to how to go about it during which one girl said, “Ma’m, am feeling very dizzy with just the thought of all this, can I be excused out, please?”
I said, “Sure, dear if you are uncomfortable.”
The role play was enacted with lot of enthusiasm where they had 3 people in the group who didn’t like going to the pub while there were 4 people who felt it was very much fine to go and have fun and it was right that they insist and take the other 3 too. At the pub, the 3 reluctant goers act as if they are having fun but do not reveal that they hate being there. 1 excuses himself to the restroom frequently, quietly empties his glass there and pretends as if he had the drink. 1 drinks a soft drink that looks like beer (?) The 3rd says he already had too much to drink and pretends he’s totally sloshed and sleeps it off at the table. The others have a great time and they display a lot of cheer, raucous laughter and return having enjoyed thoroughly.
After a round of applause, my debriefing started. I asked the audience if this was right and was it ok to pretend rather than tell them they didn’t want to go. Few said, friendship didn’t mean you need to lie and do things you didn’t like doing. I suggested the discussion translate to work culture. Here everybody said, if you are with the boss or seniors, you better pander to whatever they say is right and go with it if you value your job!
“To be assertive and all that is not a luxury for an employee and definitely not meant for the junior or the fresher” was their unanimous opinion.
I did make my point about it is not really like that and it all depends on how you put your point across and one can be and should be assertive irrespective of his position in the hierarchy. But I could see that they were not totally in agreement and were silently saying, yeah right…if you say so, ma’m!
The disappointment stayed with me and I did bring up this issue with several groups of friends and family. A good friend of mine, said very strongly that you are a fool and a wimp if you either chicken out on being around with the guys when they go for a smoke, go to the pub or party the night away. She in fact scoffed, “You married women with husband, kids kind of sedate life will never go beyond a level in your careers because of this attitude of yours”! She in her words didn’t have any of these issues as she was single and had no qualms ‘hanging out’ with the guys!!
My teenage son showed me an episode of ‘Friends’, a popular soap where Jennifer Aniston desperately takes up smoking in order to ‘belong’ in her ‘boss’s good books!
My 80 plus dad who had served at directorial positions in the public sector said, “It is only here in India that we make a big deal about drinking, vegetarianism and partying. I have travelled to so many countries and there was never an issue if I said I am a vegetarian or if I didn’t take a drink. Here we go on and on ridiculing people about, How come you don’t eat non-veg? Is it only today or always? How come you don’t drink? It’s all right- just for today have one! Common, you need to grow up-don’t worry your wife is not around! As if you are all that chaste, we know all your ways…!!
He said “It used to be so much that I used to just hold a glass so that they would stop their badgering”.
Last week there was an episode of Satyameve Jayate hosted by Aamir Khan on TV wherein he brings to attention several social issues. This episode was about alcoholism and how and why one becomes an alcoholic. Interestingly, the first person who related his experience was a high achiever and top performer who was not forced or pushed to drink but drank just for the fun of it and eventually became an alcoholic who ended up on the streets.
My quest for assertive behavior again surfaced with the same topic that I had discussed in class,
“Why can’t you say, I do not want to have a drink?”