Excuse me, I do not drink.

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?”

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8 comments on “Excuse me, I do not drink.
  1. Komal Gupta says:

    What I think is if you don’t like something which may be smoking, drinking or anything else, you should say no at the first instance itself. If the person in front of you is a well wisher, he will always respect this fact. We should never allow a false image of ours to build in front of our boss or peers just to please them. This will in turn make us suffocating, and later make it very difficult to come out of this image. 

  2. Rajan Mani says:

    Hi Surya I was at best a social drinker, that too generally at sales conferences and the like and to date have never ever spent my money on booze. Even when i was a MT, if I was not comfortable with the company, I would just say that I didn’t drink – and don’t think my senior colleagues of that time thought any the less of me. I think it boils down to pasand apni apni!

  3. Rasheed Iqbal says:

    A public sector bank had organized a cocktail party in a 5-star hotel in Dubai to welcome an Indian cabinet minister who had come for trade talks. invitees included the ambassadors to UAE of Britain, Australia, Qatar and several other countries. The Indian ambassador was also present (he is now in the MEA, Delhi). I was in a group where my boss (twice my age) had already taken a few pegs, was trying to compel me to drink. I told him that I did not drink (a fact which he already knew). But he continued to badger me, saying loudly that I would never prosper in my career if I continued with ‘such negative behaviour’. At this point, the Indian ambassador cut in and told my boss that not drinking was not negative and that he (my boss) should watch his behaviour as we were all ambassadors of the country abroad. 
    The following week, I was told that the ambassador had used his influence at Delhi to have my boss recalled to India before his term ended. He also called me personally and complimented me on my assertive behaviour. 
    Footnote: I prospered in my career despite not drinking and a few years later, my erstwhile boss was reporting to me when I was reassigned to India. Assertiveness pays. 

  4. Surya says:

    thanks for comments, komal, rajan mani, rasheed….i was worried if i had to come to the consensus of ‘be assertive – be a loser’ ! the other day i was conversing with an editor of an online magazine and she was saying in everyday life also, if we protest against something and try to set things right, we end up as a big fool! 

  5. Rajan Rengarajan says:

    I would concur with your statement for being assertive.The assertion of one’s preferences or lack of it (politely), would meet with some inertia (i mean the resistance from within), for the first time. But from then on, you could easily habituate to being polite but assertive about whatever you want to uphold. I would find it difficult to stomach the statement that one would compromise his or her principle for not being left-out or for material gains. This would be the ploy that would be used by people who lack self-belief. During my tenure in US, there used to be parties organized every week wherein invariably I would excuse myself from drinks & non-vegetarian, stating that I dont want to. (I would be the only person in a group of 30 to 40). T
    I have been a regular to your posts (i mean emails in our group) and admired your mastery over english. Keep it up.

  6. Ramesh Sundararajan says:

    Being assertive is an honest expression of one’s feelings, opinions, and needs.  I am very disappointed at the reaction from your students. So, when does one stop pandering to the boss to get ahead in the career?. Ok. It’s just a smoke , a drink. How about sex ? Where will your student(s) draw the line ? Your dad’s astute observation about the West are spot on. In the West, particularly in the USA, since childhood, Americans are encouraged to see themselves as individuals responsible for their own destiny, not as a member of any collective group. Being assertive shows that you respect yourself, because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the rights of others and are willing to work on resolving conflicts. e.g not able to stay late to finish the urgent work boss wants because you have to be at your son’s cricket game or recital BUT will work on this tonight at home.  How do you communicate your assertiveness is another post for another day 🙂

  7. Cvrao says:

    my father late c.madhusudanarao was a good friend of your father at neyveli.enjoying a drink just for the occasion is not going to ruin one’s character.

  8. Surya says:

    yes, i agree but that 1 drink or any number of drinks should be that individual’s wish rather than for the sake of a friend or fear of boss etc

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