Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ironies of Soft-Skill Training

The good thing about soft-skills is that they apply very well to all parts of life, not necessarily just professional. The bad thing is, they are easy to theorise about, but very hard to practice.

Last week, Thursday, I did a one day training in time management. I felt it was a great experience. Got all enthused to apply my learnings to every aspect of my life. Since, the weekend almost immediately followed, I spent it planning my leisure very well. Since, anyway there was little to do, planning worked very well. I got further encouraged. Sunday night, before going to bed, I had ready with me, a detailed plan for Monday. It ran into 2 pages of my notebook. Even activities taking just a few minutes had been planned. I slept well looking forward to a busy but neatly executed day at office. Got up in morning and did my exercises rather peacefully. After all the days was planned. The success lies in working smart, not in hurrying around.

When I reached office and opened my Outlook, there popped up a reminder saying 'Customer Orientation Training - 45 minutes overdue.' I was enrolled in this 2 day training! I looked at my 2 page plan. Hesitated a while wondering if I could back off from the training still. Realised, I couldn't. And ran to the training room in a tremendously frustrated state of mind. An example of how it's going to take a while before I really learn how to manage my time, if at all. For now, I surely learn a lesson that I must try to keep only one task list so that conflicts don't occur and even if they do, they are known.

The second instance of irony happened at the end of the Customer Orientation course. The trainer asks all trainees in the beginning what their personal expectation from the course are. At the end of it, he reviews this list to see if they have been fulfilled. My expectation was the following: to be able to handle situations where there is a gap between my understanding of value in a proposal with my customer.

Just as an explanation (which I shared with the class that day), it's often seen in our research projects that our customers come with the idea that the result of our research projects will prove directly financially beneficial to 'their' projects. Our perception often differs. We tend to think that we need to produce knowledge through the exercise which will be found beneficial to the organisation in a long-term sense. This difference in perception is natural. No one is wrong at his respective role. But this difference in perception has to be managed.

During the course of the training, the fact about my being a researcher and PhD bla bla was naturally revealed. In response to my expectation, my trainer said that it would be my responsibility to try showing the value of the proposal to my customer. It wouldn't be fair on my part to expect him to buy my idea of value from the project. I think my trainer was right on that. However, rather unexpectedly, he continued further saying something about how people from premier institutes tend to expect others to buy their ideas just because they are from premier institutes. He opined that being from premier institute doesn't help. One must perform to show his value.

While technically my trainer was again right, I found this remark very out of place. In fact, I felt embarrassed because it was directly in response to my query. It seemed to indicate that I had in some way given an impression that I was trying to throw my weight around because of my being from a premier institute. Though the whole training had been quite valuable, I came out of it with an uneasy heart. So much so, that I wrote a mail about my feelings to the trainer, explaining that I had never meant my ideas to be accepted easily simply due to my background. A very unpleasant exchange of mails followed which left me even more uneasy. I could see no hint of eagerness in him to understand what had bothered me. He took a very defensive stance. Something in complete contrast to what he had taught for 2 long days. Unfortunately, it's no assurance in soft-skills matters that your being a preacher gives you the ability to practice.