Have you ever felt things were not as they ought to be at your work-place? Have you ever felt a strong urge to contribute to improving the environment around you by giving appropriate feedback? If so, this story is for you.
This is a blog post I published a few years ago – the credit for the story goes to an esteemed colleague, who shall remain unnamed; but the lessons I learned from his real-life accounts are too profound and precious not to be shared with my readers, so here is a brief description.
Feedback Week was over; we had been asked to fill-out a 5-page questionnaire asking us how the hospital where we worked was doing as far as staff-satisfaction was concerned. After hesitating for a week over how candidly to fill the form, we finally submitted it with extensive modifications. It looked more like an 8th grader’s Answer Sheet on a day when he had lots of time to make corrections.
We survived the Feedback Week without too many losses. But we were treated to some feedback ourselves, by none other than the Director himself, as he waxed eloquent over what he thought about his superiors, and the sweat was still fresh above our brows.
He just couldn’t be stopped; he went on and on about the CEO’s extended family who were visiting, their various pets and how aggrieved he felt about having to be nice to all of them.
Fifteen minutes of patient listening from us unwound him sufficiently; he brightened considerably, thanked us profusely (I don’t know why), and left.
Sitting in PK’s room with our respective cups of coffee we were trying to get our eyesight back to normal; such onslaughts can leave your vision foggy and the body limp. I was more than a little riled. I know there is no such word in the dictionary, but when a man does a smear campaign (as opposed to a woman doing it), should we call it “dogging” or not?
“The boss is always right,” PK said, in an attempt to get the perspective back. “Never say anything against him, even if you think he is doing something wrong. Especially not on his face. You pay the price otherwise.”
“Sounds a bit extravagant,” I argued, “I mean, there has to be a limit, right? The Director is always so deferential to everybody; but behind the back, his language is something else! Imagine if we gave that kind of feedback in those forms, especially for things that really matter!”
“Yes, but that is life! He has to do that to keep his position safe. You want to needle him about it?” He waited a few breaths till I shook my head, before he resumed.
“Reminds me of a story,” he began, and then continued, ignoring my groans, “It’s very pertinent, you’ll understand. We were in this hilly location, a little ways off from head-office, but fully equipped, quite self-sufficient – you know how army cantonments are?”
As an ex-Army doctor, PK had his good points, but this was not one of them; he is apt to button-hole you for some of his juicier stories. But you realize how apt they are only at the end.
The way he continued speaking proved that his last statement was not really a question. “The camp commandant had a cat; now this one was a scrawny specimen with a bushy tail, and had a habit of finding its way to all those places where it was least welcome, and would look at you with piteous eyes and mew in the most miserable manner possible.”
PK looked around to confirm he had captured his audience; I gave him my best get-to-the-point look. He continued undeterred: “One of the most offensive sights was its presence in the Officer’s Mess; it would land-up there at the most inopportune of times and make the most unreasonable of demands.”
Now the story was in full flow. “But who could dare object to its presence? Who could, literally, bell the cat? There was no soldier worth his salt in those barracks who could face that cat! Facing an enemy bullet was far easier!”
“So this cat had a grand time! The moment it entered the Officer’s Mess, the stewards would serve it milk, biscuits and whatnots; they would pamper it as if it were the Queen of Sheba herself!”
PK continued, “And the officers could not be out-done in their praise for the cat; some talked about its dreamy eyes, some compared its sharp claws and feline grace to those of a wild tiger, others praised its mewing as if it was the Nightingale’s voice! Even the second-in-command at the camp chipped in to describe the bushy tail, drawing on knowledge gleaned from some encyclopedia he had referred, about cats with bushy tails.”
“‘Egyptian cats have bushy tails,’ he said, ‘that proves that this grand cat has at least partial descent from an Egyptian lineage.’ By elevating the cat to somewhere close to Timur the Lame, this second commandant had solidly cemented his position. It goes without saying that all this kept the camp commandant in high spirits and all was hunky-dory at the camp.”
PK looked at me with the eyes of someone about to deliver the final denouement. “Then the camp commandant got transferred; he had to urgently report to another station, and left, leaving wife, daughter and cat for a month. They would follow when he had settled in the new place.”
“For one month, that master-less cat continued to roam about in the same way as it was wont; but now it had no admirers. People shunned it; those who had earlier found its eyes dreamy, now felt she looked hideous. Those who had praised her voice now thought her mewing grating. It irritated the steward no end when she reported to the mess for her daily cup of milk.”
“The second-in-command had now become the camp commandant, and was one day at the Officer’s Mess with us when this cat made its appearance,” PK continued. Her bushy tail apparently no longer appealed to him. He would rather have her shot, he exclaimed, and sling her from the nearest tree. He went on in that vein for quite some time, getting quite carried away with his emotions.
Now PK is a hot-blooded man if ever there was one; he always had a little difficulty suppressing his feelings. So he asked the new commandant: “Sir, what happened, sir? Just one week back you were praising this cat, about its voice, its claws, its bushy tail, its Egyptian lineage and all that. Now all of a sudden it is worse than a pariah dog? What has changed, sir?”
There were a few moments of stony stares before PK was sent off to cool himself in the barracks. PK didn’t have much time after this, for he was given a 3 months’ posting to a remote outpost starting the next day, so he had to hurriedly pack his stuff and leave; he didn’t know what happened to the cat after all. He learnt later that the new commandant followed up this exchange by inquiring about ‘that impudent little medico who was talking so much’ from the other officers.
“You mean,” I could barely hide my amusement, “He sent you off to a place without any facilities for 3 months just because you gave him some direct feedback once?”
It was PK’s turn to give stony stares: “You see, you may think the worst about me, but when it comes to telling a tale, you will never find it impertinent!”
“You mean irrelevant,” I corrected him.
“I know the difference between impertinent and irrelevant,” he growled, glowering.”You are lucky I can’t post you to some remote place.”
It dawned on me that I had underestimated PK’s grasp of the English language; I had a sneaky suspicion he was giving me some feedback when he used the word ‘impertinent’. Anyway, as colleagues in a private hospital, he hardly had the power to send me to a remote outpost; but he could do other things, and I didn’t want to take that risk!
Feedback Week was over, for the rest of my life!
Posted 21st August 2011 by Rajshekher Garikapati