LESSONS FROM THE PAST 27 - Can Compliments Be Daggers
It would seem a strange title. Compliments are generally expected to motivate, to show appreciation, to create a feeling of warmth and friendship.
In short, a very positive attitude—starting with those oft repeated words— “Well done.” 
These are words which have taken many people very far, thought the world.
But this can sometimes cause 'compliment rebound.' The compliment can be the starting point for jealousy, for a hurt ego and hurt pride. 
These can be so serious, especially in the corporate world, that it can ruin careers, and sometimes for the emotionally immature, even ruin lives. 
Many decades ago, when I was doing senior executive recruitment, a client asked me to suggest candidates for the post of vice president—marketing. This was a large division of a very large company in the consumer durables sector. 
I identified a suitable candidate, who met all the requirements, except that he was from a different industry. But I thought it did not matter. After all, he was not joining as the technical director or research director, and he could pick up the required knowledge as he goes along, both on the product and the market. 
So, Rohan went for the final interview—which was with the chairman, the president of the division and the finance director.
They all liked Rohan immensely. He answered all their questions, even about their own industry, as if he had worked in it before. 
At the end of the interview, the chairman (a well-known figure in the industry in India) said loudly to the division president “Rohan seems to know more about the industry than you do!” And then to Rohan- “That is good homework done Mr Rohan!”  
This seemed part in jest and perhaps, half serious. But the division president took it seriously. After Rohan joined the company, the president always remained distant, with budgeted communications, no sharing of thoughts and opinions. They just could not work together as a team. 
At the end of two years, Rohan left to join another company in another city—bitter with this inexplicable experience. That one jocular comment (compliment) had an impact on Rohan’s career – and changed his life. 
Fifty years ago, I worked for a British company in India. It was the practice for the managing director (MD) of the company to go to UK every year to present the next year’s budget to the board of directors there. 
In 1973, the international headquarter (HQ) decided that it would be good to give the next level some experience of dealing with the international HQ, so level 2 was asked to represent. 
As head of marketing, I was invited to go and present the budget. I did a lot of preparation. The slide presentation of two and a half hours was helped by a good ad agency. 
This was presented to a board of 16, who were very impressed that the presentation was made without any piece of paper in hand. When it was over, there was loud applause. Many compliments. 
The chairman said softly “I do not agree with some of the assumptions. But we will point these out later. Now let us take it that the budget is approved.” 
The international operations MD asked the Asia head to send a telegram immediately to the MD in India “Walter fared excellently. Congratulations to the India company.” 
I was thrilled!
However, this compliment was not appreciated by my boss. He felt that that this is the first step to replacing him with me. So he had better be careful. 
After I returned to India, things were never the same. He bypassed me and gave instructions to my subordinates, who were reporting to me. He held meetings with them without informing me. 
He took all the actions that bosses take to demonstrate their displeasure. This was in spite of my assuring him that I am in no hurry to take his place. 
After an 18-month period, I just gave up and resolved never to be a corporate cog again (this was so for me—not necessarily for everyone). 
It was a great decision, because it opened many new doors for me – where I could do only what I had a passion for, and also earn much, more!
Compliments do not always hit the target. They hit the dartboard in other areas, rather than the target. They get converted en route from darts to daggers!
But I must end this story to also show how a candidate appearing for an interview at a large consumer products company was interviewed by five senior managers, one of whom was biased against Sikhs. 
This was a brilliant Sikh candidate who answered all the questions completely and with confidence. The biased manager did not like the way the interview was going, but kept his question for the last just to trap him with a question, which had nothing to do with the job applied for. 
So he asked, “And do you know what the telephone number of the Pope is?” 
Mr Singh thought for 30 seconds and responded—“Yes its VAT69”. 
The four panelists burst into laughter. Their colleague deserved the response he got! Mr Singh had converted the dagger into a dart!
(When Mr Singh was offered the job the next week, he declined. He did not want to join a corporation, which has coloured minds, even if few. He joined the civil services, and is now a very senior member of the service.)
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia. His latest 3 books written in collaboration are 5Gs of Family Business; Marketing in a Digital/ data world; and Customer Value Starvation can kill. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
2 years ago
Is this an Indian trait? Or do people behave this way in general? It would be interesting to know if Walter Vieiras of other countries have similar tales to tell.
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