It’s High Time to Rehabilitate the Communication Dilemmas


Shantanu Saha, Consultant: Marketing for Div. Of Reliance Retail Ltd.

It’s a habit that has become embedded in our work life and possibly will stay with us for a long time to come.

We all have been through 24+ months of intense human isolation. I call it isolation as I do not consider the digital avatars of our colleagues, with whom we have grown used to interacting with in these months, on our Zooms, TEAMS, G Meets etc., a replacement for face to face interactions, which we as social beings are accustomed to and it’s a need that we cannot escape as human beings in the natural order of things.

A consequence of this forced isolation is that, we as leaders and managers, have acquired another “OCD” that we have picked up (to add to the ones we already had!) in these months of WFH. This “OCD” is what I call “Over Communication Dilemma”. This stems from our innate sense of insecurity about “not being there”.

For a moment put your hands, not on your laptops or smart phones, but lace your fingers behind your head, stretch a bit, close your eyes and ask: Is the e-mail/ WhatsApp, Telegram or call, you are about to send/make necessary to my work or is it at least fun? If you cannot answer yes to either of these two questions, continue stretching and enjoy the moment, and allow the intended recipients too do the same!

I know, what a nod, or a wink, or a hand gesture, or the tilt of a colleagues head means when you are face to face. The tonality of his voice and primarily, the physical presence of two people communicating, face to face in actual REAL TIME. We have got unused to this. The spontaneity of an exchange is lost.
It happens every day. A few managers wanted to set up a call with me. There were three individuals who needed to talk to one another, so why one of us couldn’t just dial one of the others and then patch the third in I don’t know. But, we need to get onto Teams and off we went.

First we all exchanged e-mails about our schedules. That was okay. X was going to be in Delhi and Y was going to be in Chennai, although it had nothing to do with the subject of our call. Then it developed that Thursday looked good until it was Tuesday because X was traveling and Y was in another meeting, and then there was a mix-up between Thursday and Tuesday, and then there was some more stuff that went back and forth about 3:00 PM vs. 3:30 PM, and once the great event was established for Wednesday through a meeting invite for 4.00 PM, everybody had to thank everybody, and a lot of Tx’s went back and forth and pretty soon there was a confirmation invite that got one thing wrong! So a bunch of other mails and invites flew about on mail, WhatsApp and what have you, clarifying the situation.

By the time it was over I believe more than 100 e-mails/WhatsApp messages of one form or another had crossed the various devices we own! How many phone calls would it have taken to set up this thing? Three? Come on!
During this time I noticed that several team members who work for me were indulging in similar shenanigans. Supposedly entertaining e-mails were making their way around the system with observations like “I’ll circle back!” and “Will do!” etc. I was copied on all of them, because people like to copy their bosses for obvious reasons. It got to the point where I had to send off a message to all on the mailing list and WhatsApp groups, saying “I will quarter the individual who sends the next unessential message to me.” I was no longer copied on anything.

So here’s what I suggest we all do as we head back to our real work places:

  • Stop telling people you Will Do something. The best way of telling people you Will Do something is to Do It and then send a message saying the job is done. Until then, I assume you Will Do It.
  • Stop thanking people so much. Being overly polite invariably means that there is something to hide. I’m interested in hearing that there’s “No problem.” There better not be.
  • Stop using e-mail and WhatsApp when there’s a phone in your pocket! E-mail is for confirmation and simple discussion. Phones are for doing business.
  • Never hesitate to send an e-mail that has actual data in it. It’s the follow-up that says “Great Stuff” or “This data is insightful” that’s got to be run through the person’s cranial shredder.
  • Finally, no e-mail chains of more than five individual communications! Once you reach that number, it’s over! If I see the same subject line in my in-box once too often–you’re toast! Get up, come over with a cup of coffee, and sit across my table and talk. I’ll not serve you the toast.

It’s going to be a big change for all of us, once we get back. Well, it’s time to r(E)hab.

Professional & Personal Synopsis:

An alumnus of The Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (1987) and Delhi College of Engineering (1984), I have over 34 years of industry experience encompassing, Retail, Business and Brand Consulting, FMCG Sales, Marketing, Customer Service & Start up Mentoring.

Currently I am engaged as a marketing consultant for Reliance Retail’s pharma business

I have held various leadership positions and led businesses/divisions in companies like Godrej Soaps, Pepsi India, SIEL- Honda, Titan, Schweppes (Russia), Metro Cash and Carry India & Reliance Retail Ltd.

I like coaching and mentoring young talent and have been a visiting faculty to IIT Bombay (IDC) and have conducted Management Development Programs at IIM – Bangalore, on subjects like Innovation, Branding, Marketing and Design.

I am an amateur Rock and Blues rhythm guitarist & an aero-modeler. I love recreating replicas of vintage war birds.


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