Thursday, December 11, 2014

Armchair Critics

An abridged version of the following article  has appeared in the Mindspace section ( on the editorial page) of New Indian Express on 2nd December,2014, under the title  `Keep armchair criticism at arm`s length`

                           You will find armchair critics everywhere; at formal meetings or informal discussions or even at home—waxing eloquent on what is wrong with the organisation or the society or their homes. At offices, they are forever complaining about their management for anything gone wrong or not done!
“You know, if I was in the GM’s place, I would have handled this problem differently. He has messed up the whole matter.” If you ask them how they would have handled it differently they have no answers. They can only criticise it for the sake of criticising.
Many who belong to such a group like to hear their own voices in meetings, as it happens in many board meetings of voluntary organisations like social clubs. Some of them are so articulate that others who are less aggressive are scared to open their mouths, lest they get snubbed. With such aggressive intruders in the meeting, a meek president often finds himself still stuck on point 2 in the agenda containing 12 items, while time is running out.
During my long association with several voluntary bodies where I was at the helm, I tried to solve this problem by pinning down such critics with specific responsibilities and asking them to report on the progress made by them in every meeting. Either they took the bite or learnt to be less intrusive in future meetings.

I remember in one of the professional bodies I was associated with, there was a very senior member who would come with a laundry list of questions to ask the President and other office bearers in every general body meeting. The sight of him in a meeting would make the office bearers squirm in their seats.  As comedian Vadivelu would have quipped, they would whisper among themselves-“VandhuttanyaVandhuttan” (implying the trouble maker has arrived).  When I became a President of this body, I found the gentleman concerned, was a serious professional and was genuinely concerned with the affairs of the organisation.  Most of the questions he asked were very relevant, so I persuaded him to take up an important portfolio and I must say that he handled that portfolio with aplomb for the next six years!
I have never believed in being an armchair critic. When I was still a junior account executive in Clarion McCann Advertising, Bombay, I found several things going wrong in the office administration because of a sudden spurt in business. Almost everyone was feeling frustrated and constantly complaining about the management. I was also an affected person. Instead of just being an armchair critic, I took two days off and prepared a 10-page note to the management giving my ideas to tackle the crisis. Though I was a bit apprehensive about possible fallout of my unsolicited effort, I was delighted and surprised to see the positive reaction from the senior administration manager. He not only publicly acknowledged my initiative but also used the note to create a positive impact on the rest of the staff so that we worked as a team to solve problems facing the management. From that day onwards I was on a fast track growth in the company!
At one stage our Rotary Club was unable to retain young Rotarians because it had transformed from a dynamic club into a dull one leading to a leadership crisis. While everyone was grumbling and doing nothing about it, I volunteered to help. I launched a membership development programme called “Operation New Blood” under which the club inducted 10 faces who fulfilled the strict parameters I had set. Over the years these young members brought in their own young friends as members, infusing new ideas and activities which has galvanised the club into vibrancy once again. Today, there is no leadership crisis in the club and it is the envy of many other clubs in the district.
As John Kennedy said: “Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

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