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  • Writer's pictureGirish Karnad

Managing Relationships The Zodiac Way

Once upon a time, what my generation often refers to as the good old days, we had only one television channel - the state run Doordarshan. It was our go to channel for everything - news, entertainment programs, et al. Surprisingly, we got to see some really good serials during those days, as compared to the ones which are doled out on today's umpteen channels. The most popular ones like the Ramayana and Mahabharata invoked religious fervour like never before. It was not uncommon to see empty roads when these serials were televised.

One such sitcom which remained etched in my memory was Mr. Yogi, a comedy series of a young US settled Indian boy Yogesh Patel, who comes down to Ahmedabad in search of a bride. The protagonist was brilliantly played by the late Mohan Gokhale, a renowned actor and theatre artist of those days. In his quest for the perfect bride, Mr. Yogi decides to meet 12 girls - one from each zodiac sign. The series is about his comic meetings with each of these girls. There is suspense till the end about which girl he would finally choose as his bride. He then has a chance encounter with a mysterious girl riding a scooter. They hit it off instantly and Yogi ends up selecting her as his bride. It was a series unlike others and definitely a breath of fresh air, at a time when real comedies were rare.

A few years later, it was my turn to select a bride. Little did I know that my encounters would be almost like those of Mr. Yogi! No - I did not have the condition of meeting one girl from each zodiac sign. Nor did I meet so many of them - well almost. But I did have some conditions, including one that the bride should preferably be from my professional field. My several encounters, though not so comic, did not yield any results. One bright Sunday morning, when I was relaxing with a good book in my hands, the phone rang. I heard my father talking to someone at the other end. Later he came to my room and announced that a girl was coming along with her uncle, aunt and brother for a meeting. I immediately asked about the girl's background and my father appeared nonplussed. "They did not share any details. But they did say that your horoscopes matched perfectly.", he replied rather defensively. "And you just agreed for them to come and meet me? Without knowing any details !" I stared at my father incredulously.

That afternoon the bell rang and I reluctantly opened the door. And there she was, with a little smile hovering on her lips. To my surprise I found myself smiling back instinctively. Whether it was the zodiac effect or something else, I eventually ended up saying yes to this girl, who did not meet any of my preconditions for a bride. Later when we were chatting, she told me that her uncle was quite sure that I would say yes. Apparently at the time of leaving, I shook hands with him. He deduced that my answer would be positive, because it was a warm handshake. Over the years, whenever we met and shook hands, the memory of the "warm handshake" never failed to bring out a silent chuckle and a twinkle in his eyes.

But I was left quite intrigued. I had heard of all kinds of handshakes - those welcoming people, to the not so pleasant golden handshakes. But a warm handshake, capable of finalising and building relationships was something new. I decided to do some research into what handshakes meant. My study enlightened me about many of them - from sweaty palms, dead fish, brush off and two handed handshakes to the controller, finger vice, bone crusher, lobster claw and top-handed handshakes. My warm handshake appeared to be a unique style by itself! Each type of handshake reveals a lot about the person, his or her strengths, insecurities and personality. I even went to the extent of checking whether people from different zodiac signs, exhibiting different traits, shook hands in a particular way. At one point I thought it would be a good idea to do my PhD on this subject.

But jokes apart, handshakes do play an important role in understanding human psychology and relationships. During my professional career and interactions with my team, colleagues, managers, vendors and other stakeholders, my study on handshakes helped a lot in understanding people. And once you understand people, you can learn to manage your relationships well. Social competence is an important leadership skill. It's components include social awareness and relationship management, which are the important pillars of emotional intelligence (EI). And it is a well-established fact that EI plays a very important role in shaping a leader's success, much more than IQ. Body language and handshakes are primary ways by which we can interpret how people are actually feeling. We must try to make it an integral part of our study on human behaviour.

By the way, if you tell me your zodiac sign, I may be able to reveal how much emotionally intelligent you are. Don't believe me? Just try me out! During EI training, we often conduct an exercise where we divide the group into pairs. Each person then relates to the other an incident where they felt let down badly. It could be an old occurrence or a new one. The other person is supposed to understand and empathise, help out in easing the pain of the narrator, if the pain still exists. And then the two exchange roles. If your partner is someone who feels your pain, even if he or she hasn't experienced a situation similar to yours, undoubtedly that person would be a Piscean. They are very considerate of people's feelings and emotions, and are always ready to help. Cancerians are sensitive and tender, yet thoughtful. They are deep thinkers and carefully analyze and examine everything. Librans are good observers and can read your body language well. They can understand other people's need and try to help them, without talking too much. Geminis are resilient, emotionally strong and great communicators. One can understand their EI skills through their speaking and listening skills, and their ever ready shoulder to cry on. These four zodiac signs make it to the top of the EI list, in the given order.

On the other hand, we have Leos who are more selfish and self-centred, yet emotional in situations where they really care about someone. Sagittarians are loners and prefer to live at their own pace. They are bad at processing their feelings and cannot recognize the feelings of others, nor empathize with them. Aries people are emotionally distant and not supportive of what hurts their loved ones. They don't think twice before blaming or criticizing others and can be happy at the expense of others. Aquarians have trust issues and cannot attach themselves to anyone on an emotional level. They live in their own imaginary world, cannot have deep conversations, and are most peaceful when they are not socializing. These four zodiac signs find themselves at the bottom of the EI list, with Aquarians being the least emotionally intelligent. Interesting information, isn't it? I am sure those who are reading this will now remember two things - avoid shaking hands with me and not reveal their zodiac sign!

Many years later, at the peak of my career, I was given the responsibility of handling several functions. While many would consider this a big challenge, I was more worried about reporting to two CXOs at the same time. In terms of personality, attitude, likes and dislikes or working style, they were poles apart. Managing my bosses soon became a nightmare. At one stage I felt desperate enough to consult an old friend. He called me to his office and promised to get someone who had all the answers to my problems. On reaching his office, I was ushered directly into his cabin. There was a person sitting there already. My friend introduced him as his personal astrologer. Before I could say a word, my friend explained that "Panditji" was his mentor and had helped in solving many of his business and personal problems.

I explained my problems to Panditji. He listened with great intent and then asked, "Do you know your bosses' zodiac signs?" "It would be better if I can get their horoscopes, but that can be a bit difficult, isn't it?" My friend interrupted, "Why don't you speak to your HR colleague? I am sure she would have some information and would help you out." The conversation was definitely not going in the right direction. I cleared my throat and found my voice. "Let me remind you that horoscope matching happens in our personal lives. Not at work. Let us be a bit professional!" Panditji smiled, "Ah! If only they would do it at work too?" "You do all sort of tests - what are they called? Something to do with psycho....!" "They are called psychometric tests", I replied in a huff. He continued, "You make candidates go through these psycho tests and predict their personality, attitudes, work style, etc., don't you?" "Don't you also try to match the candidates to your job profile? To predict whether they will be successful in that role or not?". Apparently Panditji knew much more than I had thought. "These are scientific research based tests, proven over decades", I snapped back. "Bah! You have so many different tests. Do all these tests give you consistent results for the same person? Who says astrology is not scientific? Just as you predict, we also predict. Our predictions have a success rate as good as yours!" Panditji was in full form.

My friend was listening with interest and said, "I have an idea. Why don't you tell your bosses that your daughter is doing a college project on leadership competencies and zodiac signs, and request some help?" "You can get all their details on the pretext of this project." I was speechless. It appeared that the two of them had already made up their minds. What bothered me at that time was that I did not share their seriousness about this whole thing. My friend continued, "It's decided then. Get these details from your bosses and share with Panditji. We can meet again after he is ready with his readings."

So we met again at my friend's office the next week. My friend was interested in knowing the reaction of my bosses. "Well, they were very perturbed that colleges are giving these kinds of projects to their students. But they did share their details." Panditji had that 'I told you so' kind of a look on his face. "See, nobody can escape the clutches of the zodiac. I am sure they will now follow up on your daughter's project and ask you to share the results once done. But don't worry - I will help you out with the project report, which you can share with them." "See, I knew that would be your next worry and have taken care of it!" Panditji said gleefully. "Remember one important thing - you have to feed the ego of your bosses. That is one of the best ways of managing them. Do it subtly, without making it too obvious for them."

"I have done the horoscope readings of your two bosses. The root cause of the problem seems to be a power struggle between the two. Obviously, only one can become the MD & CEO. One of them is supportive and wants you to grow. The other one has a grudge against you. That grudge along with the struggle between the two seems to be the reasons behind your problems." "And the look on your face tells me that my predictions are spot on!" My respect for Panditji and his predictions went up a notch. My thoughts raced through the past events and the interactions I had with my bosses. They certainly seemed to roughly match with the predictions. Including an occasion when one boss recommended a promotion for me and the other refused pointblank. Panditji continued, "Only one of them can remain in the organisation; the other one will have to go. And it seems that you will have more trouble there. You may end up having to manage the boss you don't like."

My friend now chipped in, "Not many people are lucky enough to work with supportive bosses. But managing tough ones can be really challenging. Now that you know the reason behind your problems, let me give you some practical tips to manage your difficult boss."

  • First make sure that you are really dealing with a "bad boss". Is there any reason for his behaviour, or are you judging him too hard? Is it really his fault or could it be something beyond his control?

  • Identify your boss' motivation. Why your boss does or care about certain things can give you insights into his management style.

  • Don't let your boss' behaviour affect your work. Don't try to even the score with your boss. Stay on good terms with other leaders in the company and keep your job!

  • Stay one step ahead. Try to anticipate the requests and requirements from your boss and get the things done before they come to you.

  • Set boundaries. Try to distance yourself from unlikeable behaviour. Working with someone who seems to have no boundaries, means that you have to set them.

  • Stop assuming that the boss knows everything. Just being in a position of authority, doesn't mean that he knows everything or that he has the right answers all the time.

  • Act as a leader. If you are an expert in your area and know what will help the company to achieve good results, then make some leadership decisions on your own, but keep your boss in the loop. This will bring in visibility for you and the management will notice your initiatives.

  • Identify triggers. Try to find out if there are any specific things which trigger the undesirable behaviour in your boss, and stay away from them.

  • When dealing with disagreement, simply repeat back to him what he said and ask “Is that what you meant?”. If he agrees to your recap, ask him to tell you more about it. When you repeat someone's perspective back to him, you give him a chance to clarify and feel heard.

  • And if nothing seems to work, then you have no choice but to look out for another job. When interviewing with a new company, do your research ahead of time to make sure that you are not falling into another trap. Try to connect with staffers in the company to get information about the company and its culture. Use this opportunity to learn as much as possible about your potential boss.

Panditji interjected, "Managing people and relationships is both an art and science. Develop your EI skills, which will help you understand and manage not only yourself, but also other people. And that includes difficult bosses too!" "And remember, zodiac signs and horoscopes can only be supportive tools, like those psycho tools that you people use."

I left the meeting much wiser than before. But there is something undeniably attractive about the zodiac and horoscopes. Maybe it is the yearn to know about the future - the unknown. Or understand more about yourself, your past and present. Over the years I have studied and used EI to understand and manage myself. If you are constantly evolving, that journey into yourself turns into an exciting lifelong experience. Social awareness and relationship management is another game altogether. As each one of us is unique, knowing and understanding other people can be quite challenging. To maintain good relationships, you would often need to tweak your social strategies. Which in turn calls upon better self control and self awareness. No wonder self awareness is considered to be the foundation of EI. And who knew this better than our ancient rishis and munis, who spent years in their quest for discovering the self. That reminds me of a few of my own encounters with my inner self. But let me keep that for a later date.

Yesterday while browsing the internet, I couldn't help but feel tempted to click on a particular link - after all I am human too! A few minutes later, I had an initial reading of my horoscope for 2022. The predictions talk of a new beginning for me, with a rare favourable alignment of the planets starting the 25th of December. The report says, "You will be coming to a vital decisive turning point in your life, with a unique opportunity to make things your way. This coming period is going to mark a turning point in different areas of your life, including your love life, career, financial success, personal growth, family relations, realization of an important project, transformation of your environment as well as your personal inner development and self-realization." Wow! Who wouldn't like to hear such stuff! But there was a spoiler too. To get a detailed report and action guessed it right...I have to pay! Maybe it would make sense for me to catch up with my friend and Panditji...what do you say? But does that really matter? The predictions made my day and my New Year too! And I hope it does the same for all of you! Season's Greetings and a Happy New Year 2022! Happy Predictions!

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