Applying Fish Philosophy for Personal Wellbeing

These video links contain recordings of a public talk delivered by Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions on ‘Applying Fish Philosophy for Personal Wellbeing’ at the HELP Library, Mumbai, India on 7 Jun 2010. We will be glad to have your feedback/comments on the talk at





Lessons from ‘The Dolphin’

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions

I recently read the book ‘The Dolphin – Story of a Dreamer‘ by Sergio F. Bambaren. It’s a pithy, beautiful tale of a dolphin (on the lines of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach) and I feel compelled to share the lessons from it. Here are a few extracts from the book that summarise its message:

– There comes a time in life when there is nothing else to do but to go your own way. A time to follow your dreams. A time to raise the sails of your own beliefs.

– Falling into the deepest desperation gives you the chance to find your true nature. Just as dreams come alive when you least expect them to, so will the answers to questions you cannot unfold. Let your instinct build a trail of wisdom, and let your fears be diminished by hope.

– Most of us are not prepared to overcome our failures, and because of this we are not able to fulfill our gifts. It is easy to stand for something that does not carry a risk.

– May be part of loving is learning to let go, knowing when to say good-bye… not letting our feelings get in the way of what will probably, in the end, be better for the ones we care for.

– Discovering new worlds will not only bring you happiness and wisdom, but also sadness and fear. How could you value happiness without knowing what sadness is? How could you achieve wisdom without facing your own fears? In the end, the great challenge in life is to overcome the limits within yourself, pushing them to places you would never have dreamed they could go.

– Perhaps dreams are made of lots of hard work. Perhaps if we try to cut corners, we lose track of the reason we started dreaming and at the end we find that the dream no longer belongs to us. Perhaps if we just follow the wisdom from our heart, then time will make sure we get to our destiny.

– Never forget: When you’re just about to give up, when you feel that life has been too hard on you, remember who you are. Remember your dream.

– There are some things you cannot see with your eyes. You have to see them with your heart, and that is the hard part of it. For instance, if you find the spirit of the youngster inside of you, with your memories and his dreams, you two will walk together, trying to find a way through this adventure called life. Always trying to make the best of it. And your heart will never become tired or old…

– Decisions are a way of defining ourselves. They are the way to give life and meaning to words, to dreams. They are the way to let what we are… be what we want to be.

– Where you are headed, there are no trails, no paths, just your own instinct. You have followed the omens, and have finally arrived. And now, you have to take the great leap into the unknown and find out for yourself: who is wrong, who is right and who you are.

– Some things will always be stronger than time and distance. Deeper than languages and ways. Like following your dreams, and learning to be yourself. Sharing with others the magic you have found…

How to throw a great party

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

The season screams ‘PARTY!’ and we obey. Whether you are a party animal or not, it’s difficult to resist the mood of the month. While it’s definitely convenient to chill out at a do someone else has organised, you don’t need to be a pro to organise a party yourself.

With most resorts and retreats being overbooked in the festive season, it is a good idea to cosy up at your own pad with a group of close pals. All it takes is a little preparation for you and your guests to have a gala time.

Here’s the lowdown on the things you need to keep in mind.

Pick your guests carefully

“As a host, you definitely do not want to be caught in the ravages of a cold war or heated arguments,” warns Sai Jadhav, a media professional. “Choose your guests in a way that there are no clashes, expressed or otherwise, at your party.”

If your guests are to leave with pleasant memories, you need to invite people who will get along reasonably well. Keep a check on the number of guests as well; your party has to be manageable and within your budget.

Choose your theme

With a group of close friends or family, a theme may not be necessary. But, if you have invited a diverse group of people, you might want to have a theme party. A theme usually requires people to dress in a certain manner and serves as a good icebreaker among strangers. However, you will need to back it with suitable ambience.

“Wacky themes can be fun, but do not go over the top. Be considerate about your guests’ profile as well as the ambience and weather. For example, if you fancy a Hawaiian theme, remember people may not be comfortable wearing bermudas and sarongs in the middle of the winter,” cautions Binu David, a senior executive with a top Mumbai hotel.

Stock your bar

“Alcohol should cater to the tastes of the guests, not that of the host,” says Binu. “You may be a whisky lover, but your guests might prefer other drinks. Buy a good mix. Also stock soft drinks and juices for people who do not wish to have alcohol.”

You may not have the time or inclination to mix and serve the drinks during a party, so arrange for someone to handle the bar. If it is a small gathering, you could request one of your friends in advance to help you. For a bigger party, professional bartenders are available for a fee.

Decide on the menu

“My worst memories are of parties where I’ve danced to my heart’s content, chatted a lot with friends, then come back home hungry to hunt for food in the refrigerator. Why? Because the food available was only Chinese, which I shy away from,” recalls Sai. “When you organise a party, have at least two types of cuisines, preferably one Indian, so that everyone has something to eat.”

Gone are the days when a party at home would mean that the guests would expect the hostess to display her culinary skills. If you are not a good cook, simply order food from a good restaurant or caterer. As a host, you ought to spend quality time with your guests rather than supervise the kitchen. Of course, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian preferences should be taken into account.


Whether you want to have a dance party or not, it is always a good idea to have some music playing. If it is simply a huddle of friends, you could have some soft instrumental music playing in the background to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

If you need to arrange for dance numbers, make sure you know the preferences of most, if not all, of your guests. Have enough space cleared to be used as the dance floor.

Arrange for your guests’ comfort

“Simple gestures, such as ample, comfortable seating arrangement, regular supply of water, drinks and nibbles go a long way in telling your guests you care,” says Binu.

Hygiene is important. The restrooms should be cleaned and replenished with toilet rolls, soaps and paper towels before the party begins. Have a first-aid box and simple medicines such as paracetamol handy, in case any of your guests need it.

Manners matter

No matter how well you know your guests, when you are the host, you have certain responsibilities. “The worst thing a host can do is to get drunk,” remarks Binu. It is indeed a faux pas for a host to get high when s/he is expected to take care of the others.

It also creates a bad impression if you are not ready in time. It can be embarrassing if your guests start arriving while you are still laying the table cloth with your hair still in curlers. Start preparing well in advance so that you can enjoy the party along with your guests.

Greet each guest personally and introduce people who do not know each other. Think up some fun games you could have if the party gets a little dull.

At the end of the day, having a party is all about having fun, and letting your guests know you care. A little effort is all it takes to make sure both your guests and you have a wonderful time.

Planning to party? Brush up your manners

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

“Where’s the party tonight?”

It’s a good question, particularly since the party season is now in full swing.

Some of us may be absolute party animals, while others prefer to be occasional guests. Irrespective of what our party quotient is, however, our etiquette quotient needs to be up to the mark.

Even the most innocuous slip-ups on the party circuit tend to be talked about, and laughed about. Here are a few tips you need to keep in mind if you plan to let your hair down.

The do’s


Always know what the party is all about. If you are not very close to the host(ess), (s)he may avoid telling you it is a birthday or an anniversary, simply to save you the bother of getting a gift. However, it can be embarrassing to enter a hall with a huge birthday cake and a pile of gifts brought by more well-informed guests.


Do carry some gift to any party – be it a formal sit-down dinner, a buffet or a luncheon. It could be some flowers or chocolates, or wine for more formal occasions. If you travel often, you could buy trinkets from various places that could be presented as thoughtful gifts. Remember, a gift is not meant to proclaim your status or identity – it is simply a gesture to say ‘Thanks, I had a lovely time!’

Food preferences

If you have certain preferences for food due to medical or other reasons, please inform the hosts in advance when you accept the invitation.


If you are talking to a group of friends or acquaintances, make sure everyone in the group knows each other. If not, go ahead and give an interesting introduction. For example, “Hey Mark, meet Neena. Neena was my classmate in college and she’s a fabulous painter! Neena, Mark’s my colleague and he’s an avid trekker.” Always introduce the junior (in terms of age/ status/ fame) to the senior.

If you do not understand how to pronounce a person’s name, it is perfectly fine to ask them. Saying “I’m not sure if I got your name right. Is it …?” is better than mispronouncing someone’s name all evening.

On the other hand, if you have a name that is slightly long and could be difficult for others to pronounce, you could save them from awkwardness by offering alternatives.

Party enthusiast PN Thailambal, an academic specialist with a reputed educational institution in Mumbai, says, “People often fumble with my name since it is rather unusual. So, during introductions, I tell them they can call me Thai. It makes conversations a lot easier.”

Dress code

If it’s a theme party, do stick to the dress code. You could ask the host for help in understanding the theme better, if need be.


At a sit down dinner, wait for the hostess to indicate where you should sit. It is likely she has arranged the seating so that there is a good mix of people at each table.

Talking of seating, Thailambal recalls, “Once, at a party, there was this middle-aged lady in a saree trying to park on a bar stool. It was quite a sight – it was too high for her to comfortably climb onto. While the onlookers tried hard to turn away with bemused smiles, I must say it was rather embarrassing for the lady.”

Do not venture onto an uncomfortable seat that does not go with your physique and dress.


If you are getting up for another helping of dessert, coffee or wine, do ask the people around you if you could get something for them as well.

It would be wise to stick to few glasses/ pegs of alcohol, instead of going overboard and getting sick. Not only do you make the situation uncomfortable for your hosts, you also risk being talked for a long time because of behaviour you probably don’t even remember.


Accept compliments graciously with a simple ‘Thank you!’. You can return the compliment if you find a genuine reason for it.


If you need to leave early for some reason, inform the hosts and leave as unobtrusively as possible so that you do not disturb the mood of the party.

Do call/ SMS/ email the hosts later to tell them you had a wonderful time. Thank them for their hospitality.

The don’ts


While little gifts are always appreciated, make sure they are not personal in nature. Avoid items of clothing, deodorants, etc, especially if you do not know the hosts well.

Of course, this rule does not apply for birthday parties.

For a house-warming party, you could ask the hostess (if you know her well) casually while you accept the invitation, “I’d love to get something for you that you really need. Would you prefer something for the kitchen or the hall?” The hostess would appreciate your gesture rather than end up with five table lamps and seven wall clocks.


Never heap your plate at a buffet. You can always go in for a second helping if need be. Take small bites of food; do not stuff your mouth with it.

You would do well to have some fruit or a light sandwich before a party so that you are not ravenous before the meal.

Also, if you are not comfortable with a fork, chopsticks or tongs, ask the servers for alternatives.

Anita D’souza, assistant manager – training, with a leading company, says, “I can recall quite a few instances where pieces of food have flown off plates and landed on someone else. If one is not used to the given cutlery, it is perfectly fine to ask for a spoon or even eat neatly with your fingers rather than embarrass yourself and those around you.”


Conversations at a party should be light and casual. Avoid personal questions about relationships, money, salary, etc. Questions about handicaps and injuries are a big no-no. Even if the scars are from a much talked about accident, the person may not want to stir unpleasant memories by telling you an oft-repeated tale.

Never ask about the price or designer label of a dress or accessory. At the same time, do not brag about your own labels even if you are complimented about it.


Never leave a party without informing the hosts. They may have certain plans for which your presence may be important.

If you are the host/ hostess…

  • Ensure you are at the door to greet and welcome everyone. It lends a personal touch to the party and you can make a mental note of who’s arrived and who has not.
  • Right from the time the first guest walks in, make sure there is some food to nibble on and some drinks to sip. Some people may be walking in after a long working day and would really appreciate something to snack on as they wait for your elaborate main course.
  • Provide for enough serviettes, paper napkins and toothpicks. They should be kept at an accessible place, visible to everyone.
  • If it is a buffet or a cocktail party, clear the used plates and glasses regularly so that you always have ample supply of cutlery. It’ll avoid clutter at the tables and ensure you have less washing to do at the end of the day.
  • The entrance area and the restrooms should be lighted well. If any of your guests require special seating or other arrangements, do arrange for it beforehand. The guests would appreciate your sensitivity.
  • Any children’s party should have ample lighting, clear, open space and toys. Keep a first aid box handy.


So there, all set to party?

Heading for freezing temperatures? Read this…

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Cold places are often not the top choice for a holiday in winter.

Most folks are more tempted to go to a sunny beach or the lush greenery of the hills.

Does taking a holiday in the snowy mountains or to a spot facing a chilly winter sound interesting? Or does it daunt you?

Anandita Jain, a medical professional agrees, “Very cold winters can have a depressing effect on people. Lack of colour in the nature around us, the absence of energising heat and less sunlight can give you the blues. But travelling to a cold place can be great fun if one is mentally prepared. Especially if you have company. A little preparation is all it takes to enjoy a cold destination.”

The winter has already set in and many of us may be packing our bags to leave for colder locales. Do you know what kind of weather to expect? Or how your body will react to a change of climate? Preparation is essential for a pleasant holiday.

The preparation

“Read up about the place you are going to,” advises Jain. “If possible, talk to people who have been there before or to travel agents who know the place well. When you are familiar with the place, its culture and food, you will look forward to your trip. You become excited about the little things that make the place special. Then, the cold weather is not a deterrent.”

For people with fragile health, a health check is advisable before the trip. Discuss the itinerary with your doctor, especially if it involves strenuous activities such as trekking or a visit to a high altitude area. Pack a first aid kit and medicines the doctor may advise you to keep handy. Paracetamol and medicines for a cold and cough would be useful.

If you are travelling with children, carrying honey and brandy is a good idea. Honey soothes a sore throat, while brandy can infuse warmth.

If you plan to try and climb a mountains, prepare your body for it well in advance. A few weeks before you travel, begin a regular exercise routine to strengthen yourself. Elderly people should try to go for long walks, if they are unable to attempt more strenuous exercises. If you go to a gym, ask your personal trainer to suggest exercises that will enhance your stamina.

Buy shoes that are suitable for the terrain you plan to visit. The shoes need to cover your feet completely and absorb the strain of the surface. You might need a pair that gives you a good grip if you plan to climb the hills. High boots are required for areas that are prone to heavy snowfall.

Are you headed to an extremely cold place? Buy thermal innerwear – readily available these days – for better protection.

Tips from the experienced

Dr Meenakshi Shivram, who has travelled extensively around the world, has some useful tips for the uninitiated:

~ Buy suitable clothes that cover you and keep you warm. Many stores stock woollens these days, so it should not be difficult to find them. Instead of shawls, buy jackets or overcoats since they are less cumbersome. They are handy for  walking, climbing or even riding horses.

~ Wear good shoes and at least two pairs of socks. Wear cotton socks first – these feel are comfortable next to your skin – and woollen socks over them. Since your feet are nearest to the surface, they can get cold and numb easily. It is important to keep them warm so you can have a firm grip while walking or trekking.

~ Wear layers of clothes to protect yourself. Just one thick sweater is not enough. The body is not used to the high altitudes and low temperatures. Do not expect it to adapt without keeping it warm and comfortable.

~ Always plug your ears against cold winds. A lot of trendy options are available if you don’t prefer the good old monkey cap. Any store that stocks woollens would also have headgear options.

~ Drink lots of water. We often forget to do so when the weather is cold. Physical activity dehydrates you. The air is dry and your skin needs hydration as well. So always carry water with you.

~ To energise yourself, carry a lot of dry fruits, chocolates and other sweets like chikki, especially during treks. These mini snacks quickly energise you because they digest quickly and are absorbed.

~ Most important: prepare your mind for the trip. The temperatures will be low and you will not be accustomed to it. But these places are extremely beautiful and serene; a trip there can be spiritually exhilarating if you are mentally set to enjoy it. Simply surrender to Nature and soak in the beauty around. And you will be rejuvenated.

Scared to interact with foreign clients?

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

In many organisations today, it is not just the top brass that has to deal with foreign clients and associates. Executive level employees too have to interact with them, especially in sectors like BPO and IT.

Many of you are are apprehensive about this. Maybe because you are scared of faltering?

“For instance, we could not understand any of their jokes and vice versa. It took quite some time for us to comprehend their sense of humour and respond appropriately,” says IT professional Sandeep Ganediwalla, who has extensively dealt with American clients.

“It also takes some time to get used to the accent. That applies to them as well. Since Indians are amongst the fastest speakers in the world, we need to make a conscious effort to slow down,” he continues.

The content of discussions with foreign clients is routine, quite like the subjects raised while talking to fellow Indian professionals. Intricacies arise due to differences in cultures.

The most common modes of communication with these clients include:
  • Face to face communication
  • E-mails
  • Telephonic conversations
  • Conference calls over the telephone
  • Video conferencing
  • Chat


Besides regular business etiquette, there are certain points to bear in mind while using these media with international clients/associates.

Cross cultural sensitivity

The most important thing is to be sensitive towards differences in cultures. While we are certainly different from each other, we ought to control the tendency to be subjective and label each other as good or bad. The differences arise out of several reasons ranging from geographic to historic to psychological. Once we accept them unconditionally, communication becomes simpler.

Understand their background

If you have to communicate extensively with a foreign client, take the effort to read up about their country and know common things about their culture. This will avoid gaffes. For example, a Scottish person being referred to as English would certainly not take it well. So if you are dealing with a client in Britain, you would do well to know about all the four countries in the UK. Getting relevant information is not difficult these days, with Internet access being ubiquitous.

Business and social etiquette

Etiquette helps in making a good impression. It does not mean you need to be prim-and-proper all the time. Simple courtesies such as standing up when a lady comes to meet you, shaking hands firmly, holding the door open for ladies/elders in appropriate circumstances, dining etiquette, etc make the client feel comfortable.

Participate in communication

“We somehow tend to shy away from asking questions and seeking clarifications. This leads to confusion later. If client and you are not on the same page, it is important to stop and clarify things before proceeding further. Otherwise, the client assumes that you’ve understood and is irritated when you do not respond appropriately later,” observes Ganediwalla. Understand that communicating with a foreigner is essentially the same as communicating with any other professional. Remove the mental blocks and unwarranted fears related to talking with them, so that you can facilitate a smooth flow of conversations.

Be sensitive

Are you wondering what would a client think if you do not know an answer? Or are not sure of the cultural appropriateness of a response? Well, your client is sailing in the same boat! If understanding accents is a problem for you, it is so for your client as well. So a win-win situation would arise only if you shed inhibitions and open doors to a frank dialogue.

Ethics and values

At the end of the day, we are all human being and good values such as punctuality and ethical business practices are universally appreciated. Pradeep Mishra, SAP technology consultant and currently an executive MBA student says, “While Indian professionals are ambitious and look for fast growth, the flip side is that somewhere the lack of commitment to an organisation shows. We want to deal with foreign clients, but only to garner experience and add it to our résumé. If only we could be more committed and really want to add value to our contributions, our clients would be happier. Individual accountability is something we would do well to learn.”

Face to face communication

Be aware of your body language and dressing sense. If you are hosting your clients for a meal, ensure that you know their food preferences and take them to a relevant place. A lot of them may not like spicy Indian food. Do not assume that just because they are foreigners, they would love non-vegetarian food or want to guzzle alcohol.

Avoid talking about political, religious and personal issues. Good topics to initiate conversations could be about their countries, places to visit in India, weather, sports, etc.


Avoid short forms and jargon unless you are sure the client would understand. Do not SHOUT, ie, do not type an entire mail in capital letters. Follow the appropriate forms of salutation, greeting and closing.

Telephonic conversations

Speak slowly. Do not put on a fake accent. It is a good idea to make an agenda before beginning a call. For clarity, you could summarise the conversation in an e-mail later and confirm the points that you have agreed to work upon.

Conference calls over the telephone

If there are more than three people on a con-call, introduce yourself before speaking in the initial stages of the call, till people are familiar with your voice. Put your phone on mute if you have to talk to someone else during the call. The person leading the call should mail an agenda before the call and the minutes of the call after it.

Video conferencing

Body language, attire and alertness are important here. Avoid eating/drinking in the middle of a conference and sit upright, to show respect your colleagues/clients.


While this is a more informal mode of contact, if the conversation is related to work, avoid using SMS-language. A little formality has to be induced for a professional approach.

Improve your English

Finally, if you are not confident of communicating in English, start working on it right away, since that is the language most of the world knows.

At the same time, do not expect all your clients to speak fluent English: a lot of Asian and European professionals prefer to deal in their native tongue.

Read as much as possible and listen to English television/radio to improve upon your language. Request your colleagues to talk to you in English and to bstop you when you commit errors, so that you can improve.

A little sensitivity and a humane approach is all it takes to build a great rapport with your foreign client.

All you need to know about ties

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Do you know how to wear a tie? This formal wear accessory can be a source of amusement, if not worn properly. Given the hot Indian climate, many of us do not wear ties on a regular basis unless the occasion demands it.

To make sure you carry off your tie well, it is important to choose and wear it with care. Else, it can clearly make a wrong impression.

Buying the right tie

The quality of your tie denotes taste and sense of style. So choose your tie with care. Several materials like silk and wool-blended go well with different suits and shirts.

Fashion designer Dipti Irla offers the following tips:

~ Touch the tie while buying it – it must feel smooth.

~ A good quality tie will have three, not two, pieces sewn together

~ At the back of the tie between the two joined flaps, you will find a loose thread called the slip stitch. In a good quality tie, if you pull this slip stitch, the tie will gather in folds.

~ Another test is to sling the tie over your hands. The narrow end of the tie should lie exactly behind the centre of the wider end. Don’t buy the tie if it twists when you drape it over your hands – it will not lie flat on your chest.

Patterns and colours

Now that you’ve chosen the material, the next part is choosing the colour. Corporate training professional and part-time model Mahesh Nazare says, “There are two universal coloured shirts that can go with any tie: white and black. Otherwise, go in for contrasts. You can even go in for a tie that has matching prints and colours of the shirt or the suit,” she says.

“Personally, I think that if you are wearing a black suit, a bright coloured silk tie such as yellow, green, silver or light blue looks best. With a blue or a grey suit, I prefer the same coloured tie. If you are wearing the tie with a shirt, then a contrast looks good.”

Contrasts are usually the norm. But Irla cautions, “Make sure that the patterns complement your shirt and not compete with it. You would not want to end up looking like a botched up painting. If the shirt has subtle colours and patterns, a bold tie will look good. But if the shirt is bright or has an attractive pattern, the tie has to be sober.”

For business meetings, stick to simple patterned ties with twin colours.

Length and width

While fashion trends keep changing, the average length of a tie is 54 inches and the width 3.25 inches.

For taller men, longer ties, about 60 inches in length, are better. The knot should be tied in such a way that the tie ends at the belt. Ideally, half an inch of the tie hangs over the belt. It should not end above the belt, nor below it.

To choose the width, one must keep in mind the body type.

A slim individual wearing a broader tie will end up looking even slimmer while a bigger person in a slim tie would look bigger.

“These days slim ties are out of fashion. But in general, a rounder person should go in for a wider tie while a thinner man would look better in a slimmer one,” Nazare says.


Irla says smaller knots to work or business meetings are ideal. “They take less time and do not require a very long tie even if you are tall,” she says. Nazare seconds her, “A single knot is fast and simple – it is better for regular wear.

“A bigger man could try the Windsor style knot, which is more traditional. It results in a thick bow that looks good on a larger frame. But it is time-consuming.”

Getting the knot neat is an important part of making an impression with a tie.

Armed with these tie tips, are you all set to look hotter?

Annoying colleagues at your workplace?

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

With most of us spending 10-14 hours at work everyday, our workplaces have become our second homes. As a result, even the slightest of hindrances here tend to blow up into vexing issues, particularly if they are not tackled in time. Very often, these issues relate to our colleagues’ behaviour. It can get a little awkward when it come to addressing some of these directly, as a lot of them concern subtle aspects of behaviour that are difficult to articulate.

Let’s take a look at some of the most annoying aspects of workplace behaviour and what we can do about them.


This is by far the most annoying aspect of a workplace.

“It can absolutely turn you off,” says Revathi M, assistant manager – sales, with an IT security company. “It takes a heavy toll on productivity because, if you don’t belong in a certain group, you tend to feel left out. Then, you don’t enjoy going to work anymore.”

The snide remarks and covert glances that result from groupism are not only thoroughly unprofessional, they can also result in emotional hurt which is often difficult to express. It eventually leads to frustration and may result in people leaving their jobs.

Casual chatter

“The most irritating thing at the workplace is groups of women chatting endlessly about clothes, cosmetics and jewellery. Some of them even trade in these items at work. I think it’s really unprofessional,” says Purnima Gupta, a teacher at a reputed Mumbai school.

While casual conversations are fine when one wants to make small talk, one needs to realise extended chatter at the workplace disturbs other people. It also looks unprofessional.


This is widely touted as being omnipresent and is universally detested.

Sugary sweet behaviour in front of a person and backstabbing comments behind their back are known to prevail in virtually every kind of human interaction. The natural fallout of hypocrisy at the workplace is lack of trust, which greatly affects work relationships and productivity.


“When we are angry with something our boss does, we try hard to control our emotions and behave in a subdued manner. However, if a peon goofs up even slightly, a lot of us don’t think twice before yelling at him. Is this justified?” wonders Revathi.

Dignity of labour and respect for all kinds of work is a prerequisite for a healthy work environment. We must appreciate that people at all levels provide value with whatever work they do. It can be discouraging if they are not treated with dignity, considering they work to the best of their ability, given individual constraints.

Messy cubicle partners

Another trait that can really upset people is messy surroundings. Eating at the workstation and dropping tidbits of food, or having heaps of papers and files that spill over to your neighbours’ desks can be very bothersome.

A lot of people are fussy about cleanliness and are used to a certain standard of hygiene around them. If those standards are not met at the workplace, it can be very demotivating.

Undue inquisitiveness

While it is common for colleagues to turn into good friends over time, a certain level of formality is expected while one is at work. When this formality is breached, not everyone may take it well.

“When colleagues are unduly concerned about where I went the previous evening, with whom, why, etc, I really feel like telling them it is none of their business. If I wish to share personal thoughts with someone at the workplace, I need to be comfortable with that person. It has to be voluntary. The concept of personal space and privacy is rather alien to our culture,” observes Purnima.

Taking credit

It is but natural that we want to be appreciated for the work we do. However, since most of the work we do in an organisation is team effort, it is important credit is accordingly shared.

“When it comes to getting work done, the higher-ups often give pep talks on how team work is important. However, when the results come in, each individual and department wants the credit. Typically, in any organisation, the frontline sales people take away the appreciation. The back-end operations group is conveniently forgotten, even though they contribute significantly to the success. This can be extremely frustrating for the people who have worked behind the scenes,” says Revathi.

Talking loudly

“I wish some people had silencers fitted into their throats!” says Purnima exasperatedly. “At work, one must realise formal, subdued behaviour is called for. Etiquette demands we keep our voice low so others are not disturbed. The most annoying bit is when people excitedly almost yell over their phones for no reason. I’m sure it’s equally annoying for the person at the other end of the line.”

Talking loudly is often associated with rustic behaviour that lacks sophistication. It is advisable we keep our tone and pitch low when we are around colleagues.

Tackling annoying behaviour

It is indeed difficult to keep your cool and focus on productivity when behavioural factors affect performance at work. But it is necessary to be assertive if one has to solve the problem.

Of course, assertiveness is different from being accusatory. Assertiveness is all about talking in a factual manner without being judgmental. It involves conveying facts and their possible repercussions without getting emotional, or rude, in the process. Though it is easier said than done, professionalism demands one remain objective while dealing with such situations.

At the organisational level, the HR department – and managers and supervisors as welll – need to have a keen eye for observing team dynamics. Active intervention and counselling go a long way in smoothing ruffled feathers.

Avoiding annoying behaviour

As individuals, there are a few things that may help us avoid being in the bad books of our colleagues:

Avoid backbiting

At the workplace, never discuss a person in his/ her absence. This simple rule goes a long way in maintaining a healthy environment.

Seek feedback

If you think a colleague has been shying away from you for a while, casually enquire to find out if your behaviour has upset him/ her. If that is the case, patiently listen to your colleague’s feelings without getting defensive. Once the person has opened up, it can be easier to resolve the issue.

Respect everyone

Imagine the situation if the entire housekeeping staff goes on strike. We often take a lot of people for granted simply because they may not demand attention. But that does not mean their work is any less important.

Observe formality

A lot of your colleagues may become good friends over time. However, work ethics dictate you remain sensitive to the feelings of everyone at the workplace. Hence, over-friendly behaviour ought to be avoided.

Test your social etiquette

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

The origin of the word etiquette is the French etiquet or estiquette, which refers to a notice attached to something.

A few hundred years ago, in Western Europe, it was a custom to attach the code of dress and behaviour to every party invitation, especially to those coming from the royal or aristocratic families. This was to ensure that people conducted themselves well and there were no faux pas to embarrass the hosts.

Luckily, we no longer live in that uptight era. However, basic social etiquette is still important. Let’s see how familiar you are with contemporary etiquette norms.

1. Which of the following behaviour, do you think, is appropriate when it comes to doors?

a. Chivalry is long passé – simply hold the door open for yourself to pass through. The others can take care of themselves.
b. In a business context, always open doors for clients, superiors or guests and let them pass through first.
c. While exiting from rooms with self-shutting doors, you need not hold the door open till the person behind you takes over.

2. Which of these options is not correct with respect to a handshake?

a. Keep the thumb up and let the webs of the thumbs touch before wrapping your fingers around the other person’s hand.
b. Maintain eye contact with the person when you are shaking hands.
c. When you are being introduced to a new person, the handshake should go on throughout the introduction. Ideally, this would mean there are about 6-7 pumps before you stop.

3. When someone compliments you on your attire, you should……

a. Talk about the designer of the outfit and how you prefer that particular label for your work clothes.
b. Simply smile and thank the person for the compliment.
c. Furtively glance at the person to find how can you return the compliment.

4. Given a choice among the following, which option would you pick to initiate small talk at a party?

a. How pleasant the weather was at the weekend getaway you had been to recently.
b. How the education system needs improvement and the expenses involved in educating a child.
c. How the politicians are messing up the administration of the country and corruption is gnawing at the exchequer.

5. At a party, you prefer to avoid or abstain from alcohol. Your host offers you a cocktail. How do you react?

a. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
b. “Sorry, but I have just recovered from colitis. My doctor has advised me to avoid alcohol for two weeks. I would love to have that cocktail, but you know……”
c. “Thank you, but could I have a soft drink instead?”


1. b
While chivalry in the old sense of the term may be passe, courtesy is not. It is important to hold self-shutting doors open if there is someone coming behind you  from a standpoint of safety and avoidance of injury. And of course, it always great to be courteous towards seniors and ladies – it may not be expected, but is always apprecciated.

2. c
Eye contact during a handshake reflects on a person’s confidence and trustworthiness. It is important to remember that a handshake should start and stop crisply. Ideally, there should be about two to three pumps. Do not continue to hold hands through the length of the introduction.

3. b
When a person compliments you, it is not necessary to return the compliment. You can simply thank the person and graciously accept the compliment. Etiquette demands that no matter how expensive your clothes and accessories are, you should not brag about designer labels or their cost.

4. a
Boring though it may sound, the safest topics that make for small talk and serve as icebreakers in social get-togethers are the weather, popular sports or the pleasant party setting. Even if you are passionate about issues such as improving the education scenario or uprooting corruption, do not bring them up. For all you know, the person you may be talking to might be an educationist or a local politician himself/ herself! Topics such as religion, politics, family and personal appearance and grooming are an absolute no-no.

5. c
It is perfectly fine to refrain from alcoholic drinks. However, do not make it sound as if drinking alcohol is a crime. Whether you drink or not is a personal choice and you are not bound to give long-winded excuses as a reply. Simply thank the host for offering the drink and state your preference. S/he would be glad to get you the drink of your choice.

Know your pasta

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Is pasta one of your favourite foods?

Here are some intriguing pasta facts:

Pasta, in Italian, literally means paste. While popular belief holds that Marco Polo introduced it to the West from China, scholars have traced its origins to Sicily in the Middle Ages, when it was used as a staple food. It was introduced to France much later, before spreading to the rest of the world.

Let’s get the basics right

Traditionally, pasta is made from durum wheat semolina and eggs (although eggless pastas are now available). Durum is grown in Italy as well as the rest of the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, Russia and the Americas. It is a hard wheat, rich in gluten (a sticky elastic protein substance that gives the dough cohesiveness), that is ground into semolina.

Pastas are available in various forms – solid, dried or fresh. You can pick up dried pasta that just needs to be cooked in boiling, salted water. Easier still, you can find solid, stuffed pasta that just requires heating up.

If you are not among the lazier gastronomes, you could also try making your own fresh pasta. Here’s how:

Knead semolina – which is available in some specialty stores, or else use white flour (maida) – with egg (about 1 egg per 1½ cups semolina/flour and water to get a stiffish dough.

You can then add flavouring purees, if you wish. Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out and cut it into thin strips. You can then boil this in salted water.

For how long? The Italians swear by the ‘al dente’ rule – take a small bite of the pasta to check if it is tender, but slightly firm. If yes, take it off the stove. Do not let it overcook and get mushy.

Types of pasta

There are primarily two types of pasta:

Flat: Made by rolling dough between rollers into thin sheets, which are then cut into various shapes and sizes.

Cylindrical: Made by forcing dough through a pierced plate. The hole through which the dough is forced may be straight, curved or notched, to produce hollow tubes.

Varieties aplenty…

Want to know more about the shapes and sizes of pasta you might encounter? It’s a long list. These are various varieties of pasta within the two types we just read about:

~Spaghetti: Long, thin and noodle-like. You also get coloured spaghetti: yellow (natural colour due to the egg), red (by adding tomatoes) and green (by adding spinach).

~Fettuccine: Long, thin and ribbon-shaped.

~Macaroni: A short, stick-shaped pasta, hollow inside.

~Tagletilli: A flat variety, quarter-inch broad and ribbon-shaped.

~Fedelini: A very fine noodle-like pasta.

~Spiral: As the name suggests, a twisted, thin ribbon.

~Penne: One of the hot-selling varieties these days. It is short and cylindrical with grooves. Hollow on the inside and cut into a slant.

~Ragatoni: Similar to penne, but cut into rounds.

~Bozzoli: A hollow short pasta with grooves and ridges. The upper part has an opening.

~Pipe rigate: Curved pasta, hollow and with a smooth outer surface.

~Diamante: Flat variety cut into a diamond shape.

~Routoni: Flat and round, with wavy edges and a small hole in the centre.

~Cappelletti: The same as routoni, but without a hole in the centre.

~Fusilli: A twisted short pasta, spiral in shape.

~Farfalle: Can be described as being bow or butterfly-shaped.

~Stellini: Flat, star-shaped pasta that can generally be found in soups.

~Lasagne: A sheet of pasta, used with stuffing.

~Scalloped lasagne: With a scale-like structure, it has a smooth surface and wavy edges. Generally used for baking.

~Tortillini, Ravioli, Canelloni: All three are used for stuffing purposes. Popular fillings include spinach with béchamel sauce (a thick, rich white sauce), chicken liver, cheese, mushrooms, sausage meat, etc.

Saucy facts

Sauce is to pasta what sugar syrup is to Roshogollas. The choice of sauce determines the flavour and taste of the dish to a great extent. Here’s a run-down of basic pasta sauces:

~Bolognaise sauce: A minced beef sauce seasoned with onion, garlic, red wine, rosemary, etc.

~Cream sauce: With white sauce as a base, it contains a lot of cream and cheese.

~Cheese sauce: A combination of white sauce and cheese.

~Basil sauce: Again, it has a white sauce base, with basil and cheese.

~Carbonara sauce: Diced bacon combined with egg yolk, onion, garlic, cream and chopped leeks. Finished with the ubiquitous parmesan cheese.

~Seafood sauce: Primarily has a béchamel base to which assorted seafood is added.

~Pesto sauce: Apart from parmesan cheese, it has basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.

~Napoli sauce: A favourite among vegetarians, it has a tomato base, along with basil, garlic, olive oil, onions and paprika powder.

~Puttensca sauce: This takes the Napoli sauce as a base, to which olives, capers (a herb) and anchovy (a salty fish) are added.

~Primavera sauce: Napoli sauce to which juliennes (vegetables cut into thin strips) are added.

~Arabiata sauce: A favourite with those who love spicy food, this takes Napoli as the base, supplemented with chilli flakes and parmesan cheese.

~Moily sauce: An interesting sauce that can suit the Indian palate, it contains curry leaves, onions, green chillies and ginger blended into coconut milk.

Pasta etiquette

~ While the type of pasta you choose does not contribute much to the taste, unless you opt for a flavoured variety, it is the sauce that matters a lot. Expect white-sauce based options to be more bland. Vegetarians can always go for Napoli-based sauces.

~ Generally, you can combine any type of pasta with any sauce.

Exceptions: Lasagne necessarily has sheet pasta, Tortillini, Ravioli, Canelloni are used for stuffing, so choose vegetarian or non-vegetarian sauces accordingly, Stellini is preferred in soup as it is small.

However, not all types of pasta may be available in a restaurant you go to. Usually, you are sure to find spaghetti, penne, macaroni and fettuccine.

~ While handling pasta with your fork, insert the tines within the pasta so it does not slide back to the plate. Pasta tends to be slippery, so avoid heaping it on your fork. The knife can be used to cut longer pasta such as fettuccine into bite-sized pieces.

Remember, the flavours are subtle, so you really need to be tuned into your meal to appreciate the finer nuances of your pasta.

Bon appetite!