“Hello? Yes, is this Mr. Saurabh?”
“Hi Saurabh Bhaiya, I’m looking for a full stack web developer …”
This was a typical conversation when Akshay Agrawal was setting out to establish ClassFever.
ClassFever is an online school ranking, and crowd sourced educational institution quality assessment platform. It today covers major parts of west India and ranks schools using a big data statistics platform. ClassFever does 200mn + calculations to rank all schools. Akshay has been featured in various publications – Hindustan Times, Yahoo, DNA, etc. and his work has gathered positive responses.
However, getting here was not easy for Akshay, not because of the standard startup problems, yet because Akshay was being very formal.
The Situation: Akshay was 17 years old when he started ClassFever.
The Problem: He needed to work with and employ people much older than him for his venture to succeed.
The cause: Akshay was just too damn respectful.
The inherent Indian values in Akshay subconsciously directed him to call his prospective employers Bhaiya, Sir, or rarely, when feeling liberal, “Mr. XYZ.”
Needless to say, this inherent form of being respectful was misinterpreted as a weakness and established a false sense of hierarchy between the two people. The recipient assumed he/she automatically had an upper hand. Akshay faced problems with prospective employees refusing to join or acting unreasonably. Furthermore, even seasoned Investors, venture capitalists, Judges, and people at networking events misinterpreted the mutual human respect.
Then Akshay’s father advised him to dispense with the respectful constructs of conversation. Mr. Saurabh, the web developer was now to be addressed boldly as only “Saurabh.”
The Drastic Turn
Things took a drastic turn for the better. Now the recipients felt as if they were talking to someone in command. It is okay to mention, even they were intimidated to an extent. Akshay clarifies, after that point, I proudly confess to having become a devoted practitioner of No Sir No Madam decree.
“I would have been in a very different place if I kept up with the ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’ regime” — Akshay
How to bring about the change
Akshay points out that one must not forget our tradition of respecting elders. The No Sir No Madam principle must apply in distinctive capacity and follow different models in distinct situations.
At the Workplace
- “My acceptance of your leadership is a sign of respect” — Akshay Agrawal.
A formal salutation decree is not the only way of displaying honor, Akshay adds. “The fact that you are willing to work under them and learn from them, are sufficient to display your respect for them.”
- KISS — Keep It Simple S
“Can you imagine how much more succinct formal communication would be without ‘Sirs’ and ‘Madam’s’? Move faster, work faster, adapt quicker, and grow immediately.
- Are you an ego massage source or an appreciated talent?
If your workplace requires you to kiss up to your supervisors to grow, it does not respect you for your skill/talent. You are a source of your supervisor’s ego massages.
- Are you compensating?
If you find yourself boosting someone’s ego with ‘Sir/Madam’ against the common practice, not only does it indicate that you are compensating for requisite skills with brown-nosing, it also means that everyone around knows that.
At Government offices
- Acknowledge that change is hard
Let’s address the elephant in the room of this topic – if our current local bureaucrats were worth their salt or their words, then this would not have been a problem.
While the citizens are partly to blame as well, given the power these officials hold over us, it is a subconscious process for us to somewhat scrape in front of them by overdosing on the “Sirji” and “Madamji”.
- Start Small
Start with going from “Sirji” to “Mr. Minister.”
- Look towards the Young
No, RaGa is not the answer. I mean the real future politicians from the current millennial generation who would be tech-savvy, adaptable, and agile. These are the change makers we need to foster today, to see the fruit of labor probably 10 years down the line. How do we influence them? Catch them young in schools.
The focus of schooling is not to mold the child in the image of the teacher — it is to mold the child in the image of the best the child can be” — Akshay Agrawal.
- Schools/colleges should not be dictatorial regimes of the teachers
Let’s acknowledge that more than justified amounts of energy are spent on enforcing things, which do not matter through the teachers — who become the recipients of ‘Sirs/Madams’. This immediately closes the door for any mentoring, guiding, or life coaching and turns it into a hierarchical relationship.
One of my most successful teachers was my high school physics teacher. He did not bother with, what color pen I used, if my notebook was ruled or not, or if I wrote the page number on each page. Hell, he did not even care if I had a notebook. He said to me, “Do what you need to do to understand what I teach you in class.” He never cared for establishing his dominance in class. He also asked to be addressed as, “Mr. Rajesh.” The school had the best physics scores in the city/state. In college, 35% of my class time was spent on curating the length of the trousers of boys and girls’. Seriously? We are literally legal adults.
- Parents, grow up and let grow up.
The colleges are forced to curate the length of what your child wears because you are so damn controlling and worried about your child. It is almost safe to say that college faculty are the proxies ‘Sirs/Madams’, standing in for parents. Parents do not make the college, parent your child, make them, and educate your child. Colleges need to cater to the parent’s requirements and the only way they can do is make them fear the ‘Sirs/Madams’, bringing back the issue at hand.
- There is a scale here
imagine your kindergarten child coming home telling you that, “Saloni made us do a very good activity today.” Weird right? Maybe the solution here is either, ‘Saloni Maam or Mrs/Ms. Saloni. In middle and high school maybe “Mr./Mrs. Name” is appropriate. However, in college, first-name based communications are optimal.
- Don’t Look West
While western education might seem a very promising model to solve our problems. As someone going through that system currently, I can confidently say that while this system makes for strong individuals, it makes for horrible human-relationships. The racism, divorce, debt and health statistics comparisons speak for themselves.
The prevalence of this culture among blue collar workers is a result of the prevalence in the workplace, government offices, and schools. Fix the problems with employers of these blue-collar jobs and this goes away.
Looking forward to more proponents and supporters of this movement.
Akshay currently is a User Experience Designer and Human-Centered Design Researcher and at Art Center College of Design, California. The interview was conducted over a phone call, and this article is co-authored by the Team No Sir No Madam and Akshay Agrawal