Home > Ideas, Leadership > In the driver’s seat

In the driver’s seat

Hopping into an autorickshaw this morning, to make the 5km trip to the workplace, I noticed the driver switching on the meter. Keeping the shock and surprise away from my voice I asked: “Oh, the meter gets used in this town? I thought it was just a decoration.”

(This explanation is only for the uninitiated, which means non-Indians/Asians – the autorickhaw is a 3-wheeler vehicle used to run private taxi service and it is quite popular across Asia – tuk-tuk, rick, rickshaw are the other terms used.)

In most cities across India, the autorickshaw drivers are tough-cookies and a law unto themselves; people usually see them as the scourge of society. They can be rude and obnoxious and are known to extract way beyond the regular fare from their passengers. Stories of arguments with the “auto” drivers and the subsequent feeling of disgust, frustration and rage often do the rounds on Social Media.

I should have realized at the very outset that the driver I was with today is different because he responded to my taunt with utmost calm – “Sir, why the sarcasm in your voice? Inside the city limit many of us do go by the meter. I guess you have not experienced it often enough.”

He continued – “But, Sir, we can’t survive with just the fare shown on the meter. These charges were brought into force years back when cost of tyres, spares and maintenance were much lower. The autorickshaw itself cost much less back then and the less said about fuel prices the better.”

“ Oh! There is one last thing – do I need to mention inflation and the price of most things used by the common man? You must be feeling the pinch too.”

To say that I was flabbergasted was putting it mildly – I was receiving a “State of the Union”-type address from the “lowly” auto-driver, delivered in the gentlest of tones.

And he wasn’t done yet.

“Sir, the lawyers don’t go by fair prices, there is no control on how much they (he used an “honorific” in this context, that I cannot mention here) can charge for arguing a case. The doctors fleece us – even the doctors in Government Hospitals, who are expected to serve the community, take money on the sly to conduct a procedure.  The traders hike prices of essentials indiscriminately and …. and ….  Sir, I can go on and on …. Why is the autorickshaw driver alone expected to go by the meter? Why is he bad-mouthed by the community he serves?”

Bang!! It hit me hard. I was getting a lesson on mindsets and perceptions – I was being told what it looks like from the other side.

Paradigm Shift – often heard, mostly realized long after it’s experienced; this was a live experience of that phenomenon. I was undergoing a change in mindset on the go!

We often offer ideas to co-workers or our customers and wonder why they can’t see what we are driving at; why are they not able to understand what’s being explained to them? Are they so dense, we think!

In a recent training program I felt that way when the modules delivered didn’t seem to be making the expected impact on the target group – we had done extensive pre-work and planning before conceiving and creating each session.

Only when the program fell flat we realized that this important group of people (the target group) had been ignored in the pre-work phase – we had spoken only with their Managers and their clients. The thinking was that the target group would have no clue about what is needed – they just have to ‘do as told’.

People behave the way they do because their drivers are different from ours – their priorities and goals are different from ours. It’s important that we understand and accept that.

It’s usually after hearing the other side that we realise that there could be more than one way of looking at the situation – there could be other ways of arriving at solutions too. To find robust answers to life’s problems, especially those involving large groups of people, there is need for dialogue, debate and, the most important one, empathy.

We are intelligent beings, but no single individual has all the answers.

I was still a bit dizzy when we reached the destination. The Guru checked the meter and demanded an amount in excess of the reading on the meter, but definitely not unjustified given the circumstances. I had bought into his story; but more than that he had been reasonable.

Before we parted ways he said – “Sir! What is your profession?”

I thought to myself – “Drat! This is going to take a while”; again it had to do with the time and effort it took most times I said “Consultant / Trainer”. I was stuck in my paradigm.

Cautiously I muttered the word – “Trainer”.

“You mean Personality Development … do you conduct courses on Positive Thinking and such stuff!” I staggered away in a daze; this was more than I could handle in one day.

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  1. October 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    its hard to find such persons @ cochin. Good one JM

    • JayadevM
      October 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      Our experience says so, Jithin. Maybe we have to look harder or even change our approach. 🙂

      Thank you for the appreciation

  2. October 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Interesting auto driver! I confess I’m one of those who have complained loudly about these guys. I’ll think twice before doing so henceforth 😉 illuminating write J!

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 6:37 am

      Hi Raji

      True! A change in perspective provides new insights and new learning opportunities.

      Thank you for the support.

  3. October 18, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Interesting!

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 6:38 am

      Thank you, Ritu.

  4. October 18, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Wow! That was a fascinating read!

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 6:43 am

      Thank you, Lensman!

  5. Jamy
    October 18, 2012 at 7:09 am

    This guy is a class act Jay! Great read again!

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 6:44 am

      Thank you, Jamy. You are a great motivator.

  6. vishak
    October 18, 2012 at 7:26 am

    You should come to Mumbai to realize that your perception about them isnt wrong, i guess the one you met or a handful of them are true to what they do but most of them are working to make that extra money by fleecing the customer. Mumbai has meters but they have found every technique available make more money, right from rigged metres, fake tariff cards, taking you for a long ride before you reach your destination, etc etc… With the recent hike and the government ultimatum to have electric metres before the 25th of November, they are in a hurry to rake in as much as they can. Worst is, when you are stuck and desperately looking for an auto and they turn you down for a bigger fare, where in according to the rule book, they cant refuse any passenger a ride. So barring a few, like the Gentle man you met, Sir I beg to differ, but then Life gives you no choices sometimes, so we live on getting fleeced…:)

    cheers…

    Vishak

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 6:56 am

      Hi Vishak

      Thank you for reading … and for that detailed response.

      My article is about an auto-driver, a different kinda auto-driver. I don’t wish to say that all auto-drivers are good, decent and that they charge the right amount for every journey. My story is not about auto-drivers and their methods. I only wish to tell my readers that at times our paradigms create barriers and cause type-casting of the people we meet.

      “North-Indians are this”, “South-Indians are that”, “women are this way”, teachers are that way” These are a reflection of our belief sysytems.

      If we have an open outlook and if we can be free of prejudices there would be many more learning opportunities.

      What do you say?

  7. Kailash
    October 19, 2012 at 6:17 am

    pheno-MENON, Good articulation J, And yes even after many training, stories, articular/motivational reading we miss picking the other side of the story.

    In your last blog ‘Why Train’ we discussed about Telecom companies ignoring training to their customer facing executives, there as well we need to have a look from their angle as well. Or else the owner of the company who has invested so much time, efforts & huge money to establish his business (he able to established it means he has done more homework/planning than what we can even think off) why he would ignore such silly thing. As i’m working on technical side of telecom industries (on few occasion outside Ind. too) since last 12+ years and i have seen how much investment it takes on technical side to run the show. And for them running technical services is much much important than giving great soft services. As customer would not join or leave them due to their call center’s treatment but due to their technical services. Yeah but we have telco’s which are lacking on both front as well :).

    We should get a chance to talk to them once and who knows we might change our perspective about it.

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 7:04 am

      Hi Kailash

      Thinking out loud or sharing an experience? 🙂

      Yes, understanding the other side helps us deliver better solutions and create lasting relationships.

      Thank you and regards.

  8. October 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Lovely way of reflecting. Too often we don’t realise that all of us act on the basis of perceptions and those may be far fromt the truth. I too had a chat with an Auto rickshaw driver and he told me that since they don’t have access to credit, they pay more than double the cost. However, no amount of justifications can take it away from the fact that it is illegal. Two wrongs doesn’t make it right. However, such is the state of our nation, that people don’t fear committing a crime.

    • JayadevM
      October 20, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Hi SP

      Yes, we all get stuck in some ruts that we cannot extract ourselves from … for example, many young and middle-aged professionals I meet repeated tell me that they wish to explore their creative potential and do something new, but they are stuck in a debt trap and the responsibilities of running a family and so the dreams have to be abandoned or left to rot.

      The necessity to make a living makes man do strange things.

      Thank you for sharing your anecdote.

  9. divya
    October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Good one J. I have definitely done my share of complaining. Next time will think twice. The auto driver did speak the truth. Wish some of them would be a little more polite and less arrogant though. We feel the pinch for sure !!! Guess that works for everyone . Loved the bit about the doctors and lawyers. thanks for sharing this Jay..

    • JayadevM
      October 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Divya,

      Thank you for leaving a comment here after reading – auto-drivers usually evoke negative sentiments. Yes, they can do with a touch of finesse and politeness.

      But you do agree that we can do with a change in attitude too.

      Do stop by again.

  10. November 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    very interesting read jayadev .. i do write on my blogs about the viewpoints of doctors in certain issues but have even written one blog on chennai autowalas where i took only the “customers “view . I think i should look more into empathising as i thought i empathised enough ..

    • JayadevM
      November 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Hi Haroon

      Glad I could help you rethink the interpersonal relationship strategy. Glad you could stop by.

  11. vinod mathummal
    November 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    good one ….well you need to take an auto in chennai then….the autodrivers were , are and probably will be the same always….but the guy has made a point…why target them but lawyers and doctors are not those you interact everyday!! as it is said…you have good guys and bad guys!!!

    • JayadevM
      November 22, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Vinod

      It seems Chennai auto drivers are in everyone bad books. I have had a few run ins with them and some friends on Facebook have similar stories to share.

      But auto drivers can’t be singled out of ill-treatment.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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