gcornwell May 18th, 2008
Transnational tips on winning friends and influencing people.
Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008
By Madhur Singh
Remember to touch a personal chord,” the instructor tells the class. “Make the other person feel important.” Thus advised, the first graduating class of Bangalore’s new Dale Carnegie Training center splits into pairs, each earnestly practicing a routine the students have spent four months learning. “Hi, my name is Gautam,” I’m told while my hand gets a vigorous shake. Dazzled by the bright smile and seemingly effortless eye contact, I barely manage to mumble my own name before my companion moves briskly along and I find myself being asked what I do for a living. All around me are similar smiling faces and heads nodding attentively in synch. Eventually the conversations take on a more relaxed tone, until a male voice blurts out, “Are you single? May I have your number?” Not exactly a professional business query, but it gets full marks for spontaneity and confidence.
Dale Carnegie Training–which teaches the self-improvement techniques in Carnegie’s landmark 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People–is one of several institutes that have opened shop in this high-tech hub to teach India’s legions of ambitious IT graduates the finer points of life in the modern workplace. “I was overwhelmed when I moved to Bangalore last year. I saw all these people who looked so smart and spoke perfect English,” says Pallavi Deshpande, 28. Her college in the central Indian city of Nagpur had given her a master’s degree in computer science, “but I didn’t have much self-confidence, and my English was a big problem.” Four months and a Certificate Program in Executive Excellence later, her speech is peppered with Carnegie-isms. “I learned that at an interview, you must talk in terms of the other person’s interest and show respect for the other person’s opinions,” she says, smiling.
The huge number of Indian workers staffing the world’s tech firms and call centers has given some employers the impression of India as a nation of 1.1 billion software engineers. But only 1 in 4 engineering graduates–and 1 in 10 graduates in other disciplines–is considered employable by multinational firms. While many graduates possess cutting-edge technical knowledge, their interpersonal and communications skills lag far behind. A study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies, India’s leading software and outsourcing industry organization, forecasts a shortage of half a million IT professionals by 2010, largely because of a lack of grads with the “soft skills” needed to fit into a cosmopolitan work environment.
Enter Bangalore’s finishing schools. “We spoke to companies, educational institutes and students across three states while preparing our course curriculum, and they all said there was a huge need to develop personal leadership and interpersonal and communication skills among graduates,” says Pallavi Jha, chair of Dale Carnegie Training’s Indian partner, Walchand PeopleFirst Ltd. A large part of the coursework is overcoming cultural differences. “The handshake, if you are a woman, is tricky,” says Neetika Verma, a Dale Carnegie instructor. “We tell our female students, ‘If a man doesn’t reach out to shake your hand, take the first step and shake his hand. Show confidence.'” Other tips include learning to address everyone by first name and networking over lunch and dinner.
In the long term, such self-improvement courses may not make or break a technology career. “No matter where you’re working in the IT industry, in three to four years’ time, everyone reaches a uniform level of sensitivity and an ability to communicate,” says C. Mahalingam, chief people officer at training firm Symphony Services. But the basic principles the classes teach can help many get their foot in the door. “Everyone picks up these skills along the way,” says Gerald Santiago, a Dale Carnegie student from Bangalore. “If you want to join the ranks, you must learn these too.”