No, not Intellectual Property Rights, though enough debate has been generated in the public forum on that too. This article is about Inter Personal Relations. During my tenure of approximately thirty-seven years in the Indian Navy (including training time) I have been on the receiving end of a charge of having less than satisfactory IPRs with some of the others, which included a Commander-in-Chief. I have done a little soul-searching and come to the conclusion that perhaps we need to sort out this scourge that has now reached epidemic proportions in the Indian Navy.

Inter Personal Relations have always been important. Just as it takes two to make a row, it takes good IPR to make a substantial difference to what can be achieved when a person or persons interact with a person or persons. A few years back the Indian Navy officially recognised good Inter Personal Relations as one of the desirable traits in its officers. These were amongst the attributes for which officers would be judged and reported upon in their Confidential Reports. A very desirable and lofty idea? Yes and no. Yes, because there is no denying the importance of politeness, tact and empathy whilst dealing with others. If one can, one should avoid treading on other people’s toes. If one can, one should seek to steer clear of controversy and confrontation. No, because not unlike the concept of Religion or even Goodness, it is subject to individual interpretation. And that is where the danger lies. Sometimes, the real interests of the unit and the navy are sacrificed at the altar of IPR. Sometimes, individual differences are reflected in the assessment about overall IPR. Sometimes, individuals who could not get along well with anyone at all comment upon the IPR of others as if they are an accepted authority.

A few years back when I underwent the Staff Course at Wellington, Tamilnadu, it amused me to note that we were not to ‘disagree’ with anyone. At best, we were to ‘agree to disagree’ or ‘beg to differ’. A few years back, General Musharraff, during the Agra Summit, became a hero of sorts with the Indian media, with his “straight talk”; the media having acknowledged this “disarming” quality in an army officer. They must have presumed that ‘straight talk’ or ‘shooting from the hip’ is what the armed forces officers are good at. If only they had attended the DSSC, they would have been shocked to realise that the injunctions about disagreements were being given for IPR between peers! One shudders to think what form of IPR would have to be evolved whilst dealing with superiors: “I have a different idea, Sir, but I beg to agree with you, yours is the most wonderful one”.

I think it was Winston Churchill who had once stated, “I may not agree with you but I will defend to hilt your right to disagree”. It would surely be an eye opener for those in authority who feel that good inter personal relations are completely dependent upon those they are expected to command.

A few years back, in an article in the USNIP, a comparison between the essential attributes of combat officers and staff officers was brought out. It was recognised that single-mindedness-of-purpose, brashness, and the ability to call a spade a spade, would be desirable in combat officers. However, since such qualities would tend to show these officers in poor light, during peace time, especially to their superiors, they would have dimmer promotion prospects in comparison to the staff officers, who are generally pleasant, and hence at good wicket, with their superiors. The article went on to add that both the qualities, that is of combat and the staff officers, were welcome in their particular areas, as long as, during war, it is the combat officer who is at sea and not the (good-in-IPR) staff officer.

Sweeping the dust under the carpet has been perfected as a national pastime. A country of one billion finds it well-nigh impossible to produce just one medal winner in Olympics. And yet, any number of sports persons line up to lay their claim to the Arjuna Awards. An article in the newspapers brought out that many a time these awards are based more upon good inter-personal relations than performance. Recently, we had the sad spectacle of Ministers of Parliament falling head over heels to nominate for Padma Shri a certain NRI with dubious past record but good IPRs.

There would have been no harm if IPR were treated as one of the many attributes for which officers are judged. Unfortunately, though not stated or intended, it becomes the most important attribute. Assessment of even performance and promotion potential is made dependent upon the IPR. There is, for example, no attribute called ‘Combative Spirit’, because almost all Professional or Personal Qualities assessment is based on virtues desirable in a good staff officer. It may be argued that Combative Spirit would come naturally to all those who are professionally competent, mentally and physically agile, and meticulous in staff work. But, combative spirit is not exactly the same as competence and agility. For one thing, if you haven’t got it in you, it can’t be faked. Most Indians, whenever they lose, are described as good losers. An apt criticism doing the rounds, after the recent World Cup Hockey, is that we may not be just good losers; we may be perfect losers.

One of the greatest pitfalls of the assessment of IPR in the navy is that since it is seen as one of the stepping stones for success, all attempts are made to get it right in relation to seniors, especially those in judgmental positions. This is often at the expense of one’s juniors who have to bear the brunt of their senior’s penchant for excellent IPR with their superiors. In such a system dissent is often equated with insubordination. In such a system since everyone is busy being positive and improving inter personal relations, often the first signs of cracks in the system are aired outside the system, say media.

Was it always like this? No, I would like to believe. Stories about the navy’s most revered officer, Admiral Pereira, are legendary. He almost became a cult figure. During the Staff Course we would go out of our way to talk to him. Once when I met him there after getting my transfer orders to Vizag, he started telling me about his own postings to Vizag. “I enjoyed commanding the Fleet”, he told me during the course of our conversation, “but there was this C-in-C always trying to interfere. One day (his eyes had the characteristic glint when he said it) I barged into his office and told him a few things and thereafter we never had any problems again”.

I would like to believe that many of my own superiors had the courage and good sense to take disagreements in their stride. Arguments, many a time heated ones, would ensue and yet were never carried forward to reflect general adverse state of IPR. During one of the battle of wits with one of my Commanding Officers, we were all getting it good and proper from him, a little unjustly I thought. I kept drawing doodles on a paper. As soon as he noticed me doing it, he was enraged and snatched the paper from my hand. I had drawn a cricket field with him batting and all the other officers in various fielding positions. He had one look at it and I thought he was going to fulminate. Instead, he asked me to draw my own position before he would decide what to do with it and me. With trembling hands, I took the paper from him and correctly placed myself at Silly Point! He just pocketed the paper and we went about our work. The whole day I kept thinking of how I had thoughtlessly got him on the wrong side. We were very busy in various fleet exercises and hence it was late in the evening when his response came: ‘From Captain to Silly Point: Come and have a glass of beer with me’.

Many others too did not make it mandatory for us to agree with them on all points. One could give one’s point of view without fear or favour, especially at seminars and debriefs. Professional views were countered with professional views and not with pulling rank and seniority. Inter personal relations were as important as today but no one stopped to give too much of thought to them. No one begged to differ but did so boldly. And if once in a while things got out of hand, well, the beer was always kept chilled!

And what do we have now? The other day I sent this coarse, though highly effective, joke to those who matter or mattered:

Many years back a Sub Lieutenant bought a bicycle from the Canteen Stores Department. Noticing that it did not have the rear carrier, he sent his orderly to have one fixed. When the bicycle came back he noticed that whilst the CSD man had fixed the carrier he had removed the stand. Enraged, the young subbie went to CSD and asked the man as to why he had done this. The man in charge there, a grey haired veteran of several decades, told him, “Sir, you appear to be new in the navy. Navy mein ek baat seekh lo: agar career chahiye to kabhi stand na lena (If you want career (to flourish, that is) never take a stand (on anything)).

Sadly, the majority of the lot today has taken this rather seriously. This majority has seen the rise of those who have never ruffled any feathers and reached heights that they aspire to reach. These have, hence, become role models now and have large fan following, golfing partners, and hectic social lives. The race to win the popularity contest is on. Whosoever wins, the navy is the loser!

Our fine navy had many an article and many a poem about the loneliness of command; it is because as a leader of men you were expected to stay apart. Of course, you would do all within your means to ensure the welfare of all those junior to you but that did not interfere with your standing apart. Today, if you stand apart, you are lonelier than ever before.

Here is what I wrote to this C-in-C with whom I was accused of having unsatisfactory IPR: A veteran teacher was preparing a rookie for his first lecture. By way of advice he told him, “As you lecture in the class you will be annoyed with this one student who will nag you with persistent questions. Don’t be put off by him. He may be the only one paying attention.” I was suitably rewarded for having penned this to him and I had my chilled beer alone. But, I was happy that I was not encumbered by the thought of my sea time or promotion.

I remember when Admiral Pereira was the Naval Chief he had written to all Commanding Officers to guard against the trend of yes-man-ship and zero error syndrome. A visionary, that he was, he had seen the early signs of the virus affecting the Navy.

The old-timer never mixed business with pleasure. Many amongst the present lot do not know where one ends and the other begins. We need to set the balance right again.

© 2010 – 2013, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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  1. IPR in Defence services is a subjective issue having delicate contours. You have put it very well with guarded caution. But I have experienced IPR in Navy subtle and ‘refined’ compared to what happens in Army.

    1. Thank you. I did my Higher Command course with the army and I think you have a point there. I remember our course having been taken to task because some of the ladies had not attended an AWWA get together without “valid” reason. But, I would also like to interject, the Navy is catching on a big way!

  2. Sir, in a very lucid way you have covered the topic of IPR(inter personal relations). Surely the rise of an officer in rank and career is based on IPR. If this is the only desired trait in an officer and also governs his evaluation by IO & RO than why do we put so much emphasis only on profession for which an officer is trained for nuber of years in his formative days and continues for the rest of his service life. Will it not be prudent to train an officer in IPR for at least 90% of training time so that he/she develops and nurture the most important quality of an Indian Service Officer.Even the awards either gallantary or meritorious are given based on IPR. Now a days its very common in Armed forces that the credit of one officer is stolen and given to the other officer based on IPR by the superiors.Lets forget profession but develop IPR for our own career progression.

    1. Thank you Alok Singhal. The fact is, as admitted in the post, we do require good IPRs to some extent. However, when IPRs become the be-all and end-all, that’s when the trouble starts. The fact is that it is damaging to the services. Things should be based about 80% on merit and 20% on IPRs. Sadly, it is the other way round.

  3. I guess you meant KUPD syndrome when you coined IPR because PR
    Works both ways for seniors and for juniors alike.

  4. Ravi Sir, I have been reading your posts for quite some time now. They are so interesting that most of the time one post leads to another and so on…On the time line of life and naval career, since I have also walked the same path almost simultaneously, the posts/incidents really get linked to the happenings of those days – actual, factual, galley news, nwwa net or what ever. Keep going Sir…!!! But one thing has been flashing across my mind which I thought I must share with you. Some of the posts – not yours – there is a mention of our colleagues, seniors, flag officers, places (names of naval bases, air sqdns etc.) etc. I personally think, looking back, it is good to laugh at our, or our colleagues acts of omission and commission – well intended or otherwise – but to name the individual characters of the scene would be a bit unfair. We may mention them as ‘naval base, frigate, tanker, flag officer, GO/SCO/NO etc’. I am sure you would give it a fair thought. I wonder if there is any way of editing the post before it gets posted in public domain!!!!.

    1. Thank you. I never mention people by name. I did once only on facebook and immediately took it off. All said and done, ours is a great service. The guys who are aberrations are exceptions.

  5. hi,
    this is an interesting topic and every one has a view on it and there would therefore be number of takes equal to the number of people. why? because we have different experiences in life and in service. the senior with whom we are supposed to have good IPR himself has had experiences of his own , based on which he reacts, expects,responds and finally appraise.the interaction between two human beings is complex and there is a great book on this, details of which i can not recall, except it gave examples of interaction between individuals of various character traits. one again , its not universally applicable.
    second issue is our perception, what we think other person , likes or does not, again its our perception,may be far from the truth, if there is something called absolute truth. we act as per our perception of other person(s). here we could be right or go completely wrong.
    third is our presumptions, one would start with one that all people are basically good. if you start with this premise, your conduct towards others will be relaxed and communicative. but as we go along you have to constantly examine whether you were right in presuming goodness of that person. if you find that you were wrong and he is the odd one, petty , mean etc, you change your behavior accordingly and your survival instincts would kick in, you become guarded and suppress you instinctive nature to correct that person, at your own peril.
    here luck counts, you may never meet such a person in your service life as surely they are in a minority. you meet one , dont take guard and you land up in soup. its good to become philosophical then, it all happens for best etc. every one does not encounter them.
    leadership , when people follow you because of all those qualities that are enshrined in the bible of navy, is quite rare. very few have that fortune. others have it bestowed on them by regs IN. we like it or not, thats how it is, this natural leadership vs bestowed one differs in each person, or leader, its not 100% this or that,, there are shades of grey.
    CUPD is a phenomenon, which , i think , is less prevalent now, then say two or three decades ago because of more open and excess of information going up the chain in informal ways and the appraiser , if not overtaken by excellent IPR would reflect it in ACR. still some get through, as i mentioned in different context. the fact is that loser is the navy as its a double jeopardy, if 10% wrong persons rise up, 10% good guys miss it, thus the cumulative effect IS 20% overall loss.
    i do not know exactly what all constitute IPR and how much effect it has on ones progression, but there is a significant effect as i have experienced it. call it the natural weakness of any person to get his/her ego massaged and the smart one have honed this skill to perfection. you get impressed by this , without even knowing it, as someone said, he was flattered when told that no body can flatter him.
    as i said its a complex topic. all human relations are, in service, domestic front or interaction with anybody for any activity.
    like all of us , i too have had good and not so good experiences, like others would have had with me. it all boils down to luck, over which we have little control.

  6. The root cause of what you have diagnosed, in my opinion, is ego! When an individual allows his/her ego to rule his/her way of functioning, then there is no saying what will happen and invariably, whatever happens will never be 100% right and unfortunately, in an organisation, other individuals are affected, mostly adversely. Qualities such as intelligence, emotion and empathy, if developed in a balanced manner, have an immense influence on character and make it positive as we understand it. Many a times, the qualities of emotion and empathy get twisted or altered or out of sync (with generally accepted norms) due to traumatic experiences and/or outside influences and that then makes the individual behave in strange manners…mostly egotistical! One of the outside influences in the Services that does this is sycophancy (in the misplaced belief that such behaviour will obtain positive results for the self). When did it start, why did it start or how did it start are questions to which finding answers will be difficult or well nigh impossible, but, suffice to say that today, hypocrisy and sycophancy are pervading the Services as much as they do in the Political, Bureaucratic and Corporate sectors…nothing less nothing more! This could be the reason why today’s youngsters are not much enamoured with the Services…in their view all things being equal (and in their view they are), they prefer to go for (in order of priority) remuneration and freedom of choice (everything that cannot be put a value on gets encompassed in the latter). We in the Services (at least in our times) had that ‘freedom of choice’ and we preferred it over remuneration (which was enough to satisfy our basic needs)! So, will that ‘freedom of choice’ make a comeback in the Services at some future time? …… It has to!!!

    1. I have always admired the clarity in your thoughts and the logical build up of the arguments. There have been dozens of occasions when you haven’t agreed with me or me with you, but I have admired your views. Perceptions are to be backed by motives. Gandhi’s ‘My Experiments with Truth’ has instances about motives behind being truthful and that’s how to weigh even truth! Perceptions are not even the truth! So, I guess if one perceives a thing as wrong and the motive is the good of all, it is alright. But, if a thing is to be perceived as wrong on purely selfish or egotist motives, it is not alright. We should be prepared to call a spade a spade most times without fear or favour. Lastly, a true gentleman or lady is a person who is nice to people who can be of no use to him/her. In the services, at least, we should be true gentlemen/ladies; that’s our tradition.