When commanders hear but do not listen
To most, hearing and listening are synonymous as both relate to the functions of the ear. However, the difference lies in the processing of the sound by the brain.
In the case of hearing, brain simply notices the sound. One hears a sound whether one wants to or not. In other words, one can hear something without wanting to; but one can only listen to something intentionally. For example, one hears a noise but listens to what is being said.
A vigilant and sympathetic commander takes note of the warning signals and activates the preventive mechanism.
Similarly, one can hear a conversation between two persons without listening to it. It implies absence of application of mind to that conversation. A sound is said to have been listened when the brain makes a conscious effort to take its cognizance and process it. Thus to listen to something, a deliberate effort is necessary.
When a child approaches a busy parent with a request/problem and gets a response, ‘I have heard you’. He is quick to realise that his parent heard him but did not listen to him. The child feels hurt and sulks. By not paying attention to the child, the parent missed an opportunity to resolve a small issue and prevent its growth into a major grievance. On the other hand, there are children who are introvert by nature and keep their emotions bottled up. In such cases, challenge for the parents is much tougher. They have to be on the lookout for tell-tale signs that may indicate their disquiet.
In many respects, command of troops is akin to the performance of parental functions. Unlike other organisations, relationship between a commander and the troops is governed by the ethical linkage of empathetic demeanor of the former and unflinching trust of the latter. Troops expect their commanders to be aware of the problems faced by them and treat them with due compassion. For that, every commander must strive to ‘listen to his command’. It is a command responsibility.
‘Listening to one’s command’ carries a much wider meaning in the services. In addition to listening to what is being said, a commander must pay equal attention to the unsaid as well. It entails managing both extrovert and introvert troops.
As many troops stay silent, it is essential that every commander remains fully conscious of the level of satisfaction of the troops. He must have his hand on the pulse of his command to get forewarning of festering undercurrents of disaffection lest they blow-up as disciplinary challenges.
Troops expect their commanders to listen to them and make a conscious effort to solve their personal, domestic and professional problems.
Indian soldiers are a highly disciplined lot. They do not resort to collective indiscipline or manhandle officers unless driven to it. When simmering discontentment (based on real or perceived issues) is overlooked by commanders, either through negligence or default, pent-up frustration results in a ‘pressure cooker effect’, tearing long-nurtured unit cohesion to shreds. Units afflicted by disorderly behaviour of troops take long to recover and the stigma tarnishes their proud regimental history for ever.
The Stress Factor
Although stress is a biological term, it is commonly used in a metaphorical sense and has also come to be accepted as a euphemism for describing difficulties faced by an individual. Every one faces challenges in life (professional, societal and domestic) and failure to adapt to them results in perceiving them as threats, which in turn generates pressures. Extreme pressures become stress. When stress surpasses ability to handle, it becomes a threat to both physical and emotional equilibrium, by generating ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Military’s highly disciplined, hierarchal and restrictive environment deters giving vent to or sharing pent up frustrations. Howsoever disturbed a soldier may be he has to put up a façade of bravado. Such a situation lends itself to acts of desperation by some over-stressed and distressed soldiers. Increasing cases of indiscipline, suicides and fratricide are symptomatic of the malaise.
By listening to a stressed soldier, a commander provides him an escape valve before the threshold gets crossed. A vigilant and sympathetic commander takes note of the warning signals and activates the preventive mechanism. By listening to a soldier and empathizing with him, a commander assumes the role of a friend, guide and mentor. The soldier feels assured of his commander’s support and feels relieved of the distressing stress.
…shortage of officers, coupled with overloaded working environment, is certainly a contributory factor, it is more a case of neglecting command responsibilities.
Redressal of Grievances
As per the rules, all service personnel are allowed to seek audience with their commanders to apprise them of their complaint and seek redressal. In case not fully satisfied, they can submit written appeals to the Chief (non-statutory complaints) and the Government (statutory complaints). Unfortunately, all complaints get mired in bureaucratic minutiae. No officer has time or the inclination to listen to what the complainant is trying to say. The whole system is totally insensitive. In some cases, complainants retire before their cases are finally disposed off, making the whole exercise meaningless.
Most troops approach their commanders with their grievances through ‘Arzi Reports’ and ‘Sainik Sammelans’. Although these are time tested channels of communication, their effectiveness is directly proportional to the earnestness of the commanders. Troops expect their commanders to listen to them and make a conscious effort to solve their personal, domestic and professional problems. Many grievances get addressed once the commanders listen to the complaints attentively, understand them and explain the facts to the troops, thereby relieving them of their misplaced anxiety.
Increasing incidents of collective indiscipline do not portend well for the Indian army; in fact, they are ominous. It appears that the soldiers’ faith in the credibility of the system is beginning to wane. Close to one lakh cases involving service personnel are pending in various courts. It reflects poorly on the Army’s grievance redressal mechanism. Soldiers knock at courts’ doors only when driven to it as a last resort, after losing faith in the sense of justice and the fairness of the system. Equally worrisomely, the Indian Army has been rocked by a large number of suicide and fratricide cases. In most cases, officers’ had failed to take note of the increasing restlessness of the affected soldiers and listen to their murmurs of dissentions.
As stated earlier, one of the primary reasons for the emerging man-management issues is failure of the commanders to listen to their command. Whereas shortage of officers, coupled with overloaded working environment, is certainly a contributory factor, it is more a case of neglecting command responsibilities. It is not sufficient to hear the troops. Commanders must listen to their commands both through verbal communications and non-verbal indications. It is only then that they can initiate corrective measures well in time.