Pushing back at the pushy ones

by Gautam Raja

I deal with a range of people in my current line of work, many of whom have mere hours to put on a big play or concert or festival. It’s in this stressful situation that you see people as they really are, and while it’s heartening to see that most are nice, there are a few who are difficult to work with. Out of these, the ones I hate the most are the pushy people.

It’s possible to be organised and efficient without ever being pushy—some of the most together people I know get things done and yet keep everyone around them happy. The problem with pushiness is that it stems from a basic lack of trust, and the idea that achieving the goal is everything; how you get there is not important. And so, pushy people hound you, constantly ask for things they aren’t supposed to get, and worst of all, play one person against another.

The latter I detest most of all. It makes me feel cheap—like a pawn in some game. For example, I’ll say that a certain kind of banner isn’t allowed on stage. The pushy ones immediately will say, “Oh but V. your colleague said it was okay.” Though it’s in our rules and I doubt this, I can hardly call our customers liars, so they get the benefit of the doubt until I get in touch with V., find out they were lying, and are now unfurling the banner that I will unceremoniously eject from the hall.

The pushy ones don’t realise the best they can hope for from other people is the bare minimum. They may feel that they’ve got their work done, but will never know of the little extras that are thrown in when people feel respected. Our tech team has a bunch of directors and designers it loves to work with because it is always spoken to nicely by them, and requests are made without any entitlement. As a result, these theatre people’s special requests are happily accommodated—whether an extra hand with something, or an extra half an hour at the end of the day. The pushy ones? They get what they are entitled to and not a second more.

India is a place where the “small man” gets treated badly, so I often have to make it clear that there are no small men in our theatre. Far too many people come in thinking that B. and M., our technicians, are servants—that they can be made to work unending hours without meals, and that they come in early or stay late. Even if polite though, groups don’t realise that their “special request” is not special at all. Every group wants to start early or work late, and if we were to accommodate everyone, our team would be severely overworked.

Among these pushy types, there’s a subset who annoy me ever more—the ones who come from countries where guild and safety laws are strongly enforced, and yet ask us to place sets in front of exit doors, or demand that our tech team work through lunch. Both of these would result in stern warnings or worse in the countries they come from, but hey, this is India where none of this matters, right? Not under my watch.

I can see the results. Instead of a cowed pair of technicians who are merely told what to do, our tech team is an empowered, thinking and responsible part of the theatre, enforcing professionalism, always working with dignity, and also spreading my hobby horse: a healthy respect for time.

First published in Gulf News, August 20, 2013