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Have you spotted the balloon in your office?

An exploration of the many varieties of balloons that float around our workplaces and what we can learn from them

If you have a pompous boss or team member in your workplace, then you are possibly fed up of listening to his or her tall stories and constant self-praise. This sometimes leads to a desire to prick his or her balloon.
If you have a pompous boss or team member in your workplace, then you are possibly fed up of listening to his or her tall stories and constant self-praise. This sometimes leads to a desire to prick his or her balloon. (iStock)

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Balloons are the flavour of the season. There is the famous Chinese balloon that floated across the American skies for nearly a week recently before it was shot down by the US defence forces. Reports say that one more such balloon was hovering somewhere over Latin America.

Then, there is the short-seller company named after Hindenburg, the famous balloon airship that had burst into flames decades ago. This company and its balloon-inspired name gained sudden and dramatic fame in India last month, after it published a report that received wide coverage.

Also read: When was the last time you laughed at work?

Closer home, in an episode fraught with much less geo-political or economic implication, two helium balloons of unknown origin—one pink and the other yellow—floated into our bedroom. These were presumably from a birthday party in the neighbourhood, though this fact was never conclusively established.

My wife was quick to dispose of them, because it is rather disconcerting to have a balloon hanging around over our bed.

While this was simple enough to accomplish for a person as determined as my wife, it is not easy to dispose of all the balloons that float around in our offices.

Here are some of them for you to think about.

Floating a trial balloon

Sometimes, when we wish to test our colleagues’ reactions to an idea or proposal we may have in mind, we initially float a trial balloon to observe their reactions.

Such a trial balloon may consist of a tentative or limited announcement or query. For instance, if an offsite meeting is in the offing, one of the organising team members may trigger an innocuous discussion in the larger group about the relative merits of Paris, Miami and Goa as conference destinations. Sometimes, organisations may consider an intentional news leak of an upcoming product to assess consumer opinion and then progress development of the product only if the response is favourable. This is a trial balloon too.

Experts in this sphere (I am so sorry for this pun) know how to package the trial balloon smartly so that it floats in very smoothly and without encountering any suspicion. We must learn from them.

Hot air balloons

We know these people, don’t we? We meet them in our offices, and they talk and talk all the time. You could call them hot air balloons (HOBs), but they are also called gasbags, which is really the same thing if you think about it. The hot air that emanates from them carries little substance, but you can feel your head getting increasingly hot and humid as you exercise your utmost patience while listening to them.

They talk mostly because they are compulsive speakers, but other motivations may include a deep-seated need for attention or an underlying desire for fame. The subject of conversation is of no consequence to them because they are happy to speak about anything. An HOB I know well can wax eloquent about sales techniques in rural India, Mexican bullfighting and Japanese dinner etiquette without really saying anything about any of the topics. It is best to keep a safe distance from hot air balloons, lest they burst all over you.

Going over like a lead balloon

Last week, at a late evening meeting, I narrated a joke to some of my colleagues, in an attempt to project the funny side of myself. Immediately after the narration, I waited eagerly for the laughter, but there was none. Everyone remained rather glum and serious, and then got ready to go home. Clearly, my joke had gone over like a lead balloon.

This is, unfortunately, the sorry tale of many submissions and proposals in our offices, which die as soon as they are born because no one likes them or considers them worthwhile. It is also the tale of many new projects and product launches, which fail miserably because they are poorly conceived and go down like lead balloons. But we should take heart from the story of a famous music group, who were told that they too would go down like a lead balloon. One of the members of the band took inspiration from this phrase and named the group “Led Zeppelin”, after the famous airship balloons called Zeppelin. So, don’t ever get discouraged, lead balloons can fly high too.

Pricking his balloon

If you have a pompous boss or team member in your workplace, then you are possibly fed up of listening to his or her tall stories and constant self-praise. This sometimes leads to a desire to prick his or her balloon.

Many office goers are adept at doing this in a number of ways. They may point out that something the person has just said is incorrect and present data to support their assertion. They may put forward an unpleasant truth that makes the speaker and everyone around aware that what has just been said is at the least a gross exaggeration.

When a pompous colleague’s balloon is truly pricked and begins to deflate, it can result in two possible outcomes. First, the person descends to earth, and sets aside his pomposity at least for some time. But it can also lead to the person quickly filling up another balloon because such is the nature of people who love carrying inflated balloons.

Balloon on a broken string

The award-winning author Haruki Murakami once said: “I would be smiling and chatting away, and my mind would be floating around somewhere else, like a balloon with a broken string.” All of us who have endured boring, lengthy or meaningless meetings in office know exactly what he means.

We remain physically present in our conference rooms during these meetings, but our mind is already like a balloon with a broken string, which has floated away into the vacation that is soon coming up, or delicious memories of the riotous party we enjoyed last weekend, or even the tasty fare that our lunchbox contains. The next time you are in such a meeting, look up for these loose balloons.

Balloons and compliments

Let me conclude this edition of my column with a quote about balloons that we can consider adopting in our offices.

Writer and surgeon Bernie Siegel once said: “Compliments are the helium that fills everyone’s balloon. They elevate the person receiving them so that he or she can fly over life’s troubles and land safely on the other side.”

Conveying genuine compliments and appreciation to our colleagues in office is perhaps the best way of motivating them and making them fly higher than the best balloons.

Also read: Why do people talk so much during meetings?

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. He believes that every balloon that goes up must eventually come down.



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