Professional Communication Skills

02 Sep

Case I

HAZARDS OF HILLS                                                  


This case is based on an actual incident which took place in an Army Unit deployed in field area. A part of a Battery (about ¼ of an Artillery Regiment) was deployed in a snow bound high altitude area of Kashmir. This was the first time, an artillery unit was deployed in an area with roads and tracks still under development. Preparation of this area for such a development needed a lot of digging for guns, pits for ammunition storage, living place of the personnel, slit trenches and weapon pits for local defence against any possible enemy/terrorists’ attack on the position, place for storage of rations, cook-house and communication trenches, etc.

The total strength of the party deployed there was

  1. Officer – 1 (Second Lieutenant with about one year service)
  2. Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) – 1]
  3. Jawans – 40

The Battery Commander (BC) remained with the Regiment Headquarters at Srinagar (with the remaining part of the Battery) as per the orders of the commanding Officer. There was a vehicle with the part of the Battery which was deployed at high altitude to assist in the daily administration of the troops like collection of ration, stores for preparation of defences, water, and ferrying of personnel from one place to another. The vehicle could go only upto a limited number of places due to bad road conditions and steep gradients. Only one driver was kept for this vehicle to reduce administrative problems due to more number of personnel. The vehicle completed about 35 to 40 kms. of running daily in its routine commitments.

The part had just been inducted about two weeks back. The defences were being prepared which involved lot of effort in digging of hardened ground due to the cold winter months of November. The defence stores were to be collected, once the digging was complete, from another Engineering Unit located about 5 kms. to the rear. The roads were treacherous; with a number of stones and slides falling down occasionally during drizzle due to precipitation in atmosphere, there were steep gradients, narrow roads with sheer falls on one side due to the road having cut into the side of hills. The digging was complete by end November. In the month of December, snow fall at that location was expected any time, as it had already started snowing in the higher reaches and tops of mountains. The digging had been completed in a record time of two weeks. The party under the stewardship of the young officer had done a commendable job.

In the first week of December, the only driver of the vehicle reported pain in the chest and problem in breathing. He was evacuated by helicopter the next day with instructions to inform the unit to send another driver for the vehicle. It took about three days for any one to reach this area, with staying of two nights enroute in order to acclimatise by stages. The detachment was to be without any driver for about three days. Another driver was detailed to proceed to this area, after having been medically examined and found fit. A day after the dispatch of the driver, the young officer with this party arrived in the unit and reported that the vehicle had fallen from a hill-side road and was completely damaged. The office was in a complete state of disarray and shock. What actually had happened goes something like this.

After the first driver of the vehicle was evacuated, the weather started turning bad and it seemed that it was going to snow that day. The officer realised that in case of snow fall all the efforts put in by the troops would go waste, if the dug-ins were not covered. Realising this, he borrowed a driver of an ambulance from a local medical unit to direct his vehicle for collection of defence stores. After the stores had been collected and dumped at the site of defences, the vehicle was being driven back to the party’s location. Before it could reach this location, it had to negotiate a dusty and steep track. At a steep climb the vehicle stalled and got switched off. All the men got down, prevented the vehicle from reversing by putting stones behind the wheels and started checking what had gone wrong. After the check on the engine had been carried out, the bonnet cover slipped off the hands of the driver while closing it and fell to closing it and fell to closing position with a bang. Because of the jerk thus created, the stones placed behind the vehicle slipped off. It was later discovered that there was a glassy smooth layer of ice under the thin layer of dirt which could not hold the stones firmly and stopped upside down because of the obstruction created by a big boulder. As there was no one in the vehicle, there were no injuries to personnel. On close inspection by the officers, it was found that the vehicle body, cabin, bonnet steering wheel and two of the four wheels were badly damaged. The office, being quite young and inexperienced, could not ascertain the real condition of the engine and chassis. He thought those too were damaged, whereas because of some providential chance, the chassis and engine remained intact.

The BC was given the responsibility of getting the vehicle back to the unit. He was given a vehicle fitter and recovery vehicle with a driver. The BC took two more Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and proceeded to the location to retrieve the vehicle. It took two days to reach with a few hours of the last leg of the journey in complete darkness in that snow bound area with treacherous slippery roads. On reaching the location, the Commanding Officer of the local unit, who happened to be the Station Commander of that sector, expressed his unhappiness on their taking such a great risk. With the assistance of all ranks of that unit, who came in willingly, it took two days to get the vehicle out of the boulder strewn area on to a track. It was a minor military operation in itself in that hostile terrain, and inclement weather of high altitude. The troops and officer had a very good rapport with those of the local unit and there was not much of a problem in getting the men of that unit to assist.

While coming back, the hazards of night journey were very obvious. There was a thick layer of snow on the road with slope towards the khuds as layers after layers kept on accumulating, freezing before the water could roll down the complete slope. There were steep falls on one side. Both these phenomena, peculiar to hilly terrain, were not very discernible because of the darkness. The headlights of the vehicles exposed very little. There were frozen nalas where the vehicle would skid, aligning itself in the direction of the frozen nala, which tended to prove quite dangerous at times. At such places, the few troops and officer available would get down, push the vehicle to keep it aligned to the road and in turn slip down themselves on the frozen snow, most of the times face-down, in an attempt to push the vehicle. Though the situation was quite grave, it sometimes bordered on being humorous with everyone laughing spontaneously. At one place, the BC, pushing the vehicle to keep its tail and aligned to the direction of road, fell down, slipped a few feet down the frozen nala and landed up head down in a frozen khud about five feet deep. But for the direction of landing, the slip and fall could have proved quite dangerous. There was complete silence. The vehicle was gently stopped on the snow itself, secured with pegs along the wheels and rescue operation commenced for the ditch. There were several humorous remarks by the BC and the tension was relieved at once, with troops working on the vehicle with renewed vigour and strength once again.

At another place, the recovery vehicle with the damaged vehicle behind it at suspension toe slipped, but because of the dexerity of the driver, it was saved from going down a nala by putting it on the left. The BC himself was in the recovery vehicle to give encouragement and moral support to the driver, sharing all the risks which his troops were facing. He did all that the troops did, while directing, controlling and executing. The party with the vehicle, reached the unit location on the evening of the second day after starting from a high altitude area. The problem of recovery of the vehicle being resolved, the question of enquiry into the caused embarrassment to all those in authority in the unit and also the officers and jawans of the sub-unit/battery. Meanwhile, the inspection of the vehicle was carried out to assess the extent of damage. It was found that the engine and chasis were intact and the rest of the items of the body or fitment were damaged, either lightly or severely. To avoid embarrassment to the unit and loss to the exchequer, as well as in view of the administrative difficulties, the BC decided to have the vehicle put on road with the units’ efforts and at the earliest. Meanwhile, the cabin-hood of the vehicle had been purchased for about Rs 650 and was paid for by the BC, from his own pocket, thus setting an example to others. The JCO and jawans were also keen to pay for other damages. The offer was appreciated but declined. The Officer-in-charge of the local Army Workshop happened to be an officer with commendable helping attitude, positive bent of mind and with an understanding of peculiarities and problems of the area where such accidents were quite frequent and possible. When approached to assist, he listened to the whole incident very sympathetically and promised to assist in whatever way he could. This officer was a contemporary of the unit in a previous station and had excellent relations and interaction with the unit. Some items were offered by the workshop officer and replaced accordingly. The vehicle was made roadworthy again within a fortnight and put on road for duty. All the enquiries were dispensed with and there was no loss of face by anyone at any level. It is pertinent to mention that it had snowed in that location as soon as the recovery party came out of the hills.


1. What are the qualities of a good leader? In this case, how were they applied?

2. Which factors contributed to motivate the troops to go ahead for such a difficult task as recovering a damaged vehicle from such a difficult and treacherous terrain and getting it repaired in such a short time?

3. Which incidents indicate the importance of good interpersonal relationships with juniors, peers and superiors and what is the importance of good interpersonal relationships?


Case II

Checking Out a Guest

A guest walked up to the front desk agent in an upscale hotel, ready to check out. As she would normally do when checking out a guest, the agent asked the guest what his room number was. The guest was in a hurry and showed his anxiety by responding, “I stay in a hundred hotel rooms and you expect me to remember my room number?”

The agent then asked for the guest’s name, to which he responded, “My name is Mr. Johnstein.” After thanking him, the agent began to look for the guest’s last name, but the name was not listed in the computer. Because the man had a heavy accent and the agent assumed that she had misunderstood him, she politely asked the guest to spell his last name. He answered, “What? Are you an idiot? The person who checked me in last night had no problem checking me in.” Again, the agent looked on the computer to find the guest.

The guest, becoming even more frustrated, said, “I have a plane to catch and it is ridiculous that it has to take this long to check me out. I also need to fax these papers off, but I need to have them photocopied first.” The agent responded, “There is a business center at the end of the counter that will fax and photocopy what you for it. Haven’t you ever heard of customer service? Isn’t this a five-star hotel? With your bad attitude, you should be working in a three-star hotel. I can’t believe they let you work here at the front desk. Haven’t you found my name yet?”

The agent, who was beginning to get upset, asked the guest again to spell out his full name. The guest only replied, “Here are my papers I want faxed if you are capable of faxing them.” The agent reached to take the papers, and the guest shouted, “Don’t grab them from my hand! You have a bad attitude, and if I had more time, I would talk to someone about getting you removed from your position to a hotel where they don’t require such a level of customer service.” The agent was very upset, but kept herself calm in order to prevent the guest from getting angrier.

The agent continued to provide service to the guest, sending the faxes and making the photocopies he had requested. Upon her return, the agent again asked the guest to repeat his last name, since he had failed to spell it out. The guest replied by spelling out his name, “J-o-h-n-s-t-o-n-e.” The agent was finally able to find his name on the computer and checked him out, while he continued to verbally attack her. The agent finished by telling the guest to have a nice flight.


1. Is it appropriate to have the manager finish the check-out? Or, should the front desk agent just take the heat?

2. Would you have handled the situation in the same manner?

3. What would you have done differently?

4. Communication improvement is required for both of the parties involved or any one of them? Justify your opinion.




Mr. R P Sinha is a MBA.  He is being interviewed for the position of Management Trainee at a reputed company.  The selection committee’s is chaired by a lady Vice – President.  Mr. Sinha’s interview was as follows :

Committee : Good morning !

Mr. Sinha : Good morning to Sirs and Madam !

Chairperson : Please, sit down.

Mr. Sinha : Thank you (sits down at the edge of the chair, keeps his portfolio on the table)

  1. Chairperson : You are Mr. R. P. Sinha

A Sinha : Yes, Madam.  This is how I am called.

  1. Chairperson : You have passed MBA with 1st Division.
  2. Sinha : Yes, Madam.
  3. Chairperson : Why do you want to work in our organization ?

A Sinha : It is just like that.  Also, because it has good reputation.

  1. Member A : This job is considered to be quite stressful. Do you think you can manage the stress involved.
  2. Sinha : I think there is too much talk about stress these days. Sir, would you tell clearly what you mean by stress ? I am very strong for any stress.
  3. Member B : What are your strengths ?
  4. Sinha : Sir, who am I talk boastfully about my strengths. You should tell me my strengths.
  5. Member C : What are your weaknesses ?
  6. Sinha : I become angry very fast.
  7. Member A : Do you want to ask us any questions ?

A Sinha : Yes Sir !  What are the future chances for one who starts as a management trainee ?

The member tells M. Sinha the typical career path for those starting as Management Trainee.  The Chairperson thanks Mr. Sinha.  Mr. Sinha promptly says in reply, “you are welcome,” and comes out.


1. Do you find Mr. Sinha’s responses to various questions effective? Give reasons for your view on each answer given by Mr. Sinha.

2. Rewrite the responses that you consider most effective to the above questions in a job interview.

3. Mr. Sinha has observed the norm of respectful behaviour and polite conversation. But, do you think there is something gone wrong in his case? Account for your general impression of Mr. Sinha’s performance at the interview.


Case IV

Outsourcing Backlash Gets Abusive, Ugly

I don’t want to speak to you. Connect to your boss in the US,” hissed the American on the phone. The young girl at a Bangalore call centre tried to be as polite as she could.

At another call centre, another day, another yound girl had a Londoner unleashing himself on her, “ Yound lady do you know that because of you Indians we are losing jobs.”

The outsourcing backlash is getting ugly. Handling irate callers is the new brief for the young men and women taking calls at these outsourced job centers. Supervisors tell them to be “cool”.

Avinash Vashistha, managing partner of NEOIT, a leading US-based consultancy firm says,” Companies involved in outsourcing both in the US and India are already getting a lot of hate mail against outsourcing and it is hardly surprising that some people should behave like this on the telephone.” Vashistha says Indian call centers should train their operators how to handle such calls.

Indeed, the furore raised by the western media over job losses because of outsourcing has made ordinary citizens there sensitive to the fact that their call are being taken not from their midst but in countries, such as India and the Philippines.

The angry outbursts the operators face border on the racist and sexist, says the manager of a call center in Hyderabad. But operators and senior executives of call centers reguse to go on record for fear of kicking up a controversy that might result in their companies’ losing clients overseas.

“It’s happening often enough and so let’s face it,” says a senior executive of a Gurgaon call centre, adding, “This doesn’t have any impact on business.”


1. Assume you are working as an operator at a call centre in India and are receiving irate calls from Americans and Lodoners. How would you handle such calls? Conceive a short conversation between you and your client, and put it on paper.

2. “Keep your cool.” What does this mean in term of conversation control?

3. Do you agree with the view that such abusive happenings on the telephone do not have any impact on business? Justify.

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