Sansa Stark- Courtesy is a Lady’s Armor


This is the second of a tripartite series of articles that attempts to draw analogies between Sansa’s play in the Game of Thrones and that of an employee working the corporate environment. The first part of the article can be read here: First Article

Book Three of the Game of Thrones is excruciatingly detailed in the way that it sets the context for the future. It offers the first glimpse of what Daenerys Stormborn will be like as Queen, of what Samwell Tarly is capable of in spite of his fears and insecurities, of how strong a character Davos Seaworth is and of Robb Stark’s follies of love.

Like it happens, most things at work aren’t about you; it’s about vacillating loyalties, competence and commitment, a higher pay grade and finding the next rung of the ladder.

“If Robb Stark falls, Sansa will be the key to the North” – is the message that’s out there. Sansa is promised to a Tyrell and wedded to a Lannister. Even in the midst of this drama, Sansa plays her part to perfection; she says “Courtesy is a lady’s armour”. In the background of this, Sansa is coming to terms with her being heir to Winterfell; it’s something that she has never known before and neither does she understand what it means. She hides all those misgivings under the armour of courtesy.

There’s something to learn from that.

It takes courage to be courteous to those that wrong you. But it takes skill to express yourself courageously without compromising on courtesy. That’s the next rung for Sansa.

(Remember – Samwell Tarly hits back at Janos Slynt when Jon is names Lord Commander- “Her name is Gilly, m’lord and I found you hiding with her and her babe in the attic in a puddle of your own making when the Others were upon us.“ That’s assertion without sacrificing courtesy.)

It’s easier to simply say what you are thinking with no fear of the consequences; but that doesn’t make you a player, it makes you a pawn. Sansa is inadvertently moulding herself into a player- the struggle right now is just to stay on the board.

As she tells Lady Mormont sometime in the future- I did what I had to do in order to survive.

sansa22One thing that Sansa seems to have mastered is – if you don’t change what you are doing, nothing will change. Her willingness to trust Margaery Tyrell, Olena Tyrell, Tyrion Lannister, Ser Dontos, Peter Baelish, Aunt Lysa leads her further in the Game of Thrones. Sansa learns by doing that she needs to keep investing herself in people and in situations if she’s to have any chance of beating her current situation.

Think of it- every situation with Sansa starts out as a circumstance, but it’s her resilience that makes it the best of each situation.

sansa2Book Four sees her come face to face with the truth. Aunt Lysa in her final drunken stupor reveals that it was Peter who egged her to poison her husband and then write to her sister Catelyn Stark accusing the Lannisters of this crime. The Game of Thrones started because of one foolish woman’s love for the most dangerous man in Westeros- Peter Baelish.

This information that finds its way to Sansa stays with her till she truly decides to use it- at Baelish’s execution.

In this journey of continuing to do something or the other, Sansa becomes privy to all sorts of information. Some of it is her learning, some are to be used as weapons later but most of them shape her character.

This journey is always going to be difficult, but it is largely in our hands what we choose to do with it.



Lead to Conversion- ?

salesDid you know?

Account Management teams can reduce customer churn to below 1%.

I received an email from a vendor partner not too long ago.
“Dear A,

Trust you are doing well.

We have been trying to set this call up since last 3 weeks, however, due to some reason or the other it keeps getting pushed further. Please share if this is something I should keep a focus on or shelve it for now. Look forward. Many thanks.”
I feel this vendor’s frustration. It took me back to a conversation that I had with my coach not too long ago. I was particularly annoyed after the millionth call with a lead and no end in sight. I asked my coach – when do you know that a lead is dead?

He simply said, “A lead is never dead; it can only be cold. ”
This got me thinking. In that quirky disarming fashion of his, he continued; actually I can put it better. The lead can be cold, but the relationship should always be warm.

Each of us is a sales person. We are forever trying to sell a great perception of what it is that we do or of who it is we are. We try to influence others day in, day out. The influence wins us subscribers or followers.

The strategy is simple – warm and intimate cultivation; sustained and steady.

How do you cultivate a warm and intimate relationship with a lead?

  • Connect as people
    • If every call/email/ text is about when are we meeting next or I would like some clarity on this, the client feels cornered.
    • Give them space to breathe – Keep the relationship personable; rather than connecting over your product/ service, connect as people who can have a conversation
  • Nurture the relationship before worrying about the deliverable
    • Keep emails and messages open-ended. Asking a question like “is this a priority for you now?” is the death of free conversation.
      • It may not be a priority right now; but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in a couple of months. The client is going to remember you through quality conversations and not through brusque emails.
    • Close ended questions – keep for the specifics of the final deliverable; open-ended conversations help you get to know the client

Did you know that 72% of subscribers/ clients share a good experience with 6 or more people?

 The good experience starts with a great conversation. The next time you need to have “one of those never-ending follow-up” conversations with a prospective client – switch gears.

Don’t ask about the time, priority of project, deliverable, the next meeting; talk about what you are doing in the current space for their project, pick their mind, seek their opinion, just get into a conversation.

 Nothing might happen. But –

  1. You’ve earned yourself a reference for some other opportunity
  2. You are far easier to remember than other vendors

If you had a tail, where would it be now?


I attended the Gokhale Method Foundations* course on primal posture in last November. The 3 day workshop made me aware of my posture, of how I was walking, standing, sitting, lying down, getting up, lifting things and just being. After a total of 10 hour sessions and armed with a book on posture, I was sure that this would be a new way of being me; posture- wise.

How I was wrong. A few days after the workshop I relapsed into my old ways of slouching, walking and sitting. They felt more natural, more comfortable. The few times that I did practice the posture, my body immediately felt better; but it was just more comfortable to not put in so much effort or worry about my posture.

There was one thing from the workshop that stayed with me though. While we were sitting, my trainer used to ask- If you had a tail, where would it be now?

If you were sitting on your tail, then that’s the wrong posture. If your tail is behind you, then you are probably doing it right. This was something that I could absolutely fix unconsciously. I would scoot my butt into the chair, so as to be sitting on my butt and not on the tail bone.

Over time, three months to be exact, the way I sat evolved. People around me noticed and said you look good. You are holding yourself well. Something seemed to have changed in my gait too. I used to be those that wore 3.5 inch heels to work (I still do, sometimes). Now I am able to hold myself tall even on flat heeled footwear.

This got me thinking. What changed?

As a behavioural skills trainer, I am acutely attuned to people’s changes in behaviour. What changes? What triggers the change? Is the change sustainable? Is all change always mindful? Can some changes be unconscious and yet productive? How can one induce unconscious change in behaviour?

I look back to the time that I spent with my trainer Ms. Sangeeta Sundaram on this. She would come to each of us, make us feel the movement, help us experience the relief before moving onto the next student. She made us FEEL the changes. With the tail exercise, she also gave me a visualisation tool. Funny at first and that’s why even easier to remember. .

10 hours over 3 days isn’t really a long time; but I seem to remember that each day I felt tired and hungry at the end of the workshop. This isn’t a physically taxing workshop, to the naked eye. But to the students, every minute of practice was an effort. Holding your muscles, feeling your weight on your heels and not on your toes, the disbelief when you realize that your toes, knees, pelvis and glutes work in sync to hold you up; all of these were practice sessions. The workshop was flecked with many such sessions.

  • She broke down the steps into many smaller steps
  • She made us feel each of the tiny steps
  • She made us practice, till some bit of it became muscle memory

To answer my own questions, change comes through practice. It comes through first hand experience. My trainer didn’t give me an Individual Development Plan at the end of the workshop; she gave me the tools for change and a textbook for reference. During the workshop, she helped me through the experiences. And though not all of it, and not immediately, the changes that we practiced have stayed with me. I am getting better at understanding my posture; it’s a work in progress.

*You can read the literature of the GMF at

Conversations- The Real App

ConversationsMy partner & I often get talking on inconsequential things and then suddenly there’s this deep twist to the entire conversation. She asked me, so what do you think about the Kangana and Hrithik controversy and I say “I don’t really care”. Before she can turn away, I say, “I find the entire issue lacking in grace and humility”. And before we know it this has moved onto a myriad of related issues- relationships, extramarital alliances, perception of beauty, gender dynamics, co- existence of class and crass, feeling of entitlement, how people find it difficult to be nice, how being nice is perceived as being weak and so on. This goes on for about an hour.

During this entire conversation, we haven’t touched our phones, haven’t referred to other articles, haven’t Googled and the discussion feels satisfying and complete.

In the maze of whatsapp, messengers, texts and “Sent from my Smartphone; ignore the typos” making conversation is difficult. Meaningful conversations don’t have to last forever but they have to have the ability to make you think.

So, what makes conversations meaningful?

  • Keep it real, sincere and genuine

    I was chastising Roop for her continuous crib sessions and suddenly she asks, “Is this why you don’t like me? “. I am genuinely at a loss for words! She goes on “I feel that we don’t work well together because you don’t like me. So I try to stay closer to the timelines and am extra prompt about each detail; so there’s no cause for concern later”. “So just say so Anu! I feel stressed when I am working with you.” Today, Roop and I get along like a house on fire. It’s interesting to see how sharing your struggle with the person that you are struggling with opens windows that you never thought existed. I respond with, “And that’s exactly what puts me off! Everything you do is so mechanical and measured, that I am unable to stay focused. I don’t want to worry about repercussions when I am working”.


  • Remember that there are at least two people in a conversation

    I had organized a training program for some of our senior folks. The training didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. At the end of the session, one of them called it out and said that this program could have been a one day affair too, and that there was no need to block 3 days for it! This didn’t go down well with me and I went on to talk about the essence of deep learning and taking it slow and so on. My manager spoke to me on this later and said, “Anu, your deep learning happens when you give others the space to have opinions too. You need to learn how to make this insight meaningful for you”.

Conversations have a magic to them; you don’t realise when you are already having one.

But for when you do realise that you are knee deep in one, keep this handy. Stick to the real and don’t force your opinion onto others! Every conversation isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing.

Find your Domino

Find your Domino

A friend of mine doesn’t react; just doesn’t react. His way of getting through life is to observe, absorb; all from an impartial perspective and then waiting for things to play out. Often tweaking a few things here and there to get to what he desires or in an attempt to help someone.

He seems to have understood and implemented the lynchpin concept- both in terms of becoming a lynchpin and of identifying potential lynchpins in all institutional spheres. Not to be surprised, he’s one of those people that most folks will approach when seeking solutions to both personal and professional issues.

The traditional definition of lynchpin is one what holds the entire process/ organization/ institution together. In the more contemporary sense, a lynchpin is one that starts a chain reaction and to begin with has no direct contextual relationship. To put it simply these are unforeseen circumstances that rapidly impact the current situation [political/ organizational/ institutional] in a rather dramatic fashion. Math based predictive models lend an air of certainty to this theory; the entire exercise is about finding that one domino that will make the rest fall.

Reverse the theory now.

Belonging to a nouveau rich family, a colleague took most things for granted- transportation, basic amenities, people, manners, vacations, and so on. It came as no surprise then that when her father lost all in business, life was inordinately hard. Today (10 years down the line), she’s successful in her field, is a nicer person than before (that’s what she claims) and is empathetic towards others. Her family is doing well now; they enjoy a decent standard of living.

The father’s loss in business was her reverse domino.

Else she would have continued with her decadent, irreverent lifestyle; and probably the world would have lost a potential “nice” person. Not too much at stake here, is it? Singularly this may not amount to much. But for all such people put together, there’s some sizeable niceness there that we would have missed out on.


You win or You Die- Sansa Stark Survives

This is the first of a tripartite series of articles that attempts to draw analogies between Sansa’s play in the Game of Thrones and that of an employee working the corporate environment.

“Will you please just shut up!!

This was Sansa rebuking Arya when she kept asking about the Imp. And this is how I remember Sansa from her early days in Winterfell- a bossy elder sister, too enamoured of the nice things in life; basically a child.

Look at her today- “You stand accused of treason, you stand accused of murder. How do you respond to these charges? Lord Baelish. “

Sansa’s transformation – from a fairy tale princess to a Realist Leader has many lessons for us- the ones who work the corporate.

  1. You are a pretty one!

That’s the first thing that King Robert Baratheon says to Sansa. The wooing process has started. And with that begins Sansa’s infatuation with Joffrey and King’s Landing.

Isn’t this how we all start out- the new job, the bigger pay check or the first pay check, the swanky office and the new designation?  Soon enough, the realities of the new job hits us- the underlying power centres, the influencers, the delivery of promise (or lack of it) and so on.

Some parts are good too, like the hunt with Joffrey, the pretty dresses, the proximity to the Queen and the immaculate portrayal of royalty. This phase ends rather drastically with her father being executed on the whim of a boy King; her betrothed.

This dramatic execution is her initiation into the School of Survival. She’s the only of the Stark children to have evolved politically; others resort to armies, strength in numbers, battle acumen and physical prowess; Sansa Stark learns to use the only thing that’s still in her control- her mind.

In many ways, a new job or the first job brings you face to face with reality. When you spend only what you earn; and earn only what others deem you deserve. This stage is crucial because it benchmarks “your” sense of self- worth against reality.

  1. Lady Stark, you may survive us yet!

Sansa gets punished frequently for every win that Robb Stark adds to his banner. The beatings and humiliation are common place now for her.

Remember that scene where Joff almost has Sansa disrobed by Ser Meryn Trant. Tyrion saves her and tells her to just say the word if she wants the marriage annulled. Sansa walks off with as much dignity as she can muster, while saying “King Joffrey is my one true love”.

That’s the first time that Tyrion Lannister notices her, “Lady Stark, you may survive us yet! “

This is that phase in the organization where the realist inside you starts taking shape. You know that you have to make the best of this situation; let a few things go, evaluate all options and start taking charge.

When King’s Landing almost falls and Cersei suddenly leaves the Sept with Tommen, it is Sansa that holds the women and babes together. She sings a hymn, holds hand with everybody and becomes a person that other women derive strength from. This is but momentary, but it makes you think that there might after all be more to Sansa than crying, cribbing and lying.

Unbeknownst to even Sansa, she’s slowly becoming practiced at the Game of Thrones. Come to think of it, everybody has plans for Sansa, including Sansa herself. When King’s Landing prevails against Stannis Baratheon, Joffrey becomes the undisputed true King. Sansa is smart enough to not run away then. By then her marriage to Joffrey is annulled in favour of the more politically disposed Margaery Tyrell.

This is that phase in the organization when you start seeing clarity around your role or even the lack of it. You have new responsibilities or have been freed of those that were dragging you down. Or even better, you are learning how to manoeuvre yourself around managers and team members.

Sansa’s journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing probably makes you feel that she’s a misfortune magnet. But it is only through immense struggle that you forge the most powerful of characters. Sansa doesn’t know it yet, she just has to struggle on; for the time being.

Sansa’s character evolves slowly; in the background of the power struggles, the spiders and the coin and the dragons. So slowly that you barely see it, until it stands in front of you; not any less majestic than the dragons!