Change : Leaving Bullies Behind

Margot’s first degree at the University of Sydney was a Bachelor of Education. She moved to Darwin where she headed up Darwin Family Centers. This organization provided child care and family support for the families across the top end of Australia. It was while studying for her MBA that she started working as a business consultant, at the youthful age of 24. Margot works with some of the world’s top companies at executive level, helping organizations in times of crisis, such as after mergers and takeovers. She mentors numerous leading international business figures and conducts workshops and conferences.

She is the author of "Approaching the Corporate Heart", ISBN 0-7318-0655-7, Simon & Schuster.  

Margot is Chairman of Zaffyre International, and can be reached at mcairnes@zaffyre.com. See also her websites at www.zaffyre.com  and www.margotcairnes.com.


Recently a client asked me to interview some of their consultants to see if they were compatible with my approach. The first interview was with a woman, a psychologist. She walked in and started abusing me. She didn’t approve, she said, of any change methodology that involved personal transformation for individuals. Such change, she claimed, was unethical because people didn’t have a real choice as to whether or not they wanted to change.

Not long after this interview, I sat in on a top team meeting.  During the meeting, one of the men started to interrupt, talk over and abuse anyone, particularly women, who brought up issues he considered unimportant. Such issues included huge and potentially very expensive environmental issues facing the company and concerns around staff induction. He was also very unhappy that people were asked for some personal reflection on probably the key strategic issue facing the company at that time.  The man’s behaviour infected the whole meeting, his aggression, put downs and constant interruptions obviously upset people and slowed down both the meeting and the flow of honest communication. I have witnessed such behaviour so often. It is considered normal in business and rarely addressed; yet it has huge interpersonal, business and strategic implications. Such individuals create stress among their co-workers and employees.  They create diversions that freeze honest discussion of key issues.

Their behaviour breaks down trust.

Some days after, I was in another meeting. In this meeting people felt safe to state their true opinions, including their fears, doubts and reservations. They took responsibility for their emotions, their communication and their relationships, and gave each other honest, responsibly phrased feedback. Over the course of the meeting, you could feel the energy mount, the commitment lock in and the issues resolve. A huge strategic task was easily divided up and people willingly took responsibility for even the most difficult and unattractive tasks.

I was left wondering. What is it that so frightens people about creating effective, life giving business environments ? What is it that has intelligent people fight new ways forward that unleash energy, commitment, communication, relationship and strategic success ? Why is it okay for people to bully, but unethical to ask people to look at their behaviour, take responsibility for the drivers that underlie that behaviour, and make personal decisions to work with those drivers and transform their behaviour and their relationships.

It seems to me that there is nothing more ethical than this. In the industrial era - the machine age - we fooled ourselves into believing that if you couldn’t see and measure things, they didn’t exist. Psychology became the study of things you could see and measure and we moved into a total focus on behaviours and competencies. We forgot about relationships, except for their behavioural manifestations. Relationships are dynamic interactions on a physical, emotional and energetic level. They are more than a set of behaviours. For instance, sitting in a meeting you might feel that you have just been politically stabbed in the back. The feeling comes not from observation of a set of behaviours, but from “vibes” that are generated through invisible, subtle, but very real interactions.

As we move into the new, postindustrial era, effectiveness comes from operating not just on the surface of things but at a much deeper, often unconscious, level that opens up the possibility of quantum leaps. As we become more aware of this level and more skilful at operating in it, we gain in skill, power, insight and strategic success.

There will always be people who are frightened of the new. There will always be people who would rather stick to what they know even if it doesn’t work. The question is, will we let such people slow us down, or will we deal with them and their fear with compassion and progress to happier, more successful and greener pastures without them ?


© Margot Cairnes 2000

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