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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

1/26/2007

Relationships and Transformation

Here in Jamaica, much of our crime is not based as much on greed as it is based on relationships that have gone sour. Or in other words, grudges.

A study from a few years ago (which I wish I could get my hands back on) showed that the majority of our murders are not done randomly, but instead are based on personal relationships that have gotten to the point where one party is willing to kill. The frame of mind that is created is one in which one or both people can only see murder as the way to resolve the hurt feelings that they carry.

From the outside, this may seem bizarre.

But for those who are inside such relationships, it makes perfect and complete sense. While they know that killing is wrong in some moral sense, the pain that they are feeling in the moment vastly overwhelms and overcomes any other process or sentiment.

Such is the power of deeply hurt feelings.

One hears these stories all the time in the Caribbean: inadvertent slights leading to verbal altercations, fights and even murder. I remember being in Washington DC and hearing a story about a shooting that started when one man accidentally stepped on another man’s foot.

The result? One dead. Another imprisoned.

While these are extreme examples, the high murder rate in Jamaica and the increasing murder rate in Trinidad lead us to think that what happens in the region’s companies is a scaled-down version of what happens in our neighbourhoods and communities.

Not that people are killing each other in companies on a large scale. Instead of measuring murders, one might decide to measure what happens to profits. However, a transformation that impacts behaviour and results (murders or profits) might start with a different way of thinking in both cases, and this is where companies can learn a thing or two.

When companies develop a commitment to transform their cultures, few imagine that it has much to do with altering the way in which people relate to each other. Yet, at Framework our experience shows that new ways of relating and communicating are the only way in which people know in their own experience that anything is different.

Where then to focus? There are two points that we think are worthy of exploration, and both are related to what are simply deeply held grudges.

  1. The first has to do with the source of the hurt feelings. On one end of the spectrum, there is someone who takes everything personally, trying their best to defend themselves against future pain. To them, hurt feelings are caused by external people and circumstances.

    On the other end, there is someone who believes that feelings are generated in response to events, but are created only by the person holding them.

    Obviously, the second person is able to affect their internal feelings more powerfully than the first. They realize that the levers of their internal state are in their hands, and nowhere else.

  2. Once hurt feelings are recognized in any form, the question is “what to do with them?” An unskilled person will take actions to try to prevent the feelings from recurring – some strategies include removing themselves, ignoring the person, refusing to speak with them, cursing them, abusing them and even killing them.

    A skilled person might instead seek to engage other people in conversation. They know that feelings can change in an instant, and try to find ways to work things out and thereby neutralize the hard-felt feelings.
These two steps in dealing effectively with grudges are the building blocks of creating a new company culture in the region’s companies, for our greatest challenge is how our people do, and do not, work together. Companies in the region that are serious about building values into their culture operate differently, and distinctly, by providing their employees tools in the above 2 dimensions that assist them in the living of their daily lives.

Grudges, then, can be learning tools around which useful coping techniques can be taught. They are real, and can be embraced and given full life in the right kind of learning situation.

During our corporate cultural interventions, we are beginning to see the power of using grudges as turning points, giving employees tools to deal with hurt feelings, and therefore work relationships, effectively.

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