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Waging calmness: relationship building in business

THE world is battle-weary. Thanks to the wonderful world wide web we are now officially and firmly in the era of "everywhere you turn macca juk you", and the world and his wife will see and hear about it. There are certain hot-button words that if uttered even casually will cause such a negative rush of feelings in audiences with the potential to damage relationships and reopen wounds we thought had long healed. How are you handling this harsh emotional climate? Are you positioning yourself to wage calmness or have you thrown your hat in the ring and are (as we speak) lifting the rope to climb in to add to the general melee?

As usual I have the International Association of Business Communicators Association (IABC) to thank for the phrase 'waging calmness'. They are having a virtual seminar this month to focus on solutions to today's contentious issues. But why is this necessary? Why are people so hot under the collar these days and most importantly, why do they inevitably seem to converge in wild marauding packs, giving such performances that would even shame any self-respecting stampeding herd of buffalos? Says, the IABC: "Because contention gains attention. In many cases today, creating contention is a deliberate strategy -- to gain attention, to destabilise normally comfortable situations and, sometimes, just to irritate and humiliate."

As we have done in so many other global spheres, Jamaica seems to have cornered the market on contention, conflict and controversy. Our 'passa-passa' is not just the name for a street party, it has become a state of mind. Raucous, disorganised, 'mix-up and blenda', drawing attention to our worst facets for the sole purpose of becoming the focus of the video spotlight. How familiar have we grown with the disordered throngs waving their bad-spelling placards pleading for 'just ice". Oh, the nightly newscasts are just not the same without the scantily clad maidens and their flocks of baying followers where everyone is a star. They have a cause and they are unafraid to share it with the rest of us. CEOs and others seeking to get in the prime-time limelight have a lot to learn from this rowdy bunch. They have unprecedented media access: locked and loaded. They are on first-name basis with Jamaica's media moguls. Don't test them.

In business, some employees will not even bat an eyelid before taking to the streets to air their employers' dirty linen. If they are discontented with the direction of wage discussions or if it seems as if they are going to lose their jobs anyway, their fingers are on the speed dial to any TV station. Radio is fine and so is print. But everyone wants their 10 seconds of fame on the tube. They are not going out without a fight. The nastier the better: everyone will remember that battle.

Cyber-space is the new and emerging frontier for fighting these battles. It is not enough that the nearly couple millions of us with television access must see and hear the quarrel, it has to be on the Internet to really mean something. I know times are hard, but is anyone thinking about peace anymore and wait, has love become the new four-letter word that must never be spoken in decent company?

So how do we reduce the contention that threatens to explode at every corner and corridor of the office so that it is not taken and placed on the front pages of the newspapers and people's consciousness, taking time and talent away from production? I am a firm believer in the saying that charity begins at home. If you disrespect and treat your employees as if they are unimportant to the bottom line, do not for a moment believe that they will have your back. No matter how much you pay them they will not be your 'goodwill ambassadors'. So, go back to basics and try to reduce your production of critics as the IABC advises. One way to do this is by re-evaluating how you treat the persons who help to add to your business' bottom line. To wage calmness, how about apologising promptly when you have made a mistake? OK, so in the heat of the moment, on the platform, you, the CEO, made some wild promises or accusations, how do you deal with the backlash? Use a larger forum to correct the mistake you made -- immediately it is discovered. Warning: do not place your correction or disclaimer in column one hundred of the classified ads on a Saturday. How unfair is that? Even if it is going to cost your organisation a full-page, colour advert to apologise, just do it.

The last time I checked you cannot win friends and influence people by displaying warlike behaviour. People do not continue to buy goods from suppliers who have a reputation for bad customer service. We might patronise you at first if you meet our price point, but trust me after a while we will leave you if you have frequent quarrels. Soon enough we will turn to a new supplier with better relationship- building skills who will eventually win over the market.

The promo for the seminar urges: "Wisdom and persistence to wage peace" and for persons to "make accommodations, be relentlessly positive, and pay constructive attention, even to the smallest detail". I like that. Are you on board to waging calmness?


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