The Soft Answer

Verbal T'ai Chi for sociable self-defense


Dalton Trumbo and Hedda Hopper

The recent movie Trumbo, about the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, is a symphony of Soft Answer material, both vicious, deliberate attacks (mostly coming from Hedda Hopper) and mindful low drama Soft Answer responses (mostly from Trumbo, but also from the Kirk Douglas character).

See bullying at its worst, as Hopper threatens and intimidates the wealthy and powerful and brings them to their knees. Witness Trumbo stay grounded and emotionally neutral, even when a drink is thrown in his face. Listen to him stand up to
John Wayne when Wayne tries to intimidate him, then calmly level with him. Take note of instances when Trumbo engages compassionate detachment and leaves space for an aggressor to have a gracious way out.

The film Trumbo is also, delightfully, about family, both functional and dysfunctional. The Trumbo family works together, as do the blacklisted writers, persevering through one of the most regrettable times in our country's history, when our national family was a model of dysfunction.

Hollywood bio-pics can never be perfectly accurate, and certain decisions in the making of the movie were ill-advised (such as portraying
Edward G Robinson as naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which he did not). But Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis CK and others give wonderful performances, and I'm recommending that you see it twice. First, just for its entertainment value, and the second time, as a Soft Answer study.

"Toxic" employees hurt everyone

Research out of Harvard Business School as reported in the Harvard Gazette: Beware those toxic co-workers;
Study says they undercut groups in destructive, expensive ways.
The study shows that, even if a person is a top performer, if they present as a bully or inappropriately aggressive, they cost a company a whole lot more than they bring in, and can be a drag on the entire organization. 

You'd think HR departments would screen for this and have a ready solution. But, because people who habitually engage in selfish, abusive and destructive behavior are often also top performers, companies still hire them and keep them, unaware of the extensive collateral damage these "toxic" workers inflict on the business as a whole.

It seems to us that training people to disempower the toxic behaviors of others around them, while helping transgressors to improve their interpersonal skills (thus giving them a graceful way out), would serve as a two-pronged remedy to the ubiquitous problem of toxic behavior in the workplace.

After all, it's not really the people who are toxic, it's their behavior. Turn that around, teach the top performer the joys of collaboration and socialization, and these drags on the company may become assets.

Implementing a Soft Answer Verbal T'ai Chi program may be a cost effective way to accomplish this.