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  • John Lowry

Developing Respectful Relationships in the Workplace.



It seems a new scandal emerges every day displaying dysfunctional and disrespectful relationships in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, these stories are often bound up with power imbalances and a complete misreading of non-verbal communication and signals that may or may not be given.

The stories are met with horror, shame and disgrace and a call to stop. There is a further question to be asked; what to do and how to begin to change deeply embedded antisocial behaviours.

Social dance has long been used to establish, teach and maintain respectful relationships.

Argentine Tango, in particular because of its unique characteristics, may be helpful to define and develop respectful workplace and social relationships amongst people of all ages.

“When you touch another person with respect, something happens” - Pierre Dulaine, founder Dancing Classrooms

Successful businesses, successful families and successful personal and social lives depend on successful relationships. Whilst personal relationships are mainly developed at a young age, the skills required to develop successful workplace and life relationships can be developed and practiced over time.

What are successful relationships built on? Successful relationships are built and respect and trust. Respect for another person is demonstrated by understanding their capabilities and allowing them space to express and develop those skills in a safe environment. A leader will lead by example, but make room for followers to develop their skills and express themselves to their maximum ability. Good leaders guide and encourage, but never push or intimidate their followers.

Trust is earned by being decisive and dependable, not by being indecisive and unreliable. People must be able to work closely together with the knowledge that their partners, especially leaders, are working for a common goal, in partnership with one another. Trust is undermined when people use their power to intimidate and abuse those around them.

Dancing Classic Argentine Tango can inform and train men and women how to develop, manage and maintain respectful relationships. The essential elements of Tango for developing relationship skills are:

Improvisation - Tango is based on improvised movement. There are a few steps that can be combined but there are no standardised procedures. Leaders learn to harness the power of improvisation and instant adaptation to new situations. Change leadership becomes much more effective when leaders learn to improvise.

2. Profiting from asymmetry - In Tango there is a clear role distinction between a leader and follower. It is clear who is setting the direction and who is performing this. This asymmetry is highly effective in providing clarity, a visible sense of direction and quick decision-making. Asymmetry must not to be mistaken with dictatorial leadership or powerless submission of the follower, it must be based on a trustful and relationship instead. Note: Direction and Directions are very different. With direction, the leader is creating opportunity for two people (or a group) to move together in the same direction. A good leader opens doors, offers invitations, suggests opportunities and supports followers to perform their role with balance, confidence and skill.

3. Celebrating differences - Tango celebrates and takes full advantage of differences between the sexes and between individuals. Business and society can benefit from recognising and celebrating human differences, using those differences to multiply the power of numbers. 4. Embracing emotion, protect pride - Tango is a performance of desire, passion, seduction, despair and the struggle for recognition. It therefore plays out a vocabulary of emotions, which are commonly unacknowledged in modern change management concepts. “Change management projects are emotionally charged – employees are proud of their work and this can be damaged in the process of altering the way things are done. Tango dancers protect each other’s pride during a dance by turning mistakes into deliberate variations. Good leaders should similarly seek to ensure their employees take pride in what they do, supported to shine, are pushed to their limit, but not beyond, and that their pride is not hurt in any upheaval. “ (Ralf Wetzel, Vlerick Business School) Engaging the senses Tango simultaneously, intensely engages the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell. It requires a high level of concentration to listen to and interpret music and to instantly convert the interpretation into action, via only sensing movements in the dance partner’s body. An effective team is acutely aware of the feelings of other team members and ready to intervene if needed. Human touch “Touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health. It is our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion”. Dacher Keltner PhD UC, Berkley. We should not be frightened or intimidated by physical contact with others, provided it is given and received with appropria. Connection with other people, both physical and social is beneficial for physical, emotional and mental health. Tango offers very close non- threatening physical connection during the dance. Tango dancers quickly adopt the Argentine (and Latin) habit of embracing when they meet. Tango also provides a safe, healthy, non-threatening social atmosphere for people to gather and socialise in a non-work, low-stress environment. The Embrace The embrace is central to the dance of Argentine Tango. “We embrace, connecting our bodies, closing our eyes, mixing our breath, walking every musical note”. “Tango is a 3 minute romance”. The tango embrace will emphasise the felt sensations of the embrace, rather than what it looks like for a detached observer, thus underlining the importance of experiencing the dance to fully comprehend.

Decision making (neuroplasticity) Dance is known to engage more regions of the brain at one time than any other activity. Tango requires continual, fraction-of-a-second, decisions from both partners as they respond to one another’s subtle physical cues. These decisions are random and not predicted, or predictable (like golf or chess). Because of the random nature of many tiny decisions, the brain continually forms new neural connections. This aspect of Tango is an aid in the treatment of certain brain and motor- neurone diseases, particularly Dementia, Parkinson’s and similar complaints.

Creativity Tango is creative. At its best it is not a collection of rote-learned “figures” or “steps”. It is created from moment to moment, responding to the music, your partner and the people around you. As soon as it is created, it is gone. Confidence building / skill development / teamwork / people management

Tango requires a level of skill and confidence. It also requires a sense of when to act and when to wait. It is an exercise in give and take, question and answer. That is why we call Tango a silent conversation between two people. These are life skills that are practiced in a dance.

Confidence, posture, balance and strength are all improved. Tango requires a person to be centred. Even though a Tango couple are working intimately together, each one must be personally centred, in full control of their balance and actions for the dance to work properly.


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