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Women's Wisdom Shared Interview with Susan Axelrod - The Role of Civility in Business

Susan: Hi Melanie, how are you today?

Melanie: I’m doing very well Susan, how are you?

Susan: I’m doing well, thank you. I want to thank you so much for joining me for this Women’s Wisdom Shared Interview. You and I have had many conversations about business, supporting women in business and what type of women we would want to support in business and how women can rise in business.

There is one thing you and I share and that is that we are both strategists. Strategy is our middle name. And I’ve come to know about you in our work together and I think you have probably seen the same in me. So that when we get together we are right in the middle of a conversation.

Today I wanted to ask you to share your ideas with me about a couple of things we see in business today. One of them is uncivil discourse it’s a culture it’s a flavor, and the other is trust. Now you may weave these things together or you might take them separately. I wanted to ask you to share some of your thoughts about this, some of the wisdom that you’ve gleaned and gained over the years as a CEO.

Melanie: Well one of the things that I’ve seen is that when there is a lack of civil discourse in the workplace, whether it is between employees of any level, or vendors and companies or customers with employees it engenders the opposite of efficiency, effectiveness, quality work, all the things we say we want in business. So if we want the best work if we’re going to be focused on the bottom line and profitability which again, business people say they want, we must be civil, that’s just, duh. Right? And the misunderstanding that we can just treat people however, or we can say that we don’t have civil discourse in the political arena right now, so everything is fair game, it’s simply not true. People don’t respond well when they are screamed at, period, full stop. This does not get the best of people.

Susan: Period, full stop. Recently, I made a post on LinkedIn, I was working with a young client and I said that there’s no yelling in business. Of course a takeoff of the movie reference “There’s no crying in baseball.” from A League of Their Own.” I couldn’t be more in sync with this message, period, full stop. The idea that uncivil discourse, business, chips away at the bottom line is very intriguing. The opposite is what?

Melanie: The opposite is being able to speak reasonably to express your opinion calmly in a well thought out fashion. To say, I respectfully disagree. And how can we find common ground? There are books written about negotiating, and part of that is, how can we create a civil table around which we can speak and finding common ground. This is what we must do in all parts of our lives to move forward, to make progress, to improve.

Susan: Yeah, I mean, in all parts of our life to move forward and especially in business because what you’re saying is your bottom line will improve from this flavor of culture, from this type of atmosphere. I love that you said before that it is antithetical the way business is today in some cases is antithetical to exactly what it is we claim we want from our businesses, which is to profit, to grow. And then, of course, we’re in the purpose business space so for us it’s the impact/outcomes as well.

So, where does trust then come in and how does that play a role here?

Melanie: Right, so trust is very important in the business environment as well. And the problem that we have with trust is once it is lost, which it can be lost very easily, then the person who has lost that trust, whether it is with the organization, their boss, their vendor, their customer, wherever the trust is lost, now you have a very long road to repair that trust. Or the person will leave. Or you will lose the customer. Or you will lose that vendor. And it will cause chaos and business disruption.

Susan: Right.

Melanie: The cost of the loss of trust is extremely high. So, I think it’s important for us to focus on how can we rebuild trust. Let’s just assume we’ve lost trust. How can we rebuild trust, what do those steps look like? And I think that is ripe area for research. And for looking at ourselves and saying, let me look at my relationships inside work and outside of work. How can I rebuild trust in those relationships where there has been some loss of trust? It’s really important. Without trust, again, you cannot move forward together. You can move forward separately, but not together.

Susan: The point is, what you are saying is that if you move forward separately you are taking away from the bottom line and from the opportunity of synergistic growth and outcome. And so, then, in addition, if there is that mistrust in any one of those categories, which was interesting that you mentioned them, it may be a vendor, it may be a customer, it may be an employee, you know that broken trust creates real obstacles to overcome. Now you are in what I call resistance. And when we are in that resistance place, then de facto you are not in that nice alignment of your business, mission with your spiritual intention with your divine outcomes you want to offer in the purpose business.

Melanie: If I could give one example, let’s say we’ve been less than truthful with our banker. And the banker finds out. Look at the affect that’s going to have on your business when you need to borrow money, when you need to renegotiate terms. It’s real problem. Banks know when you keep shopping for different banks. They all know, so then what’s wrong with you? This creates a steep cost for the organization. On the other hand, if you work on your bank relationship and they know that you are honest with them, trustworthy. When you have a problem, you go and you say, “Here’s the problem I’m having, here’s what I’m doing to deal with it.” It’s open. Then they will help you. They will bend over backwards to help you if there is trust. And that’s an example I think we can all relate to.

Susan: Absolutely. You know what’s coming up for me is clearly the CEO expertise you have but you know, I always refer to it in our conversations, I always refer to the CEO persona in you. You have the CEO soul persona. The women’s wisdom gleaned and gained in you and you can come up with that example, right away, you go to one of the key relationships in a business. And you can come up with that example, right away, in real time. Let me ask you how does this play into the work that you do with your clients?

Melanie: I’m currently focusing on women who own their own law firms. And the work that I’m doing with them is helping them create sustainable, profitable businesses. These are very high-powered women. Typically, they’ve worked in corporate and have decided to go out on their own. They have a devoted clientele. They are doing well. However, they may need some specific skills. They may need to develop certain understandings about what being a CEO is. So that’s another development for them, that’s growth potential for them, if they want it. I feel very fortunate to work with women who do and who are in the process of growing and learning new things, and becoming really CEOs, in addition to being phenomenal attorneys. It’s very rewarding work.

Susan: That’s so wonderful. What came up for me as you were saying that, is those exact women, are often women, who were subjected to both of the things in negative way that we were talking about. They were in their younger attorney years, you know, clerking, or whatever, in the early days in the corporate law firms that you mentioned. They were probably often treated to uncivil discourse. And often, there was a lack of trust. That they were not trusted by people they worked for, or by colleagues in a cutthroat environment. I love that you are really focusing on women who are creating healthy work cultures in the law firms, doing vital work that attorneys do today.

Let me ask you, how can people find you? Because this conversation needs to be continued. I honestly cannot think of a more important conversation right now in business.

Melanie: People can go to my website and I can be emailed at I’d love to talk to whoever would like to discuss these topics. Or, if you need help with your firm, I’d love to help you. We could talk about how that would work.

Susan: As a quick note, how does the strategic receivable fit in? Where does that part come in the nature of the work that you do with the accounts receivables?

Melanie: Initially we start with accounts receivable, because from a cash-flow point of view, and cash-flow is a leading indicator of organizational stability, we want to start with the money owed to the firm. The reason for this is the work already done and the money is owed. We have to get that money. We have to get that cash in. That’s a very strong, leading place to start. I have current clients who have increased their receivables 130%, within one month, their current receivables. It really works, they are overjoyed. This is the place to start.

Susan: That’s fantastic, that is good news, again, the bottom line. What you just referred to, in my work I call it money bags on the shelf. There are literally money bags on the shelf, sitting in front of you. All you need to do is to pick them up. Sometimes it takes a little work, but it is sitting there in front of you. I love, love, love what you’re doing. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I’m looking forward to continuing this important conversation because I know there is one thing we are both committed to and that is supporting, uplifting and inspiring women in business.

Melanie: Absolutely! Thank you so much for doing this series. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Susan: I look forward to our next conversation.

Melanie: Bye-bye.

For more in Susan Axelrod’s Women’s Wisdom Series:

For more about Susan Axelrod, the Confidence Coach:

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