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50 Shades and the Workplace

Originally posted on


People often say, “Talent joins organizations, and leaves bosses.” The chemistry, synergy, feel—or whatever you wish to call it—of the organization is not sufficient to retain the recruited talent. While the onus of retention falls on both boss and talent, the subordinate often ends up in a relationship with a boss that just doesn’t fit. This leads the subordinate to decide whether s/he must leave the organization or try to adjust to the boss’s demands. This dilemma mirrors the one examined in the story 50 Shades of Grey.

50 Shades is a story about how one (psychologically tormented) person offers a less experienced person a contract to sign as an agreement to fulfill certain tasks. The subordinate is lured by the branding—the attractiveness of the package (i.e. Christian Grey). Ultimately, while it is the first part of a trilogy, the subordinate (i.e. Anastasia) is constantly questioning herself as to whether she should stay within a relationship that doesn’t feel entirely “right.”

In every relationship (e.g. professional, personal, or in commerce), we are faced with the decision as to whether the engagement, partnership, or transaction works for us and/or benefits us. We as consumers and employees vote with our dollars, just as we vote with our feet. We don’t spend money on widgets which are uninteresting. We leave places which don’t “tickle our fancy.”


And, since time is money, we are most productive and thrive when we earn our money by spending our time doing what we do best, and by enjoying what it is that we do. That is our passion. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (551-479 BC) said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Which brings us to choosing a job/relationship we love in an environment where we feel safe. A safe workplace is one where the job description is specific, individual expression is appreciated, the leadership is authentic, no harm is done (verbal, physical, emotional, etc.), and the organizational culture is transparent—not simply rhetoric or plaques on a wall.

An unsafe workplace is one where the job description shifts with each quarter, conformity is expected, the leadership is withholding, co-workers are abusive (verbally, physically, emotionally, etc.), and the organizational culture demands adherence to top-down structural office politics.

50 Shades exposes us to how susceptible we are to the dangers of living in an unsafe environment. These unsafe environments also creep up all the time in the workplace. Therefore, leaders must be aware that creating unsafe workplace environments puts employees in predicaments, which force them to choose between steady work and sound emotional health.


In an unsafe work environment, the following behaviors result:

  • No Corporate Policy on Sexual Discrimination. E.g. Court fines paid on sexual harassment while the harassers keep their jobs.
  • Leader-Member Exchange Theory. E.g. Strategic inquiries are taboo.
  • “Right to Work.” E.g. People fired for having personal lives or speaking up.
  • Traditional Cultural Schemas. E.g. No paternal leave policy.
  • Unconscious Bias. Promotions based on personality; not on tenure or merit.
  • Insider/Outsider Dynamics. HR turns a blind eye on discrimination/bullying; or, they are the perpetrators of discrimination and bullying.

In an unsafe workplace environment, employees typically develop four types of coping strategies. The first two of the employee types below co-align with the 50 Shades protagonist.

Employee Type in Toxic Organization Relationship/Description (& extra movie example)

  1. Denier- This type of individual believes that the dominant culture is correct. What is practiced is okay, sanctioned, acceptable, and is clearly a “success” because there is money to endorse whatever behavior is practiced. There is little to no need to change anything; in fact, the culture should be strengthened and perpetuated by any means possible. Any exception made is a means to obtain the end goal. (50 Shades protagonist makes minor changes to the contract demands, and acquiesces).MOVIE: The Reader
    “You’re not guilty of anything merely by working at…”
    “The question was never ‘Was it wrong?’ but ‘Was it legal?’ and not by our laws?”
  1. Sympathizer- This type of individual understands that what is practiced within the workplace (see concrete list of behaviors above) is not completely ethical and/or acceptable. While the practices may not illegal, they do not sit well with the individual; however, the money/attraction is there, so this type keeps his/her mouth shut, and stands silently by as others are ushered out. They typically also excommunicate those who are not a part of the inside circle of practices (50 Shades protagonist did this with her flatmate).MOVIE: Jobs
    Bill did not agree with Steve Jobs decision to fire their best programmer just because the programmer dissented – the programmer had asked for clarification on the decision to delay the deadline just to add fonts. Nonetheless, Bill only offered passive resistance and a lot of grimacing.
  1. Survivor- This type of individual knows exactly what is happening within the workplace, yet continues to work at the company until s/he can find something better. S/He has adequate knowledge and experience, but is not out to rock the boat. In the meantime, covert outreach is made to reach out to those who have been unjustly treated.MOVIE: The Help

    “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
    Aibileen reassures little Mae that she has value, despite being put down repeatedly by Aibileen’s employer (the girl’s mother).           

  1. Change Agent- This type of individual is ready to speak out against unhealthy practices, for him/herself and others. S/He may try to subtly redirect the culture towards organizational health, but, ultimately, this person either walks or is let go/fired.MOVIE: The Bourne Identity.
    Bourne’s official resignation: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Supervisor Conklin scoffed at the notion, for nobody quits in his CIA…they were killed – either by him or by the enemy. Bourne stated emphatically that such an arrangement was unacceptable.                                                                                                                                   


Because organizational culture trickles down from the top, it is imperative that talent understands “the way they do things around here” before joining. Otherwise, talent may find themselves in toxic relationships, and be placed into the position of one of the above-described types. Unhealthy situations also have a ripple effect that extends to those at home.

What’s your safe word?

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is based in Nashville, Tennessee.  She is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a “dot” person, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.

© Rossina Gil, 2015


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Ergo Sum: Practicing Healthy Self-Talk


Ergo Sum: Practicing Healthy Self-Talk

(Sequel to Video: Who Peed on Your Seed?)

In my video segment, I addressed how we each have a purpose to fulfill in life.  Many of us receive the impetus of “negative ingredients” that can lead to either productive (&/or counterproductive) results.  It is a combination of an “I think I can” attitude with an “I will achieve” behavior, and a “This makes me happy” sentiment.  Thoughts, Actions, Emotions.  These are the lifestyle choices we can each make.

There are several examples of well-known individuals who have practiced this lifestyle choice of believing they can be more, among which include the following:

Sir Winston Churchill, the PM who kept England afloat during WWII strictly on the strength of his brilliant oratory, was at the bottom of his class in one school and failed the entrance exams to another.

Beethoven had a teacher who called him a “hopeless dunce.”

Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity changed the scientific world.  He performed badly in almost all of his high school courses and even flunked his college entrance exams!  He couldn’t speak until he was almost 4 yrs old and his teachers said, “He will never amount to much.”  Post-college, he was denied a teaching post.

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but also struck out 1,330 times.

Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for TV.”

Here are some more:

So, I dedicate this blog on Self-Talk a good friend who upon having viewed my video, remarked, “What’s next…Who Pooped on Your Stoop??”  Well, in a sense, yes.  David Stoop, author of Self Talk: Key to Personal Growth, wrote, “Your self-talk is a powerful force in your life.”  This blog is about conquering self-defeating behavior and getting you back on the road to success, which begins with your emotions and thoughts.

Your self-talk never stops.  The key to success (however you define it) is to practice healthy self-talk, the kind that will lead you to reaching your goals and desires; not the self-sabotage or self-fulfilling prophecy kind.

According to professional counselors Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson, most people speak aloud at the rate of 150-200 words per minute, but research suggests that you can talk privately to yourself by thinking at rates of up to 1,300 words per minute.  One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is, “This is the way I am, so I can’t change,” or “I was born this way.”  The truth is you can gain control of your thoughts and change them!  Your perceptions affect your thoughts, which, in turn, impact your behaviors, and those behaviors are unlikely apt to lead you to success.

One way to initiate the road towards effectiveness is to reconstruct your perception of the past and develop a healthier adult outlook on life today.  This is not to say that we must practice “historical revisionism,” à la Robert Redford; it is to choose to focus on the positive that also exists.  And, as Oprah Winfrey said, “If you live in the past and allow the past to define who you are, then you never grow.”

You essentially have two choices:

  • DWELL- Carry the grudge, fight, be the victim/martyr, keep opening your own wounds and those of others; or,
  • ACCEPT- Accept it for what it was and move on.  There is no need to struggle with something that is working against you.

“It’s not that easy to ‘Accept’!”  Well, try your ABC’s…

Accept that your memory has a downside to it; AND, that you survived. The key to letting go is acceptance. (NOTE: This does not necessarily mean forgive or forget).  Concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl recognized this fact that the one thing which no one can take away from you is the power of your thoughts.

Believe that that experience took place for a reason, which was to strengthen and prepare. This preparation can be to showcase your talents/skills or to serve as a source of strength/role modeling for someone else.  Let go of the past so that you can get on with your future.  The past was a lesson to prepare for the future; today is a gift, which is why it is called the “present.”

Change your behavior by using different self-talk.  What you remember does not have to be reality for you today.  Rewrite your memories by changing your perceptions.  Focus not what you will have; practice the emotion and thoughts of what you want in the moment!  This is the trick, Zedi mind-trick yourself!

Changing your self-talk for the better will change the way you act, communicate, and feel.  Thus, choose wisely.  Choose to be happy.

Here is a 25-second scene from The Help, where the maid helps her charge learn to practice healthy self-talk, since her mother is tough on the little girl:

Don’t allow people to “box” you in…Be like Albert Einstein, think outside the box!


Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is an Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1959).

Dr. Kevin Leman & Randy Carlson, Unlocking the Secrets, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1989).

Hugh Missildine, Your Inner Child of the Past, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1963), 56.

David Stoop, Self Talk: Key to Personal Growth, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1981), 33-46.

Robert Waldron, Oprah! (New York: St. Martin’s, 1987), 36.