Four elements of engagement: James Cook and parental discipline

James Cook landed in New Zealand 250 years ago and killed nine Maori locals in the process. It is presumed that the Maori were performing a ceremonial challenge that the European’s took to be an attack. (They hadn’t heard about the Haka!)

Cook would never have dreamt that Britain would be called to account 250 years later. He lived in an age where might was considered right.

Speaking just before the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing, British High Commissioner, Laura Clarke, delivered a ‘statement of regret’ over the killings. She was speaking at a monument for Te Maro, a Maori tribal leader who was shot dead by members of Cook’s crew within minutes of their arrival. Eight more Maori were killed over the next few days. The killing only ended after a Tahitian priest was able to mediate between the two groups (see Deutsche Welle).

While the High Commissioner was regretting, the South African Constitutional Court ruled against physical discipline in the home. Parents were up in arms about the ‘injustice’ of not being allowed to smack their children. 

The reality is that we live in a world where might is not right. Whatever may have worked before, in today’s world, relationships matter, and long-term success emerges from engagement, not confrontation. It’s not easy for parents or managers (or explorers) but we have to find better ways to engage.

There are four key elements:

  • Respect — Without respect all the others are meaningless. Respect opens doors and builds trust
  • Listen — Listen to the words; listen to the emotions; listen to what is not being said. Listen to learn.
  • Confront issues, not people — ‘Hard on issues (they must be resolved); soft on people (they must be respected)
  • Build relationships — Relationships are critical for success. People do business with people they like.

What would you add to ensure engagement rather than confrontation?


Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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