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Bismarck du Plessis and the fruit of the poisoned tree

The concept of the fruit of the poisoned tree is one of those philosophical debates that has always fascinated me.  

So when I see a situation like Saturday morning's New Zealand vs South Africa rugby international, it brings the concept right into focus for me.   Bismarck was given a yellow card in the first half, which, according to experts, as well as the IRB, was not valid.   Early in the second half, he was given another yellow, and this is where the problem lies.  Those two yellows created a red, which meant that he was off for the rest of the game.

But even more interesting is that they are deciding whether or not to hold a red card hearing.  (Please forgive me if my terminology is not strictly correct).   The point being that he got a second yellow card, even though the first one was invalid, and therefore, valid or not, the rules are the rules.   Of course, there is a view that, right or wrong, he had the first yellow card, and he should have been extra careful not to get another.

Somehow, though, life doesn't work like that.   Unfortunately, negative input creates an imbalance, and most of us fall into the trap of following an error with another one.  

In business, we use counselling and disciplinary sessions to create the same effect as the yellow and red cards.  'I can't do anything right" is often heard in these sort of meetings.  And you know what, its true.   Once a person loses confidence, they overcompensate, and the mistakes come, thick and fast.   So one yellow card is frequently followed by another, and the effectiveness of the employee / player is seriously diminished.

In the workplace, we may not be dealing with the level of physical risk that a rugby player and the referee have to manage, but the damage can still be long reaching, both in terms of the business and the long term ability of the employee to add value.   While many managers try to be fair, bias does kick in when an employee has made a number of mistakes, or seems to be making the same kind over and over.  The manager becomes impatient, the impatience makes the employee nervous, they over correct, and the circle continues.

One of the possible outcomes of the Bismarck affair is a suggestion that yellow card decisions are automatically sent to the TMO (Television Match Official) for confirmation.   In business, it is also sensible to second guess yourself, as a manager, and ask for advice when you are finding that an employee is becoming less and less functional.   This is where a Business Coach or Mentor can really assist in getting you back on track, if it is possible.

And the fruit of the poisoned tree?   When the underlying facts are not based in logic, but we apply supposed logic to them, we land up with my favourite syllogism, from Christopher Marlowe:

All cats have 4 legs
All dogs have 4 legs
Therefore all dogs are cats

In business, as on the sports field, it is not always easy to apply objective logic to every situation. Holding a red card hearing, when everybody agrees that the first yellow card was invalid, could be seen as a poisoned tree scenario.

 Whether you are refereeing an 80 minute game, watched by millions, or managing a department of 10 people, it is impossible to make every decision correctly.    We layer decisions based on previous experiences, whether positive or negative.   Deny it as much as we like, emotions and feelings are part of our decision making processes, and justifying being subjective is something we all do.   We often hear the comment that only the losing side thinks the ref needs glasses....  

I assume Bismarck received an inspirational pep talk at half time.    So would he have received the second yellow card if he hadn't received the first?   We will never know, but we do know that once you have made one mistake, it feels like people are waiting for you to make the second.  While not everybody has access to Business Coaches, nor to the vast input of the sports watching public and press,  it does make sense to have a structure in place where both management and staff can openly discuss, in a safe, confidential environment, how to put damaged trust and confidence back on track.

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