I read in the news recently that Bayer was planning on getting rid of the name of its newly acquired company “Monsanto”.  It does seem at first like a smart move. The name has been linked with so many environmental scandals and is characterised as the enemy of anti-GMO and ecological protection groups for the last decade. Therefore, perhaps a name change could allow Bayer to relieve some of the company’s negative image by deliberately cutting off past visions and moving towards a “new company”.

Although it may seem like a smart move, the long-term consequences may not be that straightforward.

What we often observe as mediators how words (names, but also nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) carry with them much more than their immediate definition. They are accompanied by concepts, stories, images, preconceptions, and misconceptions that arise within an individual’s mind when mentioned, based on past experiences, culture, history, environment, etc. Words sometimes echo positive concepts, sometimes negative – often both.

Monsanto may be associated with “innovation”, “modern agriculture”, “feed the world”, “better crops”, “reduce famines”, etc. but it also carries “carcinogen chemicals”,"genetic modification of crops", “litigation against the World Health Organisation”,  “death of bees”, “destruction of soils”, “aggressive lobbying”, etc.

But the name itself has little importance, the individuals’ representations do not depend exclusively on it – Monsanto could have been named Granary of Missouri, the underlying abstractions would be the same.

Suppressing the name can be an attempt to move on from past concepts, as the “fear of a name only increases fear itself” – Hermione from the Harry Potter series may not be the best scientific reference but you understand what I mean. But, this is not enough and must be done carefully because, as Alfred Korzybski puts it, “the map is not the territory it represents”.

The destruction of the name does not destroy the fear just as burning a map does not burn the territory. And this is where Bayer may be taking a major risk. By swallowing Monsanto and giving it the “Bayer” name, it is integrating within its own entity everything the former name was carrying; the good and the bad. Even worse, publicly rewriting the map may arise suspicion of attempts to hide the past.

This also applies in mediation. When parties communicate and try to redefine ways of working together, simply changing the language and the words used is not enough – this does not make up for the past. It must always be done in conjunction with deeper recognition and expression of the source of the conflict and a real engagement to change. Language and words must always be taken in their entirety - obvious and underlying meanings - to engage in a real transformation.

Joachim Muller is a Business Development and Project Coordinator at CEDR in the Training and Consultancy Department. He is a qualified mediator and works as a conciliator on a number of consumer redress schemes. 

To contact Joachim, email jmuller@cedr.com or call 0207 536 6078.