[Strategy] Barns and Mangers

An all knowing, all seeing, all good God, sent His only begotten Son to the Earth to save sinners.

Just writing this line, at this time of year, at the end of such a year as 2016, is considered naïve and near-sighted by many people.

However, as a statement of faith, particularly during the season of what used to called Advent, they are an acknowledgment that the season goes past materialism or doctrinal belief and goes directly to something humbler.

This line, this statement of faith, is about acknowledging the presence of something bigger than ourselves, acknowledging the need that humanity must be saved from our own problems and choices, and acknowledging our desire to be closer to something ineffable that takes us out of ourselves and unites us to each other.

Without human technology.

Without human misunderstandings.

Without human friction, conflict, or interruption.

An all knowing, all seeing, all good God, sent His only begotten Son to the Earth to save sinners, and his Son was born in a barn and was laid in a manger.

There are fewer places (even back in the bad old days) more humble and nonobvious for the person who is the object of such a radical claim to be laid in, than a manger.

The long realized, but rarely remarked upon, true revolution and revelation (that equally confounds the atheist, the agnostic, the follower of another set of religious beliefs, or the rational philosopher) is that omnipotence and omniscience would deign to descend from heaven to earth and into a manger.

During this time of the year, humility is at the core of the Christmas season. Not necessarily humility from accepting (or rejecting) a statement of faith, but humility coming from the awe that such a proclamation could be made, backed up, and continuously defended and propagated for over 2,000 years.

The strategy point is here:

Humility can come from staring at the world built by rational evolution.

Humility can come from being overwhelmed by not being sure about the meaning of the season.

Humility can even come from realizing how much forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation we have in ourselves.

Humility can come from accepting the statement of faith and acting on it.

But, the humility that lies at the core of this season (and yes, I’m well aware of pagan rituals, Catholic Church history, and humanity’s general inhumanity to man) is the humility of coming to the realization that the One True God outside of humanity, outside of time, and outside of our lived experience cared about us enough to send His Son here to this earth, to be born in a manger.

And from there comes the only question worth exploring through the renewal of the New Year:

What must the true nature of such a God be?

[Opinion] The Promise of the Computer Leaves Some People Behind

Access to the means of production in an increasingly computerized global economy is THE social justice issue of our time if indeed the computers ate—and will continue to eat—all of our jobs.

There is an issue with the fact that rural areas in the United States (and worldwide) have limited access to the wonders of the Internet and computer based development, because of the fact that their geographical location is not urban.

There is an issue with the fact that a student who would love to move back to their hometown of 20,000 people can’t because the computerized opportunities they were trained to take advantage of, don’t exist in rural areas.

There is an issue when the only response from the increasingly dense urban populations to the increasingly sparse rural populations is “Well…move to the city.” Or even worse “Well, you chose to live in the country.”

Yes, people have a right to move around and live where they can, and they have a right to experience the consequences that come from making those decisions. The most iconic image of post-modern film history is that one outside the window of Deckard’s car in Bladerunner as he escapes the populated, polluted, oppressive—but full of opportunity—city, to go live in the vast, open, country. It is telling that fiction gets this dichotomy righter than lived fact.

Considerations of access, of course bring to mind the question of who will pay for such changes? The choices before us are either hard, difficult, and without obvious answers as to the outcomes of any of them:

The fact of the matter is, Universal Basic Income to everyone is not economically feasible in a country of 320 million individualists.

More calls for higher tax rates will only economically stifle entrepreneurship and further the gap emotionally between the “haves” in the city and the “have-nots” in the rural areas.

So, if we really believe that the role of government is to be a safety net, then what greater net should government be providing, than the net of advocacy, pressure, and even protection around access to the computerized means of production, via high speed cable that goes past “the last mile”?

If we don’t believe that such advocacy and protection is the work of good government, then the truly fortunate few should be creating businesses, entrepreneurial opportunities, and using every means at their creative disposal to make sure that the rural populations—which are increasingly poor, increasingly white, and increasingly politically hostile to the new order of computers because they are finally experiencing the end of the Industrial era—have the means to make a living.

And another app for doing something that our mothers used to do, won’t really bring that kind of meaning through job growth to those rural populations. Nor will it bring anything but pennies in the form of “sharing” or “gig” economic structures that cannot support the needs of children, families, or communities where education levels are low, and hope is fleeting.

If we believe that education is way out, and that not increasing access, but that instead increasing skills, e.g. teaching everyone to code, is the way to go, then we need to reform the education system from K-12 in truly, deeply, profoundly, radical ways.

And the enterprising few need to leave the cities, head to the country, and be prepared to really dig in for ten to twenty years into reforming an educational system that is simultaneously perceived as the “only place to get a good job” and also seen as “the last best hope for our children.” And the enterprising few must do it while also showing a modest profit.

However, we do have another, more comfortable choice: We can collectively decide that the rural areas don’t matter. That geography is a state of mind rather than a physical place. We can decide that “those country people” are irrelevant. We can decide that the urban poor need and deserve more attention than the seemingly spread out rural poor. We can decide—when we look at all—to continue to use the language of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century to try to resolve and acutely 21st century problem.

We can make such decisions and continue to support policies, and politicians, of all stripes who engage in such decision making.

And all the reformation of education, the gradual migration toward denser and denser urban areas (and the concomitant spread of those areas outward), and the increase in computerization and automation, is guaranteed to lead to more cries of income inequality, racism, sexism, and calls for the acquisition of capital to made harder for the fortunate few, rather than easier.

Which will create more conflict, not less.

[Opinion] Will You Read This?

There are a lot of tips, tricks, “how-to’s” and hack based articles, blog posts, and columns, everywhere. And there always have been.

Partially, this is because the people reading the articles want the easy out. This is evidenced in corporate training where attendees will say “I don’t want the theory, just give me the practical tips.” Or, ask “Is there a silver bullet for this?”

The silver bullet.

The easy answer.

Cheat codes in video games.

Will this be on the test?

What’s the shortcut?

I don’t want to hear your story.

I don’t care about the theory.

I want to work smarter, not harder.

More 10 second videos.

This was too long, and I didn’t read it.

Could you make the letter/blog post/email shorter?

Do I have to study?

Are we there yet?

This is taking too long.

It’ll be there in thirty minutes or the next one is free.

You’re using ten long words to say something you could say in four short words.

Yes, there are more and more ways to get around doing the hard work of engaging, relationship building, thinking about theory and how it applies to your life, and the challenges of actually addressing situations rather than outcomes. But there are fewer and fewer ways to get long form analysis, well thought out arguments, structured content, and opportunities to take in a philosophy, struggle with it, and learn from it.

We don’t need more tips and tricks. We’ve got enough of that.

We do need more deliberation, theory, thinking, and testing. And from that comes the ability to take calculated risks in conflicts—and perhaps to build that world that we all so desperately claim to want.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Strategy] Burnout Over The Pacific

When you talk with divorce and family lawyers about divorces, separations, or even “conscious uncouplings” a statement they always make in the course of the conversation focuses around their amazement that couple choose to go through a litigation based process.

In particular, their statement tends to focus on the fact that litigation takes time and is more emotionally draining than mediation, and yet many couples would prefer to go through that process than another, more collaborative one.

There are many points to consider from this observation, but there are three immediate ones that could be instructive and strategic for your conflict situation—even if you’re not getting a divorce, experiencing a separation, or have decided to “consciously uncouple”:

  • A desire to see “justice done” is really a desire to see our will done unto the other person who hurt us. Which really means, when we go to a third party (whether a lawyer or a judge—and sometimes even a mediator) we aren’t looking to grow collaboratively with the other party out of a difficult relationship. We’re really looking for revenge and a reckoning.
  • Collaboration is not about “being friends again” or even forgiving the other party. Collaboration is simultaneously a selfish and selfless act of growing with that other person (who sometimes you have a deeply personal relationship with) so that the relationship can end in a way that benefits both of you. Mediation is a collaborative process. Litigation is always a competitive process.
  • Litigating not to “lose” is not the same as not collaborating to “win.” The fact of the matter is, “winning” and “losing” are black and white concepts that have little to nothing to do with the facts of the dispute, the relationships involved, the values on the table, the positions and interests of the parties involved, or the outcome in question. But parties in a dispute often view not “losing” (or outright “winning”) as the only satisfactory strategy that can justify emotional decisions made in all of those areas. Which is why litigated disputes always end up feeling emotionally hollow and are often decided—in hindsight—to have been a waste of both time and energy.

Many people in disputes, conflicts, disagreements, and who are having “differences of opinion” with other parties, experience a sense of burnout throughout the processes of both litigation and mediation. But the question on the table is “Do you prefer your burnout slow and steady, or quick and dirty?”

Answering that question, individually and corporately, with honesty, self-awareness, and insight into the other party, can lead to picking the best process for managing your particular conflict.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Advice] What Are Your Core Values?

There are values.

There are beliefs.

There are principles.

Values are what we are willing to put our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honors on the line to defend, protect, and advocate for. Values are based typically in a moral or ethical code, or standard of behavior, sometimes enforced by society and culture, but much of the time determined privately by individuals.

Beliefs are what we really think, down deep, past the words that come out of our mouths. Beliefs are a core part of the stories that we tell ourselves about the values that we have. Beliefs are about trust, faith, and the confidence in something (typically values) that will come to reality.

Principles are the combination of values and beliefs. Principles serve as the fundamental truths that are the foundation of a chain of reasoning that leads to a set of manifested behaviors that shape our realities. Principles are bedrock, they are eternal, and they sound like positions when we articulate them.

But they are not positions (which are often about personal (and sometimes public) identity or maintaining “face”) nor are they about interests (which are often flexible, negotiable, situational, and impersonal).

There is little productive talk about values using anything but position-based language, designed to inflame people, rather than unite them. There is even less productive debate about beliefs using anything other than language designed to conjure up images of religion, rather than relationship. In both cases, the use of persuasive, argumentative, anchoring language is designed to separate people from each other (which is easy), rather than to engender deeper introspection (which is hard). And too often in our public language, at work, at school, in social media, and other places, we use the language of principles to talk about positions—or even worse–to justify behavior based in mere interests.

Don’t let people fool you. There’s plenty of hard, emotional work in introspectively determining what your values are, articulating to others what your beliefs are, and in figuring out how both of those are walked out in your lived principles.

But there’s no glamour. There’s low (or no) pay. And there’s often no audience. But it’s when there’s no glamour, pay, or audience to put on a show for, that we discover what really lives at our core.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Strategy] Creations of Commerce

By now, you already know that “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are recent marketing creations, designed to get you to buy more, spend more, have more stress, engage in more consumption and to confuse “tradition” with moving money out of your possession and onto the bottom line revenues of brands.

We didn’t get here by accident though.

The human need to persuade, convince and to sell—and idea, a process, a service, a product—is so strongly embedded in human biology, psychology and even our spiritual DNA, that we have welcomed this change, from over 50,000 years of “not enough” to the last 100 years of “too much.”

We want to be sold and persuaded; but, we want to be persuaded and sold on the things that have meaning and mattering. This is why, even before commercial brands and corporations, there were empires, governments, and tribes. And, at a level even deeper than that, there are religions and belief systems that have toppled powerfully persuasive empires.

Which brings us to the reason for the season.

Meaning and mattering doesn’t come from buying one more item, no matter what the commercials tell you. Meaning and mattering doesn’t come from consuming one more meal, though the commercials will tell you this as well (it’s no surprise that gluttony and Thanksgiving have become closer commercial bedfellows in the last 20 years). Meaning and mattering doesn’t come from throwing away abandon and forgetting the old year and old mistakes and making resolutions that won’t be kept, because they’re too hard, too overwhelming, and too meaningless.

Meaning and mattering comes from remembering (and acting on) three core principles this holiday season:

Meaning and mattering.

Let’s focus on that this holiday season, rather than on the latest deal from the largest corporation.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Strategy] How To Mediate – Building Credibility

The fact of the matter is, credibility for the mediator is either eroded or strengthened in two spaces:

At the table

In a caucus

At the table, the mediator can establish credibility early, by being on time, looking prepared and professional and by demonstrating knowledge, empathy, active listening skills and by avoiding incendiary language or insinuations. The table is the second hardest place to establish credibility with disputants, who may have either begrudgingly agreed to attend mediation, or who have agreed to attend with their lawyers present, not understanding the nature and process of mediation. The table is also the riskiest place to maintain credibility, because it can be scuttled in an instant—by something the mediator says (or does), the lawyer says (or does), or either of the two parties say (or do).

This is just introductory credibility.

The stronger the mediator can make their own credibility at the table, the deeper the relationship between themselves and the parties in conflict will grow, based in reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proofing and liking.

Which leads us to the caucus.

In a caucus, the mediator can either wreck the credibility they have established at the table (which has led them to a private caucus in the first place) or they can use the caucus to deepen the credibility and add a layer of authority on top of it. Now, the trouble with the caucus is that this a place where a mediator’s neutrality, or their desire to see a “fair” outcome, often clash with a disputants desire to “win” the mediation. Caucuses are places where the mediator can erode credibility by playing into the hands of the party who called the caucus, or they can grow credibility by continuing to behave neutrally, or they can gain authority by overriding client self-determination and making a “suggestion” for moving forward.

This last act then moves the caucus into a space of conflict coaching (nothing wrong with that, but not in the context of a mediation) rather than keeping it corralled.

Here are some strategies for at the table and in the caucus:

  • Avoid the appearance of being “the authority”—Unlike arbitration, mediators are not called to render a decision, and unlike negotiation, mediators are not called to “just focus on interests.” Emotional appeals can sway a mediator toward acting as an authority and destroying credibility.
  • Navigate the caucus with caution—Preserve client self-determination, be aware of power plays (lies, deceits, misdirection, etc.) by either party and do enough back research on the parties and the material issues in conflict, so that whatever is revealed in the caucus never comes as a surprise to the mediator.
  • Own/disown the table—This should not be confused with appearing powerful or in control, but preparation, controlling nonverbals, engaging with emotional intelligence, and asking balanced questions, allows the mediator to shift ownership of the results of the mediation process to the parties and ownership of the mediation platform to the mediator. This is hard and it happens subtly, but the savvy peace builder will recognize it and be able to “hold on loosely” so as to let go of the process when necessary.

Establishing and maintaining credibility is the jujitsu of mediation. And just like the art of using an opponents’ weight and momentum against them, it can be tricky to understand, and take years to master.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Strategy] Change Frames 2

Expectations, assumptions, disappointments and the actions that come from all of those areas are poisonous at the negotiation table.


The emotional and intellectual states around expectations, assumptions and disappointments, allow individuals to create frames inside of their intellect and emotions about the other party at the table. Then, parties act upon those frames, generating predictable responses from the other party. Then, there’s a “return to normalcy:” dysfunction continues, people get frustrated, innovation stalls, and the stock price of public companies (or the public credibility of private companies) goes through the roof.

To really innovate though, the first thing that has to happen in a conflict is that those frames of reference based in assumptions, expectations and disappointments have to be broken by at least one of the parties in conflict. This takes courage and is part of the core of emotional labor that is starting to define workplaces and organizations of all kinds in the 21st century.

At the individual level is where all of this breaking of frames has to begin, but if the individual is unwilling to do it, then they are accepting the status quo. The hardest thing to realize is that piece right there, but once it is realized, then there is a diminishing of disappointments in either the other party, or the situation. This happens because one party is now seeing the other party as a human being, rather than as a conflict construct.

After the ability to be disappointed recedes, then the next piece to go are the assumptions about the conflict, it’s nature, or even the outcome of the negotiations at the table.  This is a critical middle step that many parties in conflict seek to skip over because it’s not “sexy” and it’s hard. But, without abandoning assumptions, the other party is still trapped in a cage (or a frame if you will) not of their own making.

Finally, the last piece of the frame to be broken is the one created by expectations. This one seems line the hardest to break, but in reality, it’s the easiest to break once the other two are abandoned by either party. However, many parties in conflict seek to start the process of change by breaking expectations, rather than by addressing and breaking disappointments; this leads to more, not less, conflict.

Breaking frames created by expectations, assumptions and disappointments can feel like escaping from an emotional Supermax prison facility. But, breaking those frames and destroying those emotional prisons is required for the success of emotional labor at the negotiation table.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Advice] The Sound of Listening

People hear tone in vocal inflections, but some people are more sensitive to it than others.


In a story, tone comes about because of connoted understanding around allusions, diction, imagery, irony, symbols syntax and style. Tone also comes about because of a shared understanding about the general character and attitude reflected in figurative writing.

People are both good (making accurate assumptions based on a shared history) and bad (making inaccurate assumptions based on a shared history), at interpreting and reacting to tone of voice or a nonverbal facial expression. People are also good and bad (and getting better and worse all the time because of social media) at interpreting and reacting to tones reflected through writing.

People hear (and interpret meaning) from tone in the sound of silence as well.

In a conflict situation, what is stated (presence) is almost as relevant as what is not stated (absence). People are sophisticated communication machines and they pick up instantly (or miss terribly), the meaning (both figurative and literal) behind presence and absence.

Emotional literacy in a conflict situation requires people to set aside assumptions and reactions about what tones may mean (presences) and about what silences may mean (absences) and instead do the hard, unsexy work of actually asking the following starter questions:

  • What do you think?
  • What are you feeling?
  • What do you need?

Then sitting back and engaging actively with the sound of listening.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

Trust Me

“Trust me. I got this.”


If there is any other phrase that precedes a sense of oncoming dread and mistrust, it’s this one.

If there is a statement that preceded eventual conflict more than any other, we aren’t aware of it.

Trust, when freely given, often operates as a noun, describing a person, place, thing or an animal.  In such a context, trust transforms a relationship from one level and moves it into a far more intimate level.

However, in the above statement, trust transforms from a noun to a verb, requiring the giver to transform into a passive actor in their own drama. In such a context, trust transfers control from an active actor, engaged with their own outcomes, to another active actor whose motives may not be—well—trustworthy.

The sender of the phrase is looking to reassure the receiver and, typically, this sentence means that the reassurance is not working.

The professional peacebuilder should probably avoid the transformation of trust from an active noun to a passive verb, unless the relationship that she is building is long-term enough to warrant such a change.

Otherwise, she’s just asking for trouble.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: hsconsultingandtraining@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/