The Opposite of Civilization is Human Nature

The opposite of civilization is human nature.

And occasionally, regrettably, human nature finds a way to break through the behavioral, cultural, social, and even religious boundaries constructed assiduously around it.

We define this “breaking through,” as conflict, violence, and—at the nation-state level—war.

The purpose of civilization is to hold back the tides of human nature and to negotiate the consequences of human nature when it runs amok: selfishness, greed, vanity, pride, sloth, envy, and so on.

Civilization does this job through the application of social and behavioral norms that enough individuals agree to. Conflicts arise, of course, when the social and behavioral norms are no longer considered normal.

Cultural evolution is a constant. Human nature is a constant.

But civilization is precious, demanding, and worth defending.

There Are No Lectures

Will this be on the test?

This is the question that we struggle with every new semester. It reveals what and where the focus of students has been trained into them over the last 12 years of primary schooling.

Will this impact my grade?

This is the question that reveals the struggle between attaining real learning, real connection with material, and real engagement, and the need for accreditation, for getting the “right” job and for fitting in all the ways that society demands of us.

Will this be in the lecture?

This is the question that reveals a deep desire for certainty and the continuing pushback against the Socratic, the uncertain, and the unpleasant friction of the unknown.

There are no lectures that can cover the ingrained need that these three questions reveal.

There are no carefully crafted syllabi.

There are no YouTube videos and there is not enough clever gaming of student’s pre-wired psychology.

And the professor that spends a semester (or several) preparing more for successfully neutralizing these questions than for engagement and connection with material that could be life-changing, is the professor who has invested in playing a game whose hand was dealt way back in kindergarten.

[Strategy] Crossing the Chasm for the Peacebuilder

For the innovative peacebuilder, the truly important switch must happen in how thinking about products and services cross the chasm.


Most of the time, processes (such as mediation, negotiation, or dispute resolution) are confused with products.

A process is, in essence, a service.

Sure, there are sometimes opportunities to grow a process past a service and into a product, but this is rare.

The idea that content focused around “how-to” can be a product, is supported by the digital reality we live in now. With digital platforms, developing digital components for processes we already think of as services, should become second nature.

But for many it hasn’t.

At least not yet.

There are four ways to cross the chasm in thinking, from a strong consideration and focus on services, to a strong consideration and focus on products.

  • Deep listening requires surveying clients (formally and informally), compiling that data, and executing on the results of that listening. By the way, deep listening is beyond active listening, and is something that peacebuilders are increasingly seeing as a tactic for clients at the table.
  • Deep understanding is the corollary to deep listening. Deep understanding requires accepting that crossing the chasm is the only way to scale. Plus, it requires accepting that one-offs, workshops, seminars, and more of the traditional ways of engaging with audiences, clients, and scaling a “lifestyle” business, have changed irrevocably.
  • Deep advice requires accessing the wisdom contained in the organizations peacebuilders may already be working in. It also requires listening to, and reading, advice that comes from non-traditional places. Accessing, and considering deep advice is strategic and tactical. Deep advice not only comes from outside the box, but also it comes from looking in another box entirely.
  • Deep courage is the last way to cross the chasm. Execution is about courage, and many of the reasons that serve to “stall out” the crossings peacebuilders attempt, is less about not doing the other three things listed above, but is more about the lack of courage to pull the trigger and execute on a truly scary idea.

Philosophy first, tactics second, and courage always to change how peacebuilding happens in our digital world.

[Advice] Intentional Anchoring

The first sentence in a discussion anchors the rest of the conversation.

“I need him to shut up.”

“I don’t like what’s happening here.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“The fact that we’re focusing on this issue is crazy.”

“They don’t know what they are talking about.”

“Who’s in charge here?”

“I’m in charge here.”

The first sentence of a blog post, the first sentence of an online status update, the first sentence of an email does the same thing.

In a negotiation, this tactic is called anchoring. It’s the process of putting an idea into another party’s mind about a topic of discussion, and then using that initial idea to push or pull the other party in a particular direction.

There is verbal and nonverbal anchoring. Anchoring occurs with signs and symbols. Anchoring happens when parties speak and when they are silent. Anchoring happens with body language.

People perform anchoring all the time, mostly unintentionally, but occasionally, someone “gets” it and intentionally chooses their words carefully and judiciously for maximum effect. And with the purpose of generating maximum conflict.

In any negotiation—along with management, facilitation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation—of a conflict, the person who establishes the anchor first has a greater chance to do better than the person who doesn’t. In this context “doing better” just means “getting an outcome that works for me.”

What outcome are you dropping an anchor for?

[Strategy] Facilitating-as-a-Sales Process

The skills required to facilitate training for an audience with content that wasn’t developed by the facilitator, are the same skills sale people practice every day:

Persuasion: Since a facilitator doesn’t create the presentation content (or product) they are facilitating (just like the sales person doesn’t create the product they sell door-to-door), the skills of persuasion through using influence in the room, is critical for success. The facilitator must use all the skills of persuasion their fingertips to get the “customer” to buy the product. Yes, the audience already “bought” the product by being there physically. But just like children in school, you have to “re-earn” their attention caring and awareness, rather than taking it for granted.

Body language: Sales people know that confidence, body language, and silence combined with active listening (more on this one below), can help close the sale in a face-to-face encounter. Facilitators need to keep this in mind. Particularly, when facilitating content with which they are not familiar. A facilitator with none of those traits, just like a sale person with none of those traits, can stumble and fall in the room.

Active listening: Facilitators should listen more that they talk. This is easy when the facilitator has developed the product they are facilitating. It’s hard when facilitators haven’t developed the product they are facilitating. The problems compound when they don’t believe the content itself. The first person to listen and react to the content should be the facilitator. But not in the room. Not in front of the audience. And not when the audience pushes back and disagrees, asserts themselves, or engages in conflict with the content.

With all this being said, the facilitator should remember, above all else, that the work is on the line in the room, not the facilitator as a sales person.

[Advice] Evolving Cultural Sensibilities and ADR

As the economic, cultural, and spiritual forces that used to bind us together continue to refragment from overarching macro-cultures to indispensable micro-cultures, alternative dispute resolution practitioners must take notice.

Overarching macro-culture was driven by communal events, television, economic stability, and overarching cultural “norms” that allowed people to engage in conflicts and disputes with the same regularity they always have, but also allowed the impacts of those conflicts to be dampened.

Indispensable micro-culture is driven by technology, network connections that defy geography and notice, a dismissal of the status quo, and a strong identity component. People still have conflict in these micro-cultures (what used to be called “sub-cultures”). But the impacts of those conflicts are like wildfires that catch the masses attention for a moment, but without a “there” there, there is little sustained effort mounted to ameliorate the effects upon people in those micro-culture conflicts.

Conflict resolvers, conflict coaches, conflict engagers, mediators, arbitrators, and others have watched this evolution occur over the last fifty or so years, with greater acceleration, but the response to the evolution through providing access points to conflict resolution has not been as quick. This is mainly for three reasons:

  • Indispensable micro-culture is still seen as “niche” and not really enough to build a business model on by the entrepreneurial conflict resolver. This is a terrible fact, but except for some people doing some great work in resolving conflicts in specific areas with specific groups in conflicts (i.e. with parties in churches, with divorcing or separating pet owners, etc.) there is more focus by ADR professionals on how to gain credibility with the courts—still standing as the last guardians of a passing away overarching macro-culture.
  • There are still enough parties in conflict participating in the remaining civic life of a formerly overarching macro-culture. This is something that will pass away over time, but right now, there are enough of the “masses” left around that many professional conflict resolvers look at the problems and conflicts of that group and decide to address their issues first. Both as a way to make a “dent” in the universality of conflict, and to make money from a reliable income stream.
  • Refragmentation is still not understood—or accepted psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually—as an inevitable outcome of the erosion of the twin, post-World War 2 oligopolies of corporation and government. Now, this is not to say that government will disappear either now or later; but the fact is, that as conflicts and disputes between parties in indispensable micro-culture become harder and harder to understand, the overarching macro-culture responses from government entities (i.e. new laws, regulations, taxes, and fees) will be less and less effective. This is because indispensable micro-culture conflicts are driven by esoteric, identity based rules, that require conflict resolvers to engage in relationships with those cultures to resolve—and to go beyond the overarching macro-culture rubric of intercultural communication skill sets.

None of these three areas are that daunting to overcome. And once overcome, the business models to get ideas for resolution to people in conflict begin to overwhelm the entrepreneurial conflict resolver. All that is required to get there is the courage of conflict resolvers to act outside of the “box” they have been trained in.

[Strategy] My Mind is Made Up

“My mind is made up.”

Well…ok then.

Your mindset, your framing of the world and the way that it’s ‘supposed’ to work, your story that you tell yourself about your conflicts, disputes, and differences of opinion, can be changed.

Unlike in the old Ten Commandments movie from back in the day, your ideas and stories developed over time. They weren’t etched irrevocably in granite tablets and then thrust upon you.

Though sometimes it may feel like that.

At least once (or maybe twice) in every training opportunity, there comes a moment to challenge a frame or a mindset, or a story, about how something ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to work. And at that moment, the phrase “your frame—your worldview—got here before the facilitator did” pops out of the trainer’s mouth.

But even this statement betrays a mindset, a story, a frame of references around the malleability of these frames, and the biological ability for a person to change their, already made up, minds.

The ability to shift frames, and to change them based on the persuasion of new knowledge, is not a sign of a lack of consistency—the crowd (e.g. other people) makes sure that you are remain consistent, even unto rhetorical death—instead, it is a sign that the window dressing of our frames, stories, and mindsets, can be changed and are flexible.

Mediation, conflict resolution, conflict coaching, conflict engagement, negotiation: all of these processes exist to persuade you that your mind can be changed; and in some cases, to persuade you that changing your mind may lead to more positive outcomes than the ones that you have been experiencing all this time.

But sometimes, people don’t want different outcomes.

Sometimes, parties in conflict get unnerved by participating what they perceive as processes that involve too much “second guessing” and “over thinking.”

Sometimes parties in conflict want affirmations, reassurances, and confirmation that their story is the right one and the only one with any validity in the marketplace of ideas.

So when one party’s mind is “made up” the question becomes: As the party on the opposite side of the table, are you ready, willing, and able to engage in the hard emotional labor of changing that other party’s mind?

Or is your mind now made up as well?

[Advice] The Minimal Viable Product

If you’re building a peace project, it’s important to understand what you’re creating in the product phase, so that you understand what you’re selling.

Many creators misunderstand the idea of a minimal viable product. The definition, created by the writer Eric Ries (he of Lean Start-Up fame), is as follows:

“A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is: “[the] version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”

In essence, a product that doesn’t try to be perfect (what the peace builder may want) but instead is a product that “ships” (i.e. gets into the market, gets out the door, gets into the customer’s hands, etc.) so that peace builders can interact with the market, rather than think about interacting with the market, is an MVP.

This is where many peace builders get caught up:

The blog that takes you ten minutes to set-up and allows you to distribute your ideas, thoughts, and passions about peace to the market is an MVP. The pretty website around the blog that “has to just look right” is not an MVP.

The email that is a conglomeration of various links, information about peace building, and allows you to interact with fans, audience, and potential customers, and that takes you an hour to set-up and an hour to send out three times a week, is an MVP. The list of emails to send the email to is not an MVP.

The workshop on active listening that you develop after ten minutes of thinking about the problems with clients in conflict that you are seeing at the mediation table is an MVP. Continually changing, researching, and referencing to make the workshop “perfect” is not an MVP.

The interaction with social media platforms through setting up a business page on Facebook, tweeting and retweeting links to peace building producers in other areas, or the posts that you consistently write and put on LinkedIn are all MVPs. The constant worrying about perfection (or not being wrong in what you retweet on social media) cannot lead to creating an MVP.

The issues with developing an MVP is that many creators of peace building projects get caught up in the idea that a product (a workshop) a blog post, a website, an email, or a social interaction has to be perfect. But the secret of the MVP is that the market isn’t looking for perfection.

The market for your peace building project is looking for YOU. The people in conflict who need resolution, engagement, help, ideas, a process, or even just advice, aren’t looking for perfection. And in many cases, once you engage with them with your MVP, enough people are generous enough to give you help, feedback, and encouragement to develop and reiterate your MVP so that it moves from being “minimal” to “maximal”

Selling begins when peace builders have the courage to engage with the market.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] Packaging Your Workshop

Think for a moment about product packaging:

Everything that we buy, from dish soap to artesian water, comes in some type of package. Being the rational consumers that we are, we often tell ourselves that the shape of the container, the way that the container is delivered to us, or even the design and colors on the outside of the package doesn’t influence our decision to purchase.

The more honest, irrational consumer, however, will admit that all those factors influenced their purchasing decision, but they won’t admit it in a way that can be quantified, researched and measured in a way that will produce repeatable results.

Instead, they’ll just say “I liked the bottle.” Or even “The wine tastes different in this glass versus that glass.”

In the fields of marketing, advertising, and sales, the psychology of influence has been used for years to design packaging that has sold millions of units of products over decades. Proctor and Gamble doesn’t just exist because of fancy investments.

The peace builder who wants to sell a workshop, seminar, or coaching, should examine closely the impact of influence in three areas, if they want to have a successful sales career selling solutions to conflicts to a conflict comfortable, and peace process skeptical, public:

When selling an intangible product (peace, health, stress relief) or service (legal help, social work, therapy) it’s important to remember that rationality ceases to be a driver of the decision making process to buy: Potential clients may claim that rationality drove their decision to pursue peacemaking as a process, but typically what drove their decison making was the rise of their emotions around their conflict, that encouraged them toward your workshop, seminar, or coaching offer.

The same emotional content that drives conflict escalation (and encourages de-escalation) drives product (peace, health, stress relief) or service (legal help, social work, therapy) purchases: This fact makes it hard for the peace builder to sell, which is why their marketing efforts must be robust, always on, and always human.

No one remembers what you told them, but potential clients will remember how you made them feel: This statement sometimes reads as facile, but the fact of the matter is, potential clients are searching for a feeling—of trust, professionalism, confidence, security, competency, etc.—before they even see your marketing materials or hear your sales pitch online. This is why the rise of video (and live streaming) for the peace builder is such a critical tool for driving and converting sales. All of the emotional content comes through in a personal appeal via video.

Packaging a product (peace, health, stress relief) or service (legal help, social work, therapy) is more a matter of determining the “emotional tone” a peace builder would like to strike with the market, and then championing that tone to close sales.

And all without being unethical.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] The Life Long Learning Myth…Busted

Implementation, coaching, mentoring, and supporting through experiences matters more to adult learning in a corporate setting, than sitting in a room for four hours listening to a facilitator.

The drop-off in retention after such an experience is 50% after participants leave the room, and without immediate changes, immediate implementation of the learning outcomes, coaching along the path of uncomfortability, and supervisory mentoring through the tough times, the retention drop-off is 75%.

So why do many organizations still offer corporate training opportunities in all kinds of topical areas, within a formalized “sit down, and absorb” learning structure, syllabi, certificates, and experienced trainers and facilitators who drone on and on for—at most—half a day?

There are three reasons:

Most organizations—whether corporations, training organizations, or higher education institutions—are unwilling (and many times unable) to do the hard work of challenging, breaking, and remaking the foundation of learning established through the last 150 years of K-12 schooling. Schooling which was designed in conjunction with corporate leaders and influencers, and codified with the support of intellectuals and educators, to produce compliant workers, who would sit (or stand) all day and do widget based, industrial work, while leaving the thinking and innovating to others up the chain. The kind of work that was hollowed out by those same individuals starting 40 years ago and now no longer matters much in America.

Many supervisors, managers, bosses, CEO’s, COO’s, and others in the hierarchical structure of many organizations, have come from a background of schooling that they either internally rejected because it was too rigid, or found comforting and conformed too. Such engrained mindsets around the value of learning (and education) do not advance and innovate organizations. Instead, they continue to produce leaders who believe that training (and life-long learning) is either a “nice to have” (rejection mindset) or a “necessary evil” (acceptance mindset). Either way, the mentality shaped through that rejection or acceptance, is reflected in buying, internally developing, or advocating for models of learning for employees based in an Industrial Revolution K-12 schooling model.

Trainers, facilitators, consultants, and others in the wide and deep field of corporate training (myself included) aren’t doing enough of the hard work, often enough, of breaking our own mindsets of how information, experiences, and content is delivered to audiences (online, F2F, etc.). We also aren’t engaging with the hard work of breaking institutional, corporate mindsets from the outside by creating offerings and client deliverables that will transcend the dying model of K-12 education. This means having the courage to stick to our principles around peer-to-peer learning, advocating to organizations that we serve for mentoring and coaching for our learners, encouraging accountability, and at the furthest end, treating adult learners like adults in the training room, rather than continuing to train them (i.e. treat them) in the K-12 learning mold they’re familiar with.

The feedback I always get when I write (or talk) in these three areas typically focuses around the inability of organizations to change, the unwillingness of employees to actually be motivated to do the hard work of working on things that are hard (i.e. engaging with emotional labor) and the inability of trainers, consultants, and others to feed their families based on selling what the market is not progressive enough to demand.

These are all legitimate concerns, but the facts of the 21st century are clear for anyone with two eyes to see:

The workplace, jobs, labor, and other tasks that people need to be organized into groups to accomplish, must still be done, or else there will be chaos in the world. Hard work—manufacturing work, “blue collar” work, etc.—will still be done in the world, but increasingly due to automation and algorithms, that work will be either outsourced or done by machines. And when it’s not, the people who will do it, will charge an even higher premium for it, to support their continued learning to become better artisans.

An acknowledgement that work matters, that tasks should be meaningful, rather than meaningless, and that employees should be treated like adults rather than like children in the workplace, is growing rather than going away. Calls from researchers, thought leaders, influencers, advocates, and others for more pay transparency, flexible family leave policies, and “flat” hierarchical structures, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The rewards to organizations in terms of prestige (Top 10 Best Places to Work), revenues (The World’s First $2 Billion Company), and public goodwill (Anyone See What Apple Made Today) in America, are drivers for success (or determinants of failure in a transparent media market) more now than ever. And these drivers become outsized to organizations that are willing to take risks, to supervisors that are willing to challenge the status quo, and to vendors who are willing to sell with courage.

Unrest will continue among employees who believe that they are not getting paid what they are worth, are increasingly mobile, and are calling the bluff of the industrialist mindset that has dominated every sector of life for over a century now. This unrest will grow in continued calls for a basic income, the cries against income inequality, and the accusations of a new “Gilded Age” of wealth and prosperity for some.

Wihout meaningful changes the conflicts that will arise if life-long, continuing, robust education is not increasingly, innovatively, and creatively integrated into the work lives of employees in all organizations in all sectors (from small businesses to the Fortune 1,000 companies), will be massive and unmanageable.

And bosses, managers, supervisors, shareholders, CEO’s, CFO’s, communities, civic leaders, politicians, business owners, corporate training organizations, and others will have to explain in plain terms to their constituencies, employees, followers, and others, the reasons (and their mindsets) for why they rejected or ignored the golden opportunity to implement, coach, mentor, and support in order to transform corporate learning into something meaningful and valuable, in the early 21st century.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: