There’s Never Enough

The problem is that just like the word “fair,” the word “enough” means different things to different people.

And just as there will never be “enough” (and a person should watch using words such as“never” and “always” as well, but for the purposes of this point, we’ll ignore that philosophical admonition)—time, energy, effort, focus, attention, care—there will also never be a truly “fair” solution to a conflict.

Because, what’s “fair” for you, may not work for me. And vice-versa.

So, since there will never be “enough,” let’s instead pursue a process, rather than an outcome; connection rather than avoidance; and relationship rather than keeping track of who’s ahead and who’s not.

Let’s instead pursue managing ourselves, becoming more and more self-aware, and ruthlessly pursuing the truth of our own stories.

Because there’s never enough.

How Crazy Do You Want to Act to ‘Win’ at Nuclear Poker

Playing poker with another party who holds the keys to nuclear weapons (literal, metaphorical, or figurative), and has given indications based on experience that they will be willing to deploy them, is a dangerous game.

The stakes are high, but not for the obvious reasons of total physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological annihilation.

The stakes are high for three reasons:

No one really knows another party’s motivations, needs, or interests. Unless we ask. And far too often our inherent selfishness in pursuing outcomes that benefit us exclusively, blinds us to the simple need to do some discovery about the other party.

Sometimes, only one person has cared enough to explore another party’s motivations, needs, or interests.

But then they use this knowledge cynically, to manipulate and exploit other parties who are more ignorant—and more selfish.

The far rarer case is that the party who has the knowledge and cares, shares; unselfishly, openly, and with the purpose of avoiding—or minimizing—disastrous outcomes.

Egos, self-interest, and selfishness tend to override rationality and logic in even the most innocuous negotiations. When potential destruction is the thing on offer, all bets are off.

The fact is, people at the individual level are irrational and emotional and in moments of high stress, tend to make short-cut choices that relieve tension in the amygdala, but create further problems down the road.

If the other party isn’t talking to a rational actor (such as it is) on the other side of the negotiation table, or leads with principles rather than interests, the changes of an undesirable outcome increase tremendously.

The appearance of being willing to do what the other party is either to scared, to demoralized, or to invested in alternative outcomes (their own BATNAs and WATNAs, for instance) to do, is sometimes enough to “win” the high stakes game of poker played with nuclear weapons (literal, metaphorical, or figurative).

Unfortunately, this sets a precedent in the mind and approach of the “losing” party around the potential for blackmail, coercion, or something even worse—subservience and the appearance of weakness.

The person who is willing to walk into a nuclear negotiation and deal fairly, transparently, and unselfishly with each party in the conflict is the one who wins the day today and tomorrow.

And not just a moral victory either.

Dollar Value of Mediation Skills in the Connection Economy

It’s hard to place a dollar value on human-to-human interactions in the current (and growing) connection economy, because connection is about engaging in acts of caring.

And whoever put a dollar value on acts of caring?

But here are a few challenge questions if that’s your attitude:

Whoever put a dollar value on the act of raising crops in an agricultural economy?

Whoever put a dollar value on the act of building a widget in an industrial economy?

Whoever put a dollar value on the act of providing a customer service in the service economy?

Humanity figured out the dollar value inherent in all the economic transitions from hunting and foraging, to agriculture, to industry, to service and created functioning economic systems—from trading and bartering to late stage capitalism. And humanity will figure out the current global transition we are in right now.

The space between the old system and the new system is a space of conflict, anger, incivility, uncertainty, spectacle, entertainment, along with a healthy dose of depression, worry, and anxiety.

This is a space where the skills of mediation (particularly around distraction, diversion, and deflection) can be helpful (and monetized) at scale.

But whoever put a dollar value on the acts of caring?

[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?

[Strategy] Pivot to a Stalemate from a Checkmate

There’s a bind for supervisors in the workplace, when they act as mediators, inserting themselves into conflicts between their employees, whether they want to insert themselves, or they are compelled to insert themselves.

When one employee won’t move, shift or change their approach to conflicts with their co-workers in any meaningful way and the mediator, acting as the supervisor, that party may try to maneuver the supervisor into a stalemate. This maneuvering could appear in three forms:

  • Game playing the mediation/supervision process through telling the supervisor one story, and then telling the other employees another story.
  • Gossiping by telling the mediation/supervisor nothing at all—or actively avoiding the interaction with the mediator/supervisor (or any other passive aggressive acts)—and then passing around a story about the other party in conflict.
  • Harassing the other party in the conflict and, sometimes harassing (or intimidating) the mediator/supervisor into making a decision favorable to them in resolving the conflict.

Stalemate makes the mediator/supervisor as the third party feel powerless, impotent and feel as if they have no chance to affect change in the outcomes of the conflict process.

But stalemate is really a checkmate—imposed upon the instigating party who won’t move—initiated by the mediator/supervisor, sometimes not consciously and based on the stories that the mediator/supervisor is telling themselves about the conflict process.

Which means the power really lies with the mediator/supervisor and not the party who thinks they have the power, the instigator of the conflict process, and the other party in the process who may be looking to escalate the conflict to satisfy their own motives.

Other mediator/supervisors in the past may have given up their power, to the two parties in conflict before, but that doesn’t mean that the current person has to continue those patterns of behaviors.


-Peace Be With You All-

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

[Strategy] 20-80-100

80% of the conflicts in your organization will be solved by 20% of the people in your organization.


And, not all of those people will have positional titles, effective job descriptions, or even work in “traditional” departments that “are supposed to” address conflicts.

Pushing the frontier of who gets what, so that the majority gets more value out of the conflict resolution process, should be the goal of all organizations.

But, there’s a ceiling on that value, generated by competing goals and desires, differing value placed on outcomes and the lack of ability for some in an organization to accept the efficacy of pursuing more than one outcome.

As long as 20% of the people in organization are overcoming 80% of the ceilings in 100% of organizations, the ceiling on claiming value will not move effectively.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

Stop Fooling Around

“Let’s get serious.”

So…what…we’ve just been fooling around the whole time?


Those three words, codified through social niceties and small talk, are often said before official, issue driven, conversations and negotiations begin.

Typically, they are used as a way to separate people from each other and to categorize those who seem issue focused and decision driven—from those who seem distracted and lazy.

But, this is a false equivalency: equating being “serious” with being focused, driven—and by extension—successful in life in all the ways that the folks in the other silo are not.

And all this siloing through language only serves to inflate individual egos, and to deflate the potential for a positive situation to develop between parties who may be viewing the same issues through different frames.

We’ve got a better idea: just get started with the large talking and move right past the short hand, small talk, to the issues that matter.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

Who Will Take Up The Banner

We seek experts out because, even in a world where there is no more “secret sauce,” the vast majority of us still take the shortest route to the best possible outcome.



Peace building professionals should have gained knowledge of this, either through practical experiences at the peace building table, or just through watching humanity stumble through this thing called life.

Is it any wonder then, that our professions—from the law to engineering—still view credentialing as the “coin of the realm” and seek to convince clients (who don’t know enough to question otherwise) of the veracity of their pedigrees?

This tendency to seek the shortcut, the easy answer, and to give ideas and philosophies which seem complicated the short shrift, has also lead to a loss of practical, moral wisdom. A loss of Phronesis, if you will.

The peace building professional who seeks to ensure that her clients are self-determined and are allowed the space to enact further damage on themselves and each other, is worthy of far more credentialing than the individual who knew all the right answers on the last State Board exams.

The field of peace building is at a crossroads—and has been for about the last ten years.

The practitioners, credentialers, academics, and others who hold the reigns of power, have to decide if Phronesis is more important than field level shorthand, and whether or not honoring the former rather than the latter, will lead to a stronger field or a weaker one.

Clients and the market can’t direct the field around this, they can’t point the way.

Data and technology will not save us either. Artificial intelligence is just that, artificial, and lacking in profound moral and ethical wisdom. And big data is only information without interpretation and action.

Phronesis is what needs to be acknowledged so that clients’ best interests are protected.

But who will take up the banner?

-Peace Be With You All-

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

Negotiating With Outrageous Confidence: The Diplomacy Issue

Recently, we keynoted the Ithaca College 2014 BOLD Conference.


We had a great time talking with the student attendees at the conference about negotiation and performing that act of active asking, well and with confidence.

And not just confidence, but outrageous confidence.

We have found in our entrepreneurial journey, that too many people—the majority of whom are women and/or members of minority groups—don’t ask for what they want even meekly, much less outrageously.

But, after the keynote, a point was raised to us, around the issue of using the tactics of outrageousness to boost one’s self-confidence, in order to gain only win-win outcomes.

The person wanted to know about how to maintain diplomacy when going into a negotiation while also maintaining equanimity with self—and others—while also maintaining self-assurance.

This is a great question and, in the context of the wider world, the answer is that, the spate of recent college graduates “asking for too much” or “being unwilling to work hard for advancement” does not spring from a great well of self-assurance.

Instead, both of these meta-employment-phenomena are occurring in response to the messages that older, job holding generations, have provided an entire current generation. These messages have been absorbed and we are beginning to see the results of that absorption.

In the context of the smaller world of the keynote, however, we would respond by noting that, of course there are times in a negotiation, any negotiation, that the cost of disrupting a potential future relationship, must be weighed against the benefit of moving toward a win-lose outcome.

But, until many more people (including women and minorities) begin acting with a little more self-confidence, self-awareness and even outrageousness, we believe that encouraging others to ask period, rather than to not ask for too much too soon, is the better route.

-Peace Be With You All-

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