[Opinion] Fierce Confrontations

Confrontation is the beginning of conflicts, but confrontation can only come about if we have the courage to have a conversation in the first place.

Conversation is not confrontation, though conversation may make parties in conflict uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable conversations must happen in fierce ways for those conversations to have value, meaning, and to move parties from where they are comfortable to where they are uncomfortable.

Part of this means moving away from banalities, and talking about the things that aren’t worth talking about, and moving toward talking about the truths we don’t talk about.

Susan Scott, in her book Fierce Conversations, calls these truths “ground truths.” From the military, this defines the truth that intelligence and tactics can’t get you to.

It means discussing philosophy, not religion.

It means discussing strategies, not tactics.

It means moving past listicles, and the regular “hey, how are you doing?” of the day and directly addressing the things that are making us uncomfortable, unproductive, and uncourageous.

When we act to move toward discussing ground truths, we must take the step with courage. We don’t move in that direction because its infinitely more comfortable to just avoid the whole thing, complain about a situation to others, or to continue to escalate the uncomfortableness of the situation through ambiguous and misleading nonverbal communication.

When we have the courage to move toward ground truths, we must eliminate three things from our thinking that hold us back:

Our need to be liked. This doesn’t mean that we act impolitely, impolitically, or speak out of turn. What it does mean is that we must acknowledge that the emotional reactions of the other person may lead them to not like us. And we must be ok with that.

Our need to be right. When we open the door to discussing ground truths, we also open the door to being told that we a wrong; that we have misinterpreted the situation or the responses of the people; that our framing might not match the reality as other people see it.

Our need to be heard. The person who opens a ground truth conversation should probably speak last. There is an epidemic of noise in our work, family, and school cultures. This noise serves as a constant distraction, designed to keep us responding and reacting to the wrong things. We tend to respond to the impact of all this noise by ratcheting up our own voices. In a ground truth conversation, our voices should be silent, and out need to be heard put on hold.

Confrontation precedes conflict. But only by a little. And when we need to be liked, to be right, or to be heard, we miss the opportunities inherent in confrontation, replacing them instead with negative escalation, continued conflict, and unmanaged outcomes.

[Advice] How Comfortable Are You…

How comfortable are you with the word “no”?

Not “maybe.”

Not “kinda.’”

Not “eeehhh…”

But “no.”

No’s seem final, door closing, and never good. We’re told to “keep our options open” in a conflict management situation, in a negotiation around topics that matter, and when we are working with people and parties to change them.

No is a word of opening. And reframing the word “no” to mean something else in YOUR mind, has to happen long before you sit down with someone else, who has a frame of reference and a worldview that you may want to say “yes” to, but to preserve your principles, may have to say “no” to.

-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 Things That Are Unpleasant

There are things that are hard, things that are easy, and things that are unpleasant.

This is similar to the differences between events that are difficulties, events that are confrontational, and events that are conflicts.

The things that are easy are the ones that don’t require a whole lot of hard work, that we enjoy, that make us feel good, and that make other people feel good. The things that are hard are the exact opposite: these are the things that require a lot of hard work, that we don’t enjoy, that don’t make us feel good, and that usually make other people feel “not good” as well.

The things that are unpleasant are things that might be difficult, but are often necessary to do, in order for another, easy thing, to happen. The things that are unpleasant generally involve difficulty, confrontation, and sometimes conflicts with other people. The things that are unpleasant are often unpredictable (you don’t know what the other person is going to do) and we often avoid the unpleasant things, in favor of doing the things that get us the dopamine hit.

The things that are unpleasant are often confused with things that are hard: Engaging with a new conflict engagement skill, applying new knowledge, and even establishing a healthy exercise routine may be unpleasant; but too often, we use the term “hard” to describe breaking a pattern that was pleasant for us in the past, but is untenable now in the face of current events.

The things that are unpleasant and the things that are hard, should be front-loaded in any situation, before focusing on the things that are easy, or else we run the risk of never doing those things at all.

-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] My 6 Biggest Mistakes…pt.2

I had turned back to the computer and was working again, when the ramifications of the first three of my six biggest mistakes came down upon me like a whirlwind.

Or, at least that’s what it felt like.

They came in a group (my Grandmother and my martial arts instructor years ago used to warn me that was how they always come at you) and they were angry. They started yelling at me across the lobby of the big building, and fortunately, since it was late at night, I didn’t attempt to meet them halfway, to exit the safety of the desk area, or to engage them in any way. I watched them walk over quickly, not quite understanding what I was about to experience.

That was my fourth mistake.

I stood up and took a power stance. I spread my legs (they could only see me from the waist up) and crossed my arms as they approached. Then I heard the yelling:

“Why did you come inside and talk to us that way!?”

“What were you talking about in there!?”

“There were other people in that room making noise hours ago and you didn’t come in then!!!”

I started to respond—not thinking at all—as they approached, yelling. Then, both they and I realized something at the same time: We (the two men and the two women and I) both shared the same skin color. I was dressed in the assigned outfit from the company though. And they were dressed—well—however…

“I can only address what I’m actually told about,” I said as they approached. “I was told a few minutes ago that there was a disturbance going on in the room, and the person wanted me to address it. The person also indicated that you were in the general area and had been making noise all night.”

By this time, the inside of my head felt like it was on fire. I was watching their body language, trying to determine if they  were going to really be a REAL problem (i.e. an “I gotta call the cops” problem”) or if they were gonna be a SOLVEABLE problem (i.e. an “’I gotta call my manager in the middle of the night’” problem.) Well, with that statement they already made a determination about me, and they proceeded to escalate.

The two men immediately yelled out “Oh! This Uncle Tom is gonna do what the white people say! C’mon (and he used the word you’re thinking of here) get with the program!!!”

Now, a person like me, who does what I do, and who grew up the way that I grew up, has heard this term before. But, my internal response was to flash like a fire. And once the inferno began raging inside me, the adrenaline started, my pupils dilated and I was ready to fight. And the two men and both the women, sensed it. One of the men immediately started jumping up and down with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, staring me dead in the face, egging me on.

This was my fifth mistake.

And we hadn’t even approached addressing the topic at hand.

Everything began to slow down, from my point of view. And everything became sharply clear.

I visualized my options, and in turn, the outcomes of exercising those options:

Fight and lose my job, possibly my freedom, and probably my life, because I had no idea if the men (or the women) were armed.

Or, call the cops or my manager and “firefight” until they showed up.

Or, get them out of the building as quickly as possible and not worry about pride, or personal offence.

I had those three clear thoughts, and even as I laid out the options for myself in my head, I chose the last one.  At the time I was working at that place, the third option was our way of “de-escalating” a customer.  But you weren’t supposed to tell the customer you were doing that. I threw that policy out the window when I turned to them, raised my voice, and said “I guess I’ll have to get you a refund on your tickets and your food then. And I’ll get you passes for the next time you come back.”

My heart is pounding, the inside of my head feels like jelly, and as I made my sixth mistake, I looked at their faces, reading their nonverbal expressions—a mixture of surprise, disappointment, elation, disgust, pride, victory—and I didn’t have a clear thought other than “Turn to the computer and start the process.

As I did, these words—still two octaves too high in the open lobby, began to ring out from the group:

“Oh yeah, YOU go and get us our refund!”

“You ain’t nothing! Who do YOU work for around here!”

“Damn right we’ll get our money back. This entire place is RACIST!”

“You gotta CALL somebody to get me my money!?”

And on.

And on.

In reality the entire refund process took about three minutes. Find the file on the computer, print the documents, walk to the printer, put the documents on the counter in front of the desk, have them sign, collect the passes, give them the passes, watch them walk out of the building.

It felt like it took ten years.

As they walked out, triumphantly waving their free passes and their refunds above their heads, they cried out “We’re NEVER coming back here! We’re going to Regal!!!”

I didn’t care. I sat back down in the chair in my office, and as the adrenaline left my body, and the incident passed, I trembled and shook. I was relieved t have them out of the building, with no police, or managerial, involvement.

Thinking back on the incident, there were many things at play in the confrontation: perceptions, emotions, ideas, thoughts, motivations, goals, history, biological responses, and even cultural issues. All of which, if handled differently would have put me (and them) in a different place.

As it is, our lives are only entwined in the story that I tell. A story they have probably long forgotten. And a story, now here for you all to read.

The Bible tells us that knowing the right thing to do –in thought, in word, and in deed—and then refusing to do it (or choosing to do something different) is sin.  The secular world tells us that sin is just a poor environment, the result of bad parenting, or just a set of bad decisions.

But at every step in making my six biggest mistakes, I was triggered in a conflict cycle toward another reaction, by other people who were in relationship with me, and also triggered in that moment, by my responses and reactions.  The conflict cycle is not sinful. The conflict cycle is not just a product of environments. The conflict cycle—just like our lives—is a complex, gossamer – like, combination of ourselves, our world, and our choices.

And breaking all of that apart, and learning from it, so we don’t repeat the mistakes in our lives, is a critical process for us to grow and change.

-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/

[Strategy] My 6 Biggest Mistakes…pt. 1

The first mistake I made was not verifying the claim.

The second mistake I made was walking in the room.

The third mistake I made was confronting inappropriately.

When the customer came and got me, I was busy doing another task and I was switching back and forth. With the small gaps in between the thoughts and the switching. The customer who came and got me said “There’s been disruptions all evening from these people and you and your staff haven’t done anything about it.”

And then, the customer stared at me.

Nonverbal communication drove a lot of this, and with one look, I was prodded into action. But, instead of verifying the claim of disruption (my first mistake) I instead reacted and sprang into action. I hustled down the long hall, into the dark room, where the light from the images flickered across the faces of the people staring in rapt attention. I walked down a poorly lit aisle (my second mistake) and knelt down in front of the people in the general area where I had been informed that the disturbance was occurring.

I said something to the effect of “I’ve gotten a report about a disturbance in this area. I’d like you to quiet down so that other people can enjoy the show.”

The third mistake was confronting inappropriately.

Then, I turned around and walked out of the dark room, into the light of the hallway. I proceeded to head back to the office, feeling a vague sense of self-satisfaction. I tasked switched back to the work I had been doing before the customer initially approached me, and continued to believe that all was well.

I often tell groups that, even though I am a trainer and conflict engagement professional, and even though I can tell you what the right response is, and even though I can tell you how you should respond and manage other people antiseptically, I’m often confronted with the results of my own poor choices in my own life.

At the time that I made these three mistakes in a row, I had the same education and knowledge level that I do now. At the time that I made these three mistakes in a row, I knew much of the literature on response, reaction, and how to navigate both.

At the time that I made these three mistakes, I knew the path, but I was far away from getting committed to implementing walking the path, 1% better every day.

And then, to compound my problems, I went ahead and made three more mistakes.

-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] Why We Start But Don’t Finish

There’s no penalty for starting in our overall work culture.

The Best Phrase in Business-

If you start an initiative, a process or even start a project at work, there’s no conflict.

Sure, someone might come along (an employee, a colleague, a co-worker, a boss, a supervisor, a manager) and may make your life “difficult” by muddying up the process of starting. But even with such actions, it may feel like there’s a penalty, but there really isn’t.

Seth Godin in The Dip points this out. This is partially because there are parades and applause for starting throughout our overall culture: starting school, starting a volunteer project, starting a business.

But the cutural opportunity for penalty rises as the expectations of others (and yourself) rise (or fall) in relation to the success (or failure) of the process, initiation or project as it moves forward.

Penalties are reinforced for failure at work and then quitting is quietly proposed, with no fanfare or applause.

Think about the overall cultural language and phrases around quitting: “No one likes a quitter.” Or, “quitters never win.” Or, a more insidious one we have heard in some circles in the past “AA is for quitters.”

There’s a public penalty for quitting and it comes from a toxic combination of other people’s expectations, jealousies and assumptions, our own desires and assumptions about how the project, process or initiative should work, and the ways in which reality rarely dovetails with both of these.

And then, we are shamed for failing and subtly, socially encouraged, to never try again, to shut up our voices and to go along with whatever “the crowd” decides is good.

The way out of this is to begin publicly applauding quitting, quietly acknowledging starting (but not lauding it, or praising it) and having the courage to ignore the crowd, who are often blind, prejudiced, or biased.

-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: http://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Advice] 4 Locus of Control Questions

Confirmation bias occurs when a person believes that the situations and experiences they continually run into, reaffirm their persepctive on their place in the world, and their preconceived beliefs or practices.


Case in point: When a person looks at the amount in their paycheck every week and mutters “ Well, I guess we’ll always be middle class.”

Or, when a person tells another before a difficult decision, or contlict, “Well, you had to know that Bob was going to react that way.”

Confirmation bias occurs because we want reassurance that the stories we tell ourselves are the only way reality could possibly be organized. This is why we emotionally, psychologically and somtimes even physically, resist when we are confronted by a different outcome someone else has experienced in the same situation. The fact of the matter is, we are in charge of our own stories—and the stories that we tell ourselves—but we often don’t believe it.

This dovetails with locus of control.

Based in studies and research from the 1950’s, locus of control says that some people believe they are in control of their lives, and other people believe outside forces determine the  direction of their lives and their decision making processes.

People with a high internal locus of control believe the world is something they control.

People with a high external locus of control, believes the world controls them.

Confirmation bias reinforces the stories of both personality types: If I believe that I’m in charge of my destiny, then I will continually tell myself the ” I’m In Charge Story.” But if I believe that destiny is in charge of me, then I will continually tell myself the “I’m Not In Charge Story.”

Most often, when things are going well, confirmation bias and locus of control concerns become secondary to a good time. But in a difficulty, confrontation or a conflict around things that matter, confirmation bias and locus of control (both internal and external) can serve as drivers that both intitiate and continue the conflict spiral.

Perceptions, stories and triggers are the fuel in the car of conflict situations, and the only person who can alter the fuel successfully is you. Here are four challenge questions for determining your conflict story:

  • What did I learn about difficulty, confrontation, control and conflict from my family?

Family is the world’s first organizational structure. And many of us learned the wrong lessons from those in charge. But the real issue is that we keep confirming the same lessons repeatedly with others.

  • What did I learn about control over my environment when I left the home?

Formal schooling in (at least in the United States) begins at around 4 or 5. This is when true confusion sets in, and when uncomfortable questions get asked about “reality”—and sometimes hushed up.

  • What messages have I had reinforced through my friends, associates and even the media I chose to consume?

There is a reason that many individuals with high internal locuses of control, refuse to watch the news, choose their friends carefully and are elitist about companies to whom they decide to give their money, time and talent.

  • What messages am I sending out to the world that are reinforcing difficulty, confrontation, control and conflict stories that are no longer relevant to my experience?

If you have succeeded in overcoming a poor story, or have moved the needle on your locus of control, revisiting old stories that are no longer relevant is the surest way to experience the same things over again.

-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/

[Opinion] Generous Polluters

In an abundance economy, there is one polluting element that is produced.

It’s more toxic than carbon dioxide and more damaging to the environment than the plastic bag island floating out somewhere in the Pacific.

It’s more damaging to the body politic than a disease epidemic. It corrodes and destroys as surely as acid does.
This pollution destroys access, ownership and privacy. It overrides the values that a connection economy is based upon, including honesty, transparency, clarity, motivation, courage, self-awareness, focus, discipline and empathy.
It turns adventure into obligation and has its own properties.
It is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
We’ve even written about it here in this space before.
Fear is the most abundant, most toxic, most polluting element generated in an abundance economy:
Conflicts arise in the abundance economy from a fear of a future that is likely (rather than preparation for the future that is desired), a perceived (or actual) scarcity of material resources and a lack of patience.

Mediators, lawyers, counselors, theologians, therapists and others in the helping professions are going to become more middle class (and in some cases, wealthier) in the developing connection economy, because fear is not disappearing. As a matter of a fact, fear is growing and expanding as the disruptions generated by the inexorable rise of an abundance based economy, become more and more acute.

The lizard brain has been with us too long.
However, there is one antidote—one environmental scrubber—for the pollutant of fear. Plus, it’s the final leg on the three-legged stool of the connection, abundance based economy of both now and the next 100 years:
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: hsconsultingandtraining@gmail.com