Storytelling is a Skill

Making noise, making a point, and making a difference are different actions.

Where we run into trouble is when we conflate the results of all three and then use those results (and that conflation) to determine what our story will be to the market.

Telling a story to the market that resonates with certain individuals in the market requires three acts:

The first act is to be intentional. Just as we are intentional with our peacebuilding efforts, we should be intentional with our storytelling efforts.

The second act is to be incisive. Being incisive requires being self-aware enough about our own story to do some critical surgery and to cut out what doesn’t matter so that we can focus on what does matter—for the audience hearing the story.

The third act is to be persuasive for others rather than to be persuasive enough to convince ourselves that we’re right and the market is the thing that needs to change. Being persuasive is hard because it’s a skill that requires empathy (which is underrated), self-awareness, and intentionality to be operating all together at the same time.

There are more opportunities than ever for people to make noise.

There are fewer meaningful opportunities for people to make a point.

There are the same number of opportunities there always were for people to make a difference, though not always at scale.

We should be sure we what story we are telling, to whom and why.

Caring Costs

Caring costs.

It costs to be empathetic to your employees’ emotional needs.

It costs to be mindful of the non-verbal messages you’re role modeling.

It costs to be engaged all the time in the active act of actively listening.

It costs to develop connections that gain you nothing in the short-term.

It costs to care when that caring may not be “enough” for the other party when what was really desired by the other party was a transactional act, not a relational one.

Caring costs.

But what else are you going to invest your emotional energy in?

Small Moments

It appears that the large conflict situations in life are the ones that matter the most.



Job loss

Personal and professional disappointments

But the reality is, the small moments that appear to matter the least, are the ones that create the grit and resilience to survive the crucible of the larger moments, when the pressure is enormous.

The pressure to behave unethically.

The pressure to surrender a critical position.

The pressure to sacrifice long-held principles for short-term gains.

The pressure to avoid losses that appear insurmountable—in the emotional present.

Recognizing that managing the small moment of conflict matters more than anticipating how you’re going to manage the larger moments (should they come) is a huge advantage in a work world of shifting priorities.

Four traits to focus on growing, in the small moments:

Gaining self-awareness.

Refining your story.

Connecting with other people by growing empathy.

Giving yourself a break.

Focus on learning and absorbing the lessons from dealing with the small stuff, not to obsess over those lessons, but to allow those small interactions to prepare you for the next large conflict.

[Advice] When The Bubble Bursts…

Denouncing decisions made in the past without empathy is a sure way to be surprised when a bubble bursts.

Bubbles are created when we think we have predictive powers about future events, that we don’t. And then, we proceed to tell stories and build narratives that back up the “reality” of those bubbles in our heads.

This would be fine if it were an isolated incident.

Unfortunately, everybody’s doing it.

See, since no person knows the future (and a majority of people tend to denounce the past without learning from it), the chances of the narrative bubble we’re living in being the only bubble (and by extension the right bubble) are pretty slim.

To none.

There are other ways to be surprised when our bubble bursts, either collectively, or individually:

  • Lacking curiosity to explore alternatives—or even hear of them—from people with other narratives, who we find abhorrent, or wrong.
  • Assuming only one outcome to a conflict, a decision, or even a problem is the “right” one.
  • Manipulating available (and unavailable) information to “get consensus” from a fickle and wavering crowd.
  • Presuming that since we’ve already heard an alternative solution one time, that the next time we hear it, it will be the same as before. And thus dismissing important information we’d rather not consider.

The really humbling (or humiliating) point to consider is that bubbles invariably burst.

The presence of a bubble, whether an information bubble, or a narrative bubble, almost always ensures that there will be a resounding “pop” when the bubble bursts.

The only compelling question coming out of that burst bubble is: Are we going to learn from the bubble bursting, or are we going to continue to commit the logical and emotional fallacies that got us to “bubble-based thinking” in the first place?

[Strategy] If I Were You…

“If I were you…” is the worst beginning to providing feedback to anyone.

The statement merely says, if the person giving the feedback were the person receiving the feedback then this is what the feedback would be.

This is a poorly considered bit of critical shorthand, because if the person giving the feedback were the person receiving the feedback, then nothing would change.

This is a poorly considered bit of persuasive shorthand, because if the person giving the feedback were the person receiving the feedback, then that person wouldn’t be persuaded to change in any meaningful way.

This is a poorly considered method of shortcutting through another’s experience to get to “empathy” and to get around the other party’s defenses.

The thing is, if the person giving the feedback were the person receiving the feedback, they would be acting in the same way that the person receiving the feedback is.

Better to say, “If my brain were in your situation” or “If my behavior could be inserted in between you and the problem,” and be done with it.

[Opinion] The Heart of Innovation

Leading other people through conflicts, disagreements, tantrums, fights, confrontations, difficulties, and disappointments is the most important leadership labor that many of us will ever do.

But there are a few things working against us:

We are told that anyone can lead, anytime anywhere. This is a unique tick of an American business culture built at the intersection of the myth of rugged individualism and the reality of having to compromise to get along. Many employees believe this idea, but when they are asked, challenged, or offered the opportunity to lead others through uncertainty—without reassurances—many employees fail to even take up the challenge in the first place.

We don’t believe that other people’s conflicts, disagreements, tantrums, fights, confrontations, difficulties, and disappointments, have anything to do with us. Sometimes leading other people through their conflicts requires active listening, engaging in the moment, and caring actively about the other person. This requires leaders to set aside the noise inside of their own head, and to get inside the noise of someone else’s head. Empathy is hard to develop when we are consumed with winning, avoiding, or confronting the chess game of conflicts that we are involved in ourselves.

We don’t see an immediate reward/outcome for engaging, but we do see an immediate reward/outcome for maintain the “status quo.” Conflicts, disagreements, tantrums, fights, confrontations, difficulties, and disappointments sometimes are harbingers that something needs to change in an organization. When they serve as those harbingers, they are a clarion call to disrupt the status quo. But there’s no immediate reward for such behavior in many organizations. As a matter of fact, usually, there is a sanction or unstated penalty. Instead, what gets rewarded with titles, status, and a corner office is going along with the crowd, staying silent, keeping your head down, and avoiding too much responsibility.

The future will be shaped by people who engage courageously in the emotional labor required to lead other people through conflicts, disagreements, tantrums, fights, confrontations, difficulties, and disappointments. The future will be owned by the people (and organizations) who have the courage to go to the other side of the horizon.

That’s innovation.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[Strategy] Building Better Work Relationships

Relationships at work are third level relationships.


First level relationships are familial ones, all the way from the family in your house that you grew up with to your cousin Wanda in Oklahoma. Second level relationships are close friends and associates, schoolmates, neighbors, etc.

But the people that we work with are not ones that we would have chosen. Even in an era of choosing yourself, or four-hour work weeks, the vast majority of us still work under conditions that resemble the ones that our grandparents worked under, albeit with less pollution and physical effort.

And, for the foreseeable future, since human beings are going to continue to build organizations, establish and maintain hierarchies, and engage with mechanisms of active and passive social control, there will always be workplaces.


With that being said, the question becomes, how does a person build better work relationships? With everything that we now know about neuroscience, psychology, the genetic code and even the world of software and computers, developing the resources to build better workplaces should be easy. But it’s not. And what’s even more distressing is that the most common solution proposed, with access to all that knowledge and data, is to replace humans with software programs and/or mechanical objects.

Robots are fun and AI is coming, but we are a long, long way from building something—well—more human than human. So, here are the top five ways to build better relationships, one human to another:

  • Empathy is huge—and we don’t mean in the “touchy feely” way that empathy is often thought of. In a workplace culture, empathy begins with Wheaton’s Law and ends at actively listening to someone else. Even if you disagree with them.
  • Do emotional labor—we wrote about this last week, but it bears repeating: in the economy that we all work in—no matter if we are co-working with others or on a distributed team—doing the hard work of caring, listening and acting out of self-interested selflessness is the only way forward.
  • Remove the fear—acting out of fear: of getting fired, of irritating a boss, or of confronting a co-worker, has to be jettisoned. Fear is a common reaction when things that matter to us (i.e. our values, our needs our emotions, etc.) are threatened. But, the brain only knows what we tell it. So tell it good, factual self-talk, rather than allowing biases and false ideas to fill the brain space.
  • Lead on doing the hard things—this is the 2nd hardest thing to do in building better work relationships, because there are so many things that we would rather avoid. But doing the hard things that are also the right things, is the only way that an organization can survive. Which leads into the last thing…
  • Leave if it doesn’t fit—most of the pushback that we get around the five things comes down to this statement “If I do all of these things that you suggest and nothing changes, not even the place I work, then what do I do?” This statement reveals a common workplace false parallel: A person’s value is not determined by their work. There are other positions, cultures and value systems represented in other workplaces out there. And if you’ve already done the hard work of building better work relationships, do you think that this work will make you less employable in the future, or more employable in the future?

-Peace Be With You All-

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

The Roots of Conflict – Biblical Edition

Conflict is a process that allows for changes to happen. It is inevitable because our world has a sin problem from which all our other problems flow like water from the rock.


Conflict grows because we are different and we view our differences through a frame—or prism—of selfishness, rather than selflessness and with a lack of self-awareness of the needs of others.

We see this illustrated in the Bible in several places, most notably, in John 16:33, Acts 15:36-41, Philippians 4 and James 4:1-3.

Between Christians, conflict can be managed, but not necessarily resolved, because conflict is normal and will never go away. There are other people in the world , with their own deeply held philosophies,  baked in personalities, and rock ribbed interpretations of the way the world should work. And that will always separate us at a fleshly level.

There are a few things that we can do to manage conflicts better:

  • Separate people from positions: People are not the problem. The emotions that we have around them are the problem. The position that another individual holds about the problem can be addressed separately from the person. Remember that emotions around the problem and the position that the other person has taken about the problem cause disputes to grow in our hearts.
  • Use “I” statements: “I” feel, “I” want, “I” am…any sentences that begin with “I” statement perform two critical actions: They diffuse the problem and expose the emotions under the problem. “I” statements also create ownership of your emotions around the problem.
  • Engage with empathy: When you work from the neck up, you miss a lot. Tactics and strategy to approach another person in conflict are laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 are logical. Emotions are messier and more difficult to address. Empathy requires dealing with our own emotions and being tuned into what is going on inside of us, and also focusing on what’s going on with the other person.

God requires us to be “other-centered.” And in a fallen, self-centered world, it is difficult to operate in grace, forgiveness and with self-awareness.

But at no other time in the history of the world has there ever been a better time to start.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

Failure is Not an Option

It turns out that the most important trait for success for children is conscientiousness.

Failure Is Not An Option

Conscientiousness now has become the third positive character trait for success in life along with grit and empathy.

Empathy is a core trait of emotional intelligence, in that it requires us to abandon self to try to get into the skin of others.

Raising children who are conscientious—even in this world—and who will find a way through failure without damaging others, is the only way to bring about the next great moon shot.

You know that place where failure is not an option.

-Peace Be With You All-

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