Clearing Out the Cruft

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your reactions and responses to conflicts in your life, can take at least a lifetime.

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your employee’s reactions and responses to conflicts in your organization can take at least 20 years.

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your country, community, and neighborhood’s reactions and responses to conflicts in your country, community, and neighborhood, can take at least 50 years.

But that doesn’t mean that Ghandi, Candace Lightner, or even your cousin can’t change—or even be the source of effective change in others.

It means that the change isn’t going to happen nearly as fast as you think that it should.

It just means that when the change finally comes the impacts will appear slowly at first, and then all at once.

It also means that attending one training, reading one blog post, or implementing the ideas from one book, is not going to ever replace the hard work of working on yourself first, and everyone else second.

Where the Hammer Will Fall the Hardest

The courage to make the decision to act in the first place is the thing that is lacking the most.

The courage to raise our hands, take responsibility, and to engage with accountability (rather than assigning blame or taking credit) is the work that your children will eventually be paid for.

But not handsomely.

It’s also the work that you’re not getting paid for now, but that your boss, team leader, supervisor, or coach really wants you to lean into.

The people who understand these two principles, that are now coming online as fundamentals of development, engagement, and interaction between people, will “win” the future.

In case you’re thinking “Well what if I don’t want to be responsible beyond my own desire to be? What’s the future look like for me and my children?”

The top three areas of growth, innovation, and development (which will translate to wealth making and value creation in the future) will be in the following areas if the current trajectory of education, work, organizations, and society, doesn’t change significantly:

Making something so “new,” no one has ever thought of it.

Working for the person who made the “new” thing.

Selling the “new” thing.

But since “new” things only come along once in a great while (i.e. the car, the I-phone, the Internet, etc.) the chances of being able to survive as a visionary as the first one are slim.

Which means that in the next two areas, working for someone who’s innovating, or selling the innovation, education, work, organizations, and society need more individual people to behave courageously, engage where it’s uncomfortable, and do the things that are hard now in the present-day, which will resemble a game of patty cake later.

Courage (the lack of it, the abundance of it, or just enough of it) is where the hammer of the unknown in the future will fall the hardest.

Are your children ready?

Are you?

[Strategy] The Era of the Chameleons is not Ending Fast Enough

Human interactions, impacted and shaped by the economic, political, and social effects of the Industrial Revolution, used to highly value—and continue to reward—the skills of the chameleon.

You know the chameleon at work.

This is the person at a meeting who, when a person says “This is clearly black in color,” they nod their head approvingly.

This is the same person who, twenty minutes later at the same meeting, when another person offers their color opinion and says, “This is clearly white in color,” they also nod their head approvingly.

Then, a person walks up to them after the meeting that was supposed to be about colors (but was about acquiescence) and says to them, “One person said the color was black. Another person said the color was white. I think that they were both wrong and the color is grey. What do you think?”

And the person, the chameleon agrees that the color is grey.

You know the chameleon at work.

This behavior, this inability to stand up, stick out, take a stand, or state an opinion, for fear of being fired, flattened down, or left out, was a critical management benefit of our past Industrial Age. It was a function of a work culture based in top-down, command and control directions and the presence of a lone voice of authority to whom to appeal. This behavior was rewarded with promotion, bonuses, and extra trips. This behavior was so regular and so pervasive that it was lampooned by comedians; it lay at the core of televised situational comedies; and it was studied by psychologists.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the chameleons that currently in the workplace, the color is neither black, nor, white. It isn’t even grey anymore.

The dominant color of change, conflict, and innovation is plaid.

And when a chameleon must adjust to the presence of plaid—particularly the chameleon at work—it tends to not survive the experience.

The era of the chameleon is ending, but not nearly fast enough.

[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:

[Opinion] A New Mental Model of Trust

The mental model for trust is broken in workplaces.

The old model looked like this: I (an employee) work for you (the employer) loyally for a period of time (X) and, with enough reciprocation, I stay with you for the remainder of my career.

That mental model is one that only works under the specific economic conditions of the 1940’s through the 1970’s in America. However, since there is one thing that America does really well (the marketing of America to every other country in the world) as the mental model rubs up against changing economic reality, there is friction everywhere, between those people who want that model, and those people who are trying to create a new model. Employees at organizations of all kinds are in the midst of a great cultural, economic, philosophical, and social destruction of that old mental model and at the same moment are carving out a new mental model.

This new model (right now) looks like this: I (an employee) work for you (the employer) but not so loyally, and I take my accumulated intellectual capital from your workplace to another workplace, whenever it suits me, because you may not be around in five years.

There’s a lot of talk from employees, organizations, management thought leaders, and others about the virtues of disruption, innovation, and change in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., and the media centers of Los Angeles and New York City. But if you go to places outside of Madison, Wisconsin, or outside of Peoria, Illinois, or travel four hours north of New York City and talk to employees of organizations still struggling to maintain a semblance of the old model, the virtues of disruption, innovation, and change that get talked about breathlessly in those other places, get addressed in tones of defeatism, regret, and anger.

This tone and its lived reality is also a mental model. And the employees who exist inside the new mental model may out innovate, out disrupt, and out change the employees longing for a return to the old mental model; but, there must be ways to develop every potential employee together, without brutal economic and social Darwinism being the answer.

Here are the three ways to shift organizational mental models:

Access to the means of production is the linchpin: As more and more resources, time, and talent gravitates towards developing digital products, services, and processes there are questions about whether “everyone” can be a computer scientist. This is a red herring argument. Access to the means of production means high speed Internet in a neighborhood, whether you’re 50 miles outside of Overland, Kansas, or in the heart of downtown Miami. Such access shifts the mental model of ‘The-Internet-as-an-Entertainment-Vehicle’ to ‘The Internet- as-a- Economic-Development-Vehicle.’

Valuing and incentivizing emotional labor:I talk about this repeatedly, but it bears writing yet again: The mental model of what constitutes work in the workplace has to shift towards valuing and incentivizing employees who can collaborate, get along, and manage conflict in a competent and healthy fashion in a dynamic, globally competitive environment. This is the core of laboring with mind and emotions, versus laboring with hands and muscles. Both can be rewarded, but the incentives toward the labor which can be repeated until a person is on death’s door must be made infinitely more robust in workplaces.

Hiring for mental models rather than personality traits: As algorithms and computers have entered more and more into the hiring matrix of organizations, more and more creative, innovative, and change oriented people with growth-mindsets are abandoning all hope of being hired in some organizations, and are migrating to large cities where their value can be rewarded. Abandoning all of the hiring tools is not the point. The point is, how people perceive their agency in the world, based on what they’ve accomplished in the past (stuff that’s not listed on the resume and doesn’t get picked up by the algorithm), will matter more and more for discovering and hiring employees of value.

If organizations can shift their own mental models around these three areas, then they will survive and thrive as the century continues to unwind, with employees all over the world, who will be loyal, trustworthy, innovative, and change oriented. This new mental model may share some aspects with the old model, but it will survive future economic, social, technological, and cultural shocks which we can’t see coming.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[Advice] How To “Make A Ruckus”

There are two ways to “make a ruckus,” if you want to:

The first way is to be generous, give away your knowledge and spiritual wealth (and maybe even your material wealth if you are led to) and to collaborate with others to use the power you have gained to help others less powerful.

The second way is to race to the bottom on price and cost, worry about the corners and the fractions of an inch, to create/lobby for regulatory environments that favor incumbents, to use power as a weapon and to deny the human individual, and only look at the masses.

One way leads to abundance and an ownership mindset, no matter what environment or context you happen to be in.

One way leads to scarcity of resources and a perpetual employee mindset, no matter what environment or context you happen to be in.

Envy arises in individuals and groups of one mindset when they observe the physical, external manifestations of an internal set of choices.  This feeling of envy, based in fear, clouds judgement, and leads to the false premise behind some conflicts. These conflicts—that are really about mindsets and values rather than about material resources—can almost never be resolved, they can only be engaged with—or moved on from.

If you want to “make a ruckus,” you have to make three decisions first:

  1. What kind of mindset do you want to have?
  2. What kind of environment or context will create the circumstances for acting on that mindset?
  3. What kind of outcomes are you willing to advocate to advance, to protect and to reject?

It’s easy to say “I make a ruckus.” It’s not that easy to do.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[Strategy] Innovation and Change

The problem stopping most workplace innovation and change strategies, is that too many people–founders, funders, entrepreneurs, owners, and starters–have thought too little about how they personally and professionally respond and react to a culture built on change and innovation.

Innovation for Human Failure #2

We’ve addressed this before:

You get up and go to work every morning and work with people whom you have developed third level relationships. You are tasked with accomplishing goals that may have little to no meaning for you. And in exchange, you are compensated with pieces of paper with the pictures of deceased leaders on them.

Then, changes happen (or innovation arrives), both internal and external and you are required to manage the change, manage the disruption you feel about the change and manage the responses and reactions of the other people who are impacted by the change.

In exchange for expending the emotional labor required to do this successfully, sometimes you are recognized and rewarded in ways that matter to you. Sometimes you aren’t. Too many organizations are still led by managers, teams and supervisors at the middle management level who think “Well, you got a paycheck this week. So that’s good enough.” Even worse, many of those same organizations were founded, funded and continued by people with the same Industrial Revolution, Henry Ford mindset.

Some of this is mindset is changing, no doubt.

With the work that human resource researchers, behavioral psychologists and organizational experts are doing throughout the world, the workplace is gradually shifting. As we noted in a workshop that we facilitated the other day, we are all collectively exiting the hangover remaining from the Industrial Revolution.

Innovation for people and organizations, true innovation, will require founders, funders, entrepreneurs, owners, and starters, to turn the corner on two corrosive mindsets that remain, leading to all kinds of conflicts, both internal and external:

We have to stop thinking of innovation as an imposition.

People, whether employees, supervisors, managers or executives, are not prone to behaving in change-oriented ways. Because of our biology, reinforced through work, social and personal cultures, we are inclined to favor the least amount of resistance (or friction) possible. This response, of course comes from the flight and fight parts of our brains. We rationalize these responses in many different ways, but for the most part, people tend to view innovation they did not initiate as an imposition, rather than as an improvement.

We have to stop making change a “value container” for our personal issues.

People make judgements and rationalize their responses to changes in many different ways, but the biggest way is that people determine that change is really a verdict on past decisions. Specifically, an indictment. This pre-conceived judgement comes from the idea that “what came before must have been bad.” This type of thinking paralyzes people in endless meaningless arguments about the validity of past decisions, closes people off to determining how the material fact of change can be integrated into the present circumstances, and blinds people with fear about what other changes the future may hold.

Innovation and change are merely stories, told by people desiring a new narrative.

Innovation and change always comes with conflict and conflict is an incubator of change.

Without founders, funders, entrepreneurs, owners, and starters doing the hard work of laying the groundwork of wellbeing, strengths based leadership, emotional intelligence, and conflict engagement skills training in their cultures from the beginning, organizations will continue to find it difficult to innovate.

Even as the waves of external changes, buffet them back and forth across the blue ocean of business.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[ICYMI] Moving Around Deck Chairs on the Titanic

The corollary question to, “Does any of this stuff really work?” is “Does anybody really change?”

The writer and marketer Seth Godin, in his most recent audio production, Leap First, talked about how people often need to hear assurances. Assurances that everything is going to be alright in spite of organizational layoffs or familial changes, or assurances that the future (of work, life, the economy, etc.) is going to be just the same as the past, but slightly better.

He stated that the reason people need to hear assurances is that the human lizard brain turns on a jabbering, sabotaging, klaxon of alarm bells when assurances are not wrapped around threatening information. This is a defense mechanism, long developed and honed to a point that sabotages needed changes in organizations.

In relation to conflict, we see evidence of such a need in the training and teaching that we do. In the mediations that we no longer do, we used to see that clients needed assurances that there would be safety, autonomy and self-determination at the mediation table; before they even sat down to do the scary work of confronting their former partners, husbands or wives.

In the effort to educate people in how to approach conflicts, difficulties and even confrontation in better ways in their organizations, we have struggled with the practical fact of having to provides assurances to “grease the runway”—while also having to provide challenging information that will encourage audience members and clients to stretch past their comfort zones.

Comfort zones are the geographic location where the “expert” lives (whether in a person’s head or a person’s organization). The “expert” employs the whispers of the lizard brain, assuring us, even as we are stretched by new knowledge that “only minor changes need to be made,” or “that’ll never happen here, the organization is too big,” or “we’ve always done it one way. Don’t worry. That guy will be gone tomorrow and you can get back to doing what you were doing the way that you were doing it.”

The phrase “moving around deck chairs on the Titanic” indicates a person (or organization) choosing to act in a futile manner to solve a minor problem (the arrangement of the deck chairs) while a major problem (the looming iceberg) goes unaddressed.

Does anybody really change? We don’t know.

We hope (and yes, we know that “hope” is not a scalable strategy–we measure and assess outcomes as well) that every person who attends a workshop, a seminar, a corporate training, or a keynote chooses to exit their comfort zones in some small way to do the work that matters around conflict, confrontation and difficulty in their organizations.

But moving deck chairs around is the mental, emotional and spiritual activity of an organization deep in their comfort zone, being soothed with assurances, which lap upon the sides of the organizational body, even as changes loom in the distance.

Originally published on April 24, 2015.

Download the FREE E-Book, The Savvy Peace Builder by heading to today!

[Advice] What Cultural Competency Looks Like…

So, if culture matters, and the people in your organization drive your culture forward, what does competency look like?


  • Cultural competency looks like the founder/CEO knowing what the organization is going to look like. And then sticking to that vision.
  • Cultural competency looks like the team being composed of people who buy into the vision and will push it forward relentlessly. But, the team is not a collection of mere “yes” men…or “yes” women…
  • Cultural competency looks like hiring people based on your internal gut reactions—backed up by trustworthy people—rather than merely relying on cultural inertia to move an organization forward.

Culture eats strategy gets repeated over and over, and then a group, a speaker, or a room, laughs and moves forward with their own preconceived notions of strategically implementing whatever organizational changes are deemed necessary.

And, in the process, losing the very culture they were trying so hard to preserve through strategic means.

Deep competency looks like strategy servicing culture in order to move and organization forward, without worrying about change or innovation.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[Strategy] The Cultural Bleed

During our time when technology is flattening the formerly meaningful differences between people and systems, and turning—what once used to be a disk that was thicker at the center than the edges, to one where the edges are getting sharper and sharper—culture still matters.


Competency in how to handle the steep decline from the comfortable center of cultural assumptions to the bleeding edge of cultural competency, should be one of the most sought after skills by employers.

But it’s not.

Mainly because employers are people first and positional titles second, and people tend to lack the courage and self-awareness to break their own frames, in order to attain competency.

Any kind of competency.

The distance between the thick comfortable center and the scary bleeding edge (which is as sharp as it sounds) is not a straight line. It’s curved, with switchbacks, dead ends, false starts and bad beginnings.

But the courage to break our frames and skate toward the bleeding edge of cultural competency, is a core leadership trait that any employer should alwasy be in the process of creatively destroying and rebuilding, before looking to develop it—or hire it—in others.

-Peace Be With You All-

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