Systems Unravel

Human beings built many (if not all) of the systems we are surrounded by every day.

Flawed, replaceable, myopic, visionary, human beings.

Language systems.

Monetary systems.

Housing systems.

Legal systems.

Travel systems.

Resource allocation systems.

Organizational systems.

Cultural systems.

Religious systems.

There’s nothing inherent in our DNA that drives us to organize into groups, create systems, and slowly, over time, glacially chip away at an issue or concern until; it is rendered irrelevant or impotent.

And since there’s nothing inherent in our DNA about any of the design or architecting of any of these systems, it should be easy for us to replace them with something else.

After all, human beings made the systems, human beings should be able to unmake them.

But individuals often get into internal conflicts with ourselves when there is friction between the systems we serve in (and have built on) and our inner desires, drives, and motivations.

And when enough individuals experience enough internal friction, all that is required to spark the change that we need to replace these seemingly irreplaceable systems, is someone bravely asserting that:

“Human beings made these systems. Human beings can unmake them.”

Belief and hope battle with the need for security and the fear of the unknown in the dark heart of man. When our systems are viewed as sacrosanct, we are unable to ask the hard questions of them, and we are unable to instigate the hard conflicts that are necessary to make the changes that need to happen.

Systems only seem Teutonic until they are unmade by the very same human hands that built them in the first place.

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode # 3 – Bathabile Mtobmeni

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode # 3 – Bathabile Mtobmeni, Ombudswoman, Activist, Thinker, PeaceFinder

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode #3 - Bathabile Mthombeni[powerpress]

Greatest comment on a podcast episode ever: “Cliffhangers on a podcast episode?”



And now, the return of the Omsbuddy…

This is part two of our interview with Bathabile Mtobmeni that we started in late January/early February, and we cover the tough stuff in part two. Such as:

  • What road are we putting ourselves on?
  • How can we plan for the future?
  • Where do we put our anger and hurt when things don’t work out the way that we expect them too?
  • What can we have?

There can be truth and justice and civility in a civil society.

For if we sacrifice any of the three—in service of achieving any one of the others—the pillars of civil society fall apart.

And then, we become the very monsters of oppression we are fighting to destroy.

Connect with Bathabile all the ways you can below:


BU Announcement of Appointment to Ombudsman:

Bathabile’s Podcast:

Bathabile’s Website: Profile: Profile:

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode # 1 – Bathabile Mthombeni

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode # 1 – Bathabile Mthombeni, University Ombudsman, Activist, Thinker

[Podcast] Earbud_U, Season Five, Episode #1– Bathabile Mthombeni


Well, we all got through that year, didn’t we?

And what was the big, “what’s on your billboard” type lesson from 2016? I contend that the big lesson (which I think people are still going to miss in 2017, by the way) is as follows:

No one knows what is going to happen.

Predictions. Forecasts. Polls, exit and otherwise.

No one knows what is going to happen.

And for people, this lack of stability (for some after eight years of seeming instability and for others also after eight years of seeming instability) is scarier than whatever the outcome of an election might be. There are two ways to look at uncertainty:

We can either embrace it and grow from it.


We can fight it and allow the conflict with it to define our lives.

In either case, your worldview is subject to define which way you react (or respond) to uncertainty.

This is not a political podcast and my guest Bathabile is not a political person. She’s a university ombudsman (or an “ombuddy” such as it were…)

Sure, she has political opinions (don’t we all) and this podcast is full of them, but the role of an ombudsman is to put aside those thoughts and feelings to get to a broader truth.

Since no one knows the future (Black Swan, anyone) and since getting in the game is the only way to work the game, I believe that we should embrace the uncertainty with realistic hope and realistic growth.

Otherwise, reconciliation, forgiveness, and “moving on” become impossible. Scars become open wounds again, and scabbing (which leads ultimately to healing, never can happen.

And in a country of 380 million people, welcoming uncertainty seems to be the only way forward in our revolutionary, constitutional, republic.

As usual, this is a two-part episode to kick off the 5th season of the podcast, so we’re going to take a while to get to where we need to go with all this.

Connect with Bathabile all the ways you can below:


BU Announcement of Appointment to Ombudsman:

Bathabile’s Podcast:

Bathabile’s Website: Profile: Profile:

[Advice] You Get The Conflict Culture You Hire For

The fact of the matter is, organizations get the conflict culture that they hire for.

If organizations hire for avoidance, they get that.

If organizations hire for aggressiveness, they get that.

But so many organizations don’t consider conflict culture.

That is, until they are in litigation, mediation, or negotiation, over a problem that could have been solved if they had hired employees at every level in the organization more intentionally in the first place.


Hire more intentionally.

[Strategy] “My Boss Doesn’t Care.”

“My boss doesn’t care about fixing disagreements between employees around here.”

“My boss is the cause of all the problems around here.”

“My boss has never shown an interest in doing any of the things that you’re talking about.”

“My boss is never going to come to any of these workshops.”

“This is all great information, and it would be better if my boss were here to hear it.”

“My boss will never let me do any of the things that you are talking about here.”


Your boss has never shown an interest in resolving disagreements.

Your boss has never shown an interest in attending a training, or development opportunity.

Your boss is a person in authority and sets the tone in the workplace of “my way or the highway.”

Your boss is not a progressive thinker or doer in the workplace.

Your boss is the one where all the problems at work start.

And if your boss would just change, everything would be better at work.



You could try to strategically disrupt your boss, but many of you are more concerned about your mortgage, your kids’ education, your status at work, the importance of the work that you think you are doing, or whatever the other reasons are you come up with, to not engage in strategic disruption.

You could try to disrupt your boss, but you are afraid that you will be fired, reprimanded, or even not promoted. Or even worse, if the disruption works, you are afraid that the responsibility and accountability for what will happen next will fall on you. And you already have enough tasks to accomplish at work.

You could try to disrupt your boss, but you are worried and anxious that the other employees looking at you, won’t back you up as you speak and act with candor, clarity, and courage. So, you’ll be out there by yourself, facing an angry boss, shifted office politics, and new disagreements that you didn’t think could possibly happen.


The empathy that exists around acknowledging the presence of all of these reasons for not acting, and for making the statements that you make that are listed above, does not reduce the impact of three facts:

Only you can take responsibility and accountability. Yes, it might not work out when you confront the other adult, known as your boss, about their lack of interest in changing the conflict culture of the workplace you’re in, but it just might.

Only you can implement ideas and strategies to reduce the impact of conflicts in your workplace, in spite of the politics of your co-workers, not because of the politics of your co-workers.

Only you can start the process of addressing, honoring, and respecting adults as adults. Rather than dealing with them in the way that the boss does who you complain about—as if they are children.

“My boss doesn’t care” is the beginning of, not complaint, but possibility.

[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:

[Advice] What Collaboration Would Look Like in Your Organization

In the workplace, employees, managers, and supervisor all say they desire more collaboration overall, but in particular when conflicts arise. The desire for greater collaboration is often conflated with more teamwork, or strong team bonding, or building better teams at work, but collaboration is not any of these things. And, much of this stated desire is based in generating more productivity per person in order to generate larger bottom line profits.

The other drawback to collaboration is that the rewards for engaging in it (in the majority of organizations) are not outsized, but the losses in the event of failure are. Collaboration is still viewed by many organizations as The Alamo; that is, the place to make an organizational “last stand” when the resources run out.

However, when what matters is internal (employee) and external (customer) organizational trust, workplaces would be well advised to consider collaboration as a key metric of moving an organization forward and past conflicts and disagreements. This metric becomes even more of the platinum standard when an organization is in an industry space of rapid change and uncertain outcomes. Both of these factors create stressors on internal and external constituents and can lead to conflicts—places where collaboration actually is a useful tool.

We have an idea of what the collaboration mode should look like in actual practice, but as a behavioral choice in conflict, here are some high points:

  • The novice collaboration mode is marked by initial mistrust of other parties in the conflict (based on past relationships, current secondary conflict issues, the nature and content of the conflict at hand, etc.); but, is also based in the strong desire to work with the other party to get to resolution for the self, rather than the organization.
  • The advanced beginner collaboration mode is marked by growing trust and belief in the efficacy of individual personal emotional strengths in addressing the conflict scenario. This mode is also marked by growing resiliency and confidence in the resolution process itself (negotiation, mediation, arbitration, etc.).
  • The competent collaboration mode is marked by a desire to grow other parties in the conflict to the level of collaboration that this mode has already achieved. This mode of competency is also marked by frustration when parties refuse (or are incapable) of growing out of their own modes and toward collaboration.
  • The proficient performer collaboration mode is marked by a determination to allow other parties in conflict the autonomy to choose whatever mode they would like to choose to get to resolution (e.g. assertiveness, avoidance, accommodation, competing/controlling, etc.) but to not get “caught up” in those modes. Other party self-determination (and preserving that self-determination) becomes key at the proficiency stage.
  • The expert collaboration mode is marked by open communication, authenticity, honesty, as well as positivity and patience. This mode allows for other parties in the conflict to determine their own path through the conflict, but also advocates for collaboration as the ultimate mode of addressing issues.

In the workplace, collaboration is rarely seen, and is mostly associated with individuals who have attained emeritus status in an organization. Freed from the daily competition based in an organizational cultural perception of resource lack, those individuals become organizational ambassadors and diplomates in this mode.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

[ICYMI] CRaaS for Your Organization

Conflict resolution skills are not just for human resource professionals.

As our workplaces shift away from being industrial based to being intellectually based, workplace locations are shifting from being physical to being ephemeral.

But as we’ve noted in this space before, conflict stays the same because, while the jury may be out on whether or not Google is making us stupid, our brains as biological organisms still engage in conflict with other brains.

Human resource professionals in organizations are more burdened than ever before with dealing with regulatory changes, endless legal issues and addressing perceived “soft skills” based issues such as bullying and harassment.

Conflict resolution skills become more critical in this type of environment, but who has time to develop the “human resources” in their intellectually based organizations doing intellectually based, customer service oriented work?

The answer is, much like the offering of Software-as-a-Service most recently, to take the learning of conflict resolution skills outside, off-site and “to the cloud.”

Conflict Resolution-as-a-Service becomes the only viable option in this shifting landscape of workplace evolution.

Originally published on  July 9, 2014.

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

[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: