Adding Value

Value is a loaded term.

  • What do you value?
  • Why do you value it?
  • What does the person next to you value?
  • Why do they value what they value?

When we aren’t curious about the answers to those questions, we stymie (and in some cases, block totally) our efforts to manage conflicts effectively.

We also stymie (and in some cases, block totally) our efforts to connect with others through the process of conflict.

Both acts—the management and the connection—matter more for getting to an outcome that you want due to embarking upon the process of conflict than anything else you might do.

By the way, managing values-based conflicts is hard (think the Israelis and the Palestinians, or the IRA and the British) but it is not impossible—if you unload the term value and ask some serious questions.

And then respect, and act on, the answers.

Slow Thoughts

When it’s time to be in a hurry, slow down.

Slow down your expectations, slow down your actions, slow down interactions—ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

When it’s time to engage, do it with courage.

Do the hard work of engaging with radical, meaningful self-awareness—physician, heal thyself.

When you’re afraid of the answer, seek scarier questions.

Have the realization that the hard questions don’t need you to think more about which binary answer you’re going to commit to, instead the hard questions need slow, high quality answers.

When the answer seems obvious, you’re probably repeating an answer you’ve always taken for granted as being true–or right.

Stop doing that.

Get under the skin of your conflicts, your communications, your story, and ultimately, yourself.

The Hard Thing About The Hard Questions

The hard questions aren’t ones that you just need to think about harder, to get to a binary answer.

Binary answers.

“What the other party wants to hear” answers.

“Feel good” answers.

Wrong answers.

Right answers.

The compelling issue is not that the questions are hard, or that they are scary.

The issue is that the answers frighten you because of their implications around responsibility, accountability, safety, and security.

But the only way out of a conflict is to go further in.

Thinking harder about a binary answer isn’t the way to get to more resolution.

Neither is thinking about how to structure the answer to get the other party on your side.

Sometimes, answering the hard question really requires you to pick an answer, stand up, and courageously defend it.

HIT Piece 10.25.2016

The top six questions for leaders (or aspiring leaders) at work, are as follows:

  • Who is responsible for the organizational culture at work? You, or your boss?
  • Who is responsible for the conflict culture at work? You, or your boss?
  • Who is responsible for the innovation at work? You, or your boss?
  • Who is responsible for having the courage to change? You, or your boss?
  • Who is going to accept responsibility if changing doesn’t work? You, or your boss?
  • Who is going to get the credit if changing creates more productivity at work? You, or your boss?

The answers to those six questions will define how you work, where you work, and what outcomes derive from the work that you do.

HIT Piece 05.12.2015

I get asked a lot of questions. For the most part, I try to answer many of them in the FAQ section of the HSCT website.

But then there are questions that don’t fit in the area of frequently asked questions on a website. And I’d like to answer some of those questions today.

How do you have the energy and the time to do all of this?

I don’t. I have just enough energy to get done what I can get done and I don’t really have any more than that. Typically, I am ruthless with my time and I spend a lot of days (and nights) up late doing the things that I need to do to make projects come together. I also try to keep my priorities in order. Which is about as tough as it sounds.

Do you really practice what you preach?

As much as is as humanly possible. Which is a fancy way of saying that I fail much of the time. Look, I consult and train people in how to address conflict effectively in their lives. I have many ways of addressing conflict in my own life, but there are times when my professed values fail to match up to my stated values. But none among us are righteous. No. Not one of us.

How do you handle a client in a consultation situation?

As carefully as possible. I tend to listen more and provide more assurances than when I do in a larger group setting. This is because individuals are granular. Groups are not. People in a group can sometimes be influenced by the nodding of agreement of other people in the same space. In a 1-on-1 situation, listening to the issue and providing accurate, non-circuitous advice is critical for long-term client success.

What kind of stories do you tell yourself?

Ones that are personal to me, and that reflect the parts of my identity that I’m comfortable with. Many years ago, I decided to stop being such chameleon and start being more of the “real” me. With all the vulnerabilities and problems that come with that decision.

What’s it like to be a black entrepreneur in your field?

I was thinking about the answer to this question in the context of another black entrepreneur that I know a little bit more personally than in the context of Twitter or LinkedIN. There are two models of black success—and from that black entrepreneurship—that black folks my age see:

The Bill Cosby/Generation X model—this is the model I see the most often. It’s not flashy. It’s not shiny. It’s based on the idea that a college degree, and then an advanced degree, must be attained before entrepreneurial success can even be considered. This is the model that my mother (who is 65) pioneered for me in my house and that one of my sisters’ (who is 43 this year), followed—or at least tried to. For that generation, entrepreneurship was something that was only considered after a “fall back” was already established in some kind of way.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air/Jay-Z Model—this is the model that many black entrepreneurs look up too. It’s the model based on leveraging another talent (Jay-Z leveraged money from record sales and other areas to produce other artists’ work and to eventually buy a stake in many other ventures); and then using that money to do something else. Kanye and Will Smith have done this well. Sports stars such as Michael Jordan and LeBron are doing the same thing. The other piece of the model is based in an idea that you may be able to stumble into something if you are fortunate enough to have a “Bill Cosby” like rich uncle.

In the field of peacemaking there are many black people doing great work under both of these models; or doing great work in a hybrid of two of these models (or more). But for me, as a black entrepreneur in the space of peace making and peace building, sometime it’s a lonely walk.

There are so many tools and techniques that are laying around that all the old models are going away. That’s the nature of my game.

-Peace Be With You All-

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

Don’t Take on a Client Who Can’t Answer These 7 Questions

As a conflict consultant, mediator, conflict coach or a motivational speaker, are you continually frustrated when you arrive at a clients’ business and they immediately hit you with a problem that they want solved cheaply, immediately and permanently?


They want you to come in, put on a Band-Aid and then leave, but not before answering these questions laid out here if you can’t, then getting thrown out of the door. Or never getting a callback on a project that you know your skills would be perfect for.

And if you can’t answer them to the client’s satisfaction, then you risk getting thrown out of the door.

Or never getting a callback on a project that you know your skills would be perfect for.

Meanwhile, as a professional with years of, not only academic experience, but also practical experience, you can tell from the decision maker’s, or gatekeeper’s, immediate description of the conflict or issue, that the problem is so much deeper. And that a cosmetic solution is not going to work.

And that a cosmetic solution is not going to work.

Here are seven questions to ask they about their business that will help you weed through the clients who are seriously committed to changing their organizational cultures from those who are only committed to the now, the immediate and the solution that will keep them out of litigation.

  1. What kind of conflicts do you have in your business right now? Every business has conflicts: Between managers and managers, between employees and managers and between executives and management. If the client isn’t self-aware enough to acknowledge that honestly, then that’s a problem.
  1. How are your responses to conflicts living up to the core values of your business? Punting (avoidance), false empowerment of employees and managers (accommodation) or going to legal and then firing somebody (attack) are all responses to conflicts. Sometimes the responses are representative of true core values, not the ones published on the masthead.
  1. Have you ever failed personally at resolving a business conflict? Again, the decision maker or gatekeeper should have a certain level of self-awareness and accountability around all their business decisions: from the fun financial ones to the difficult personnel ones.
  1. What non-HR, non-legal related systems do you have in place currently to manage employee-employee and employee-supervisor conflicts? HR exists to understand laws and regulations, to engage in on-boarding new employees and to retain older employees. Legal exists to litigate, purely and simply. Neither of these departments in an organization are always useful for dealing with behavioral, cognitive based conflicts in a business.
  1. How do you let people go? Organizational cultures grow up around three areas: recruiting and hiring, training and retaining and firing and laying off employees. How the last area is addressed is key to understanding how deep organizational dysfunction goes.
  1. When was the last time you examined how you deal with conflicts in your business personally?This reads like a therapeutic question, but decision makers and gatekeepers are people first before anything else. And everybody learns how to address difficulty starting at home as a child.
  1. We have been talking for 45 minutes now, describe for me how you see me challenging your business culture to evolve and grow? Resolving conflicts, teaching new skills to employees and managers and addressing engagement requires businesses to evolve in their business models.

This is inherently a challenge, but such radical growth allows a company to shift in an economy increasingly built on a model of not only clients but also employees, acting as brand ambassadors on social media, word-of-mouth and in a collaborative economy.

And really, all of these questions, for you as a conflict resolution professional, should serve to provide you understanding and to answer the real question: Are the clients open to the hard, disruptive challenge of true, meaningful and lasting change, or do they just want a cosmetic, Band-Aid application?

-Peace Be With You All-

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