What Are You Paid To Do?

What are you paid to do?

What do you believe you are paid to do?

What does your employer tell you that you are paid to do?

What does your spouse believe that you are paid to do?

What does your family believe that you are paid to do?

What does your supervisor believe you are paid to do?

The systems at work, in the community, and even in the home are structured around the unstated, often unvocalized, answers to these critical questions.

It used to be that larger institutions defined these answers with clarity and provided a sense of reassurance about the answers.

It used to be that people either appealed to the authority of these institutions when their fellow travelers weren’t answering them in pre-approved ways, or when the answers seemed to be getting cloudy for everyone on the team.

It used to be that social norming and group think really kicked in on the answers to these questions, making the answer seem “obvious” and “normal.” So much so, that to even ask the questions out loud would have seemed foolish and blind.

Maybe even rebellious.

But now, with the erosions of power, with authority getting its bluff called everywhere, and with conflict and incivility on the rise because of increased role confusion, asking the questions above—and getting coherent answers to them—for yourself, is the beginning of attaining true wisdom.

Not wisdom based in learning what other people have experienced and then dealing with it, but wisdom based on knowing yourself thoroughly, first.

Not wisdom based in reassurance—because there will never be enough of that—but wisdom based in courage, candor, and clarity.

And then having the courage to ask—and to guide—others through answering the tough questions.

[Opinion] Realizing Your Potential is Not Even Half the Battle

Let’s talk about potential.

The idea that another person can do something that you can’t do, and do it better than you, typically engenders a couple of different responses in people:

The first reaction is one of coveting, not only the talent that the other person has, but also the ability that they have to leverage them. This reaction leads to jealousy, envy, and eventually taking actions that prevent the talented from fully realizing their potential.

The second reaction is one of surprise and joy, not only at realizing the talent that the other person has, but also engaging actively in helping that person find opportunities to connect with others who can help them fully realize their potential. These are actions that are designed to delight the person with potential and are done somewhat selfishly by the other party.

Then, there is a third response which doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but that rears its head far more often than we might think: This is the reaction of the person with the potential.

This person may not see the potential in themselves.

They may not care about pursuing that potential in the way that another party would like (we see this with parents and children sometimes).

The person may have other things going on in their lives (i.e. they may not have an “empty lot” on which to build their potential).

Or, they may simply be someone who enjoys the stimulus that comes from being recognized as having potential, without having to actually take any action to grow that potential in the long-term.

Every person views potential in different ways, and through different frames and lenses, based on stories they tell themselves (and stories that they repeat over and over again from childhood), but the truth is, potential—which is a combination of innate talents, learned skills, and the accumulation of the impact of life choices—is still a personal thing for each individual.

And even as the Internet—and before the Internet, the computer—has disrupted all of the old, “tried and true” Industrial Revolution ways of realizing potential and turning that potential into viable products and services for other people, people have stayed the same in how they react and respond to the potential in themselves, and others.


[Opinion] Show Them What They’re Made Of…

Show them what you’re made of.

Why would you do that?

The ultimate call to escalation, ego, and more conflict, comes first in the call, then the attempt, and at the end, either the success (they saw what you were made of—and backed off) or failure (they saw what you were made of—and you were found wanting) is writ large for others.

Instead, here’s a better idea.

Show them what they’re made of.

Many parties in conflict have little idea of how much of themselves they show to another party through the conflict process. They give little consideration to the levels of vulnerability and exposure that they engage in when they choose to escalate. Many parties lack the awareness to know that their language choices, their communication styles, and even their conflict management stances, are all forms of reveal.

A magic trick has three parts: the pledge (the magician shows you something ordinary); the turn (the magician makes the something ordinary seem extraordinary by making it disappear); and the prestige (the magician brings back the ordinary thing).

Every conflict communication requires you to be a successful magician of resolution. Conflict is ordinary. To make it disappear through showing the other party what they’re made of, is the turn. And then to bring the conflict interaction back around to resolution (or at least engagement) is the prestige.

Show them what they’re made of.

[Opinion] What We Subsidize…

What a society taxes it gets less of, and what a society subsidizes it gets more of.

For various social, economic, psychological, emotional, and other reasons, societies around the world, throughout history, have taxed peace, while subsidizing war.

This is not a statement of judgment, just one of objective observation.

We honor dead soldiers, and only occasionally talk about dead peacemakers.

We have thousands of anonymous soldiers who go out and make war, as we have thousands of anonymous peacemakers, who go out and make peace every day. But only one group has a flame burning eternally for them at Arlington Cemetery in the US.

We honor the dead soldier, because we (and by ‘we’ I mean humanity as whole) value valor, honor, respect, dignity, and the ideals of revenge and justice, far more than we revere those same values at the peacemaking table.  This dichotomy is the most obvious at scale, where there are holidays honoring the sacrifice of life of the soldier, but no parades in your town for the generations of deceased divorce mediators.

These are not a statements of judgment, just ones of factual observation.

When we do choose to honor the diplomat, or the statesman, who brought us peace, we tend to honor the ones most vociferously who also guided us through war. Churchill is lauded far more than Chamberlain.

Unfortunately, as was pointed out years ago by the band Pink Floyd, the statesmen turned diplomats are the very same ones who sat in the rear of the line (or sat in an office back at home) and commanded “Go forward!” even as the soldiers in front, out on the line, died by the thousands.

Young men have always died valiantly fighting old men’s wars.

The fact is, we will always have more people willing to make war, than we will have people willing to make peace. This is a sad fact of the fallen state of humanity.

This is not a statement of judgment, just one of spiritual observation.

On this Memorial Day, let us take a moment to remember those who made the peace, as well as honor those who fell in the war, because, if humanity is to move forward in any kind of meaningful way, we need to subsidize the peace, and place a higher tax on the war.

-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] Leadership Through Influence

Leadership is hard enough without understanding the power of influence over others. There are seven areas of psychology that effectively “lock in” to each other in a hierarchical, top down structure governing human relationships. They create the context where persuasion and influence can be effective between a leader and their followers.

Many organizational leaders default to wielding titles, degrees, certifications and other forms of authority that they instinctively know followers respond to, but they don’t know the “why.” When leaders default to the stance of authority, instead of beginning at the top of the hierarchy with reciprocation; they leave their followers flying blind.  This creates three problems:

People respond to authority figures without reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof and liking in the same way that a child responds to a parent the first time that they are disciplined. Not well. Good leaders know that the top of the funnel has to be filled with relationship, not titles.

People lose trust in leaders because they instinctively know that leadership is abundant (look at the number of volumes about it on the Amazon.com website) but that statesmanship is scarce. Good leaders strive to link and connect all the forms of persuasion through the funnel, rather than leapfrogging over the ones that they aren’t personally comfortable with to get to the area that they are. When they do this, they rise in esteem in their followers’ eyes.

People link consensus to leadership, only if the leadership is credible. Does anybody wonder why the last landslide election in the United States for President was 30 years ago? Consensus is hard to get, hard to maintain and not a natural state of affairs. Leaders in organizations often conflate organizational silence with organizational consensus and miss the disgruntled 49% who they never wooed anyway. Sometimes leaders don’t need those followers (particularly if leaders rig the game, as in politics) but most of the time, a leader with 49% of the people in her organization who dislike her first, will never build consensus with those same followers later on in the funnel, when it matters.

When leaders default to what is easy (rigging the consensus game or wielding authority) rather than working on developing what is hard (reciprocity consistency and commitment), they do their followers a disservice. They also miss an opportunity to rise above the pedestrian conflicts that predominate most organizations and become something more than merely managers.

-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] Leadership Through a Positive “No”

Strategic, thoughtful leadership is all about saying “no.”

Most leaders don’t do this well and they don’t because they view the word “no” through multiple lenses:

  • They view “no” as a word of power, giving them control over a situation, a person, or an outcome.
  • They view “no” as a word of separation, giving them emotional distance and feeding into their fears about the outcomes, or consequences about a situation, or a person.
  • They view “no” as a word of delineation (which it is) and as a word of escape (which it isn’t).

Most leaders don’t focus on the positives behind the word no. Instead, they tend to focus on the negatives, leading to more conflicts, not fewer.

The positive version of “no goes something like this:

Thank you for coming to me with [insert whatever the topic is here]. No, I don’t have time to talk about this right now. But, please come back [name a definitive later time here] and I will talk with you then.”

Most leaders end the “no” process here (hoping that the other party will take the hint and just go away). Then, they never perform the necessary follow-up. Without the follow-up, a cascade of psychological and organizational issues arise. Plus, the leader’s commitment and consistency (mostly the latter) gets questioned by the person who brought them the request in the first place and the likelihood of another request coming to that leader to meet a potential “no” decreases exponentially, drip-by-drip.

People leave bosses and leaders, but they work for organizations and cultures. In a leadership scenario, where time is of the essence and where a “no” is the only way out, leaders must grapple with their own perceptions of the word, other’s perceptions of the word, and the outcomes that a “no” produces.

Otherwise, when it’s time to say “yes” to something else (either explicitly or implicitly) the leadership might look around and not see anyone following them.

-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] Leadership Through Risk

A results driven organization is typically led by managers and supervisors out to minimize downside risk, maximize upside shareholder value and drain all the unique out of the pond called their product.

Consequences, results if you will, are inherently unknowable, and many organizational leaders, cognizant of that fact, seek to either avoid or accommodate employee disputes. They typically do this by handing off the responsibility to professionals in the human resources department, but then they do not empower these individuals to make real changes.

Because, that would be risky.

The paradox of risk in conflict is that if an organizational leader does nothing, it might get worse, or it might “go away;” and, if an organizational leader does something—anything—it might get worse and not go away.

This perception of leadership as a spot to squat was never an okay position to take, but many leaders are encultured and trained through looking and role modeling, and if organizational leaders have never done more than avoid or accommodate risk, future leaders will do the same.

The inability to take on a risky conversation, a risky conflict scenario, or even a risky business decision, defines many organizational environments and outcomes. There are two solutions to this:

Recognize that what’s underneath all of that risk is fear—fear is a powerful drive of conflict, but it’s also a powerful driver of attacking, accommodating or avoiding conflict. Most of the time, directness in communication is associated with courage because there is so little organizational courage. It’s not courageous to engage in a high-risk, highly emotional, conflict conversation, if you as an organizational leader are not “built” to handle it. It’s more courageous to say “I can’t handle it” and hand it off to someone in the organization who can.

Build an antifragile culture in your organization—antifragility builds on accepting the idea that there will be organizational conflict wherever there are two or more people. After that’s accepted, then comes the material fact of acknowledging that the culture has to build around, not managing the conflict through avoiding, accommodating or attacking, but through addressing, engaging and communicating assertively about the material facts and emotional content of conflicts. The last part of developing an atifragile ethic in an organization involves engaging with emotional labor in a meaningful way and figuring out how to recognize and reward that labor in an organization, beyond a once-a-year, alcohol-fueled bash.

Ultimately, the question that leaders both avoiding, accommodating and attacking risky conflict scenarios, and engaging with them effectively, is the same question:

What kind of conflicts do we want to have in our organization?

-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] Leadership Through Apology

Much is made in the Western world of the importance of an apology.

When we start out as children—and our world is starkly black and white—apology comes, not from inside of us, but from outside of us. It is a statement we are compelled to say to others when we hurt them, under threat of punishment from someone in a position of power, i.e. a parent, a guardian or an older sibling.

These apologies are rarely meant, rarely come from a place of empathy about the situation or the other person harmed, and rarely lead to long-term resolution of conflicts, hurts, or injuries.

As we grow older, however, we become used to doing everything that we can to respond to conflicts through attack, avoidance, and/or accommodation. Interestingly enough, adults use all three of these methods to get around, get past and smooth over the need to either give an apology or receive one.

Then, this tendency scales to the workplace; a hard charging environment concerned only with the acquisition of revenue, the holding of power, the maintenance of position and continual growth. And when there’s a mistake made, a wrong committed, or an injury to a customer, a client or a partner, apology becomes a place for liability to lurk in the shadows.

There’s no room for apologies in this environment when people are hurt through conflicts there.

Just get over it, and move on.

But, what if the courage to apologize, much like the courage to take a risk and resolve a conflict in a different way, were a leadership competency, rather than a trapdoor for an executive leader to lose their position?

What if we thought about the process of risk, forgiveness, failure reconciliation, and apology differently?

As was pointed out last week, people get into disputes with other people, but because organizations and workplaces operate at scale, there is little room for the individual to get resolution—or apology—at scale. The only solution is to change the way we operate in organizations at scale, and to shift the conversation around conflict, disagreement, and even injury away from litigation and toward resolution.

The only people who can do that are the people at the top of the hierarchical pyramid. The ones that set the culture of (to paraphrase from John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) “No apologies. It makes us look weak.” The ones that promote, and expand, the image (the myth, if you will) of the hard charging executive.

We see this beginning to happen with Zappos, and the growing interest in implementing a holocracy system in organizations. A system where there is flattened hierarchy. This is the beginning of rethinking how we redesign organizational myth and culture, but for apologies to be effective, and for the act of apologizing to be an effective leadership competency, there must be three things evident before a mouth opens to give a statement:

For organizations to continue to develop, scale and grow successfully in the 21st century, leadership training, competencies and even research has to shift in favor of increasing leaders’ development in the three above areas, before an apology-based culture is even considered.

-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/

[ICYMI] Top 5 Workplace Conflict Stories

There are 5 workplace conflict stories that we tell ourselves.

They are based on the five typical stories that people have always told themselves, whether camped around a fire in the woods, or in the dark watching a Hollywood blockbuster.

Except that these stories have different acts, because…well…they happen at work.

  • The Quest story typically describes a hero’s pursuit of an unattainable goal. At work, the words that begin this story are “I worked really hard on this project and now…”
  • The Love story at work typically describes the process of falling in love with an organization, a project or an ideal. At work, the words that begin this story typically are “I really want to get along with everybody, but…”
  • The Revenge story is the one story at work that is typically mixed up with a lot of other stories. And that’s typical because this story tends to permeate most workplace conflicts. At work the words that begin this story are “I know that I was right and here’s why…”
  • The Stranger-In-A-Strange Land story is the hardest to identify at work because this story may hide a passive aggressive Revenge story. Sometimes, the words that begin this story are “I don’t know what anyone else is doing here, but I think…”
  • Finally, the Rags-To-Riches Story (or Riches-To-Rags, take your pick) is the story that comes from entry level and new people in an organization, but to other, more seasoned employees, it can come off as annoying. It typically begins with “I know I just showed up here, but at my last job this happened…”

Thinking about those five stories, how many have you related to yourself (or to others) in order to justify conflict situations and responses in your workplace?

-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] The Power of Story

Stories lie at the core of the human condition.

Stories, myths, fables and legends serve a psychological need that human beings have for connection and understanding. The people in professions that understand this, from priests and pastors to marketers and con men, can weave stories so fabulous that they can sell a person anything, from a washing machine to the cannibalistic sacrifice of virgin flesh.

Psychologists and psychiatrists know the power of stories.

They spend years in the medical and mental health fields, carefully mapping the ways in which cognitive connections develop and then the ways in which those connections are externalized with the outside world. Therapy is just a refashioning of a story that you have told yourself for so long that it has become true for you.

When we talk about stories, we inevitably have to talk about fiction and fact, truth and lies. Content and Context serve an important function here, because the ways we determine what the truth is (both “for us” and “for the other”) are important. What may be truth for you in a story may be an out and out lie for me.

Mediators specialize in getting to the truth by first acknowledging that everybody tells a shaded truth: Not necessarily a lie, as in, a story told with the intent to deceive, but a truth that is bent and shaped through content and context to service a particular interest: theirs.

The third factor that influences all of this is power. Now, social justice practitioners and thought leaders talk a lot about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and who is using it to oppress or to privilege.

Power, however, is also based on content and context. This is a tough truth for true believers in social justice, and why the panacea of a socially just future will never be fully recognized.

There are too many competing stories.

When every story competes for primacy in the external realm of an open, capitalistic market, some stories win and some stories lose. The story of Coca-Cola is obviously a winner in the marketplace.

The story of all kinds of insurance—from life and health to car and home—is neither winning nor losing. The story of MySpace is definitely losing: As did the story of Pets.com, Borders and Woolworths.

When we think of the personal brands that we present online, from our social media presences to our tendency to spam and flame each other in the “below-the-fold” comments section of our favorite online articles, stories and storytelling become even more important.

Case in point:

I read an article here http://tinyurl.com/q98wp8c, which served to activate my own stories that I tell myself about writing, famous authors, the nature of public opinion, online journalism, Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, obscure Viennese writers, World War 1 intellectualism, racism, social justice, wealth inequalities and the ubiquity of online blowhards.

And that was in the first two minutes after I had finished reading the article.

A couple of hours later, I was talking to my lovely future bride and her son and relating the story of the article, further embellishing the story I was telling myself about the article that I had just read.

This is the power of a story and of storytelling. I start out reading someone else’s words and end up making my own meaning of them. Then, to make matters worse, I influence others in how they create their own stories and how they intersect with the external world, featuring myself, the article, the people with whom I interacted and, of course, the stories that they tell themselves.

When conflicts happen, the circle closes, reopens and closes again on the stories that we tell ourselves. Because while conflict is change and conflict is dynamic, it is disruptive, disjointing and personal. The stories of conflicts vary, but they typically begin with:

“They did thus and so to me. And I turned around and did thus and so to them, but they are at fault and they owe me an apology because they started it, I’m innocent and that’s the truth.”

And there it is. The two most important words in any story, whether it’s a marketing story to get you to buy a car or a religious story to get you to buy a belief, the most important thing in any story is the Truth.

Writers, bloggers, journalists, poets and others have long known the power of the truth in a story, which is why stories work so well. They appeal at a deep level to something in the human psyche that very few ever talk about: the desire to be entertained.

  • This desire is why fiction outsells nonfiction.
  • This desire is why “reality” TV is always scripted.
  • This desire is why, even in the midst of a terrible trauma or a horrible conflict, resolution is so hard to come by: Either one, or both, of the parties is being—at some elemental, cognitive level—entertained.

Dopamine is a neural chemical that is triggered in the midst of pleasure and pain. It lulls a person to sleep even as it creates bonding by also releasing that other neural chemical, oxytocin.

The desire to be entertained is intimately linked to the desire to be lulled and pleasured by connection. And the ultimate way to connect is through storytelling.

Forgiveness, reconciliation, anger management, deep breathing, mediation, mindfulness, are all hard and require work to maintain. They require the frontal cortex where creativity, art, poetry, music and all the other hard things live, to be activated and used.

Power enters into this in the area of telling the truth, versus telling a story. Power equals control and he (or she) who has the power (mostly power “over” another person) gets to make the rules.

Power used to be concentrated in the hands of the very few, however, as technological advancements have occurred; power has dissipated to even being in the hands of the very young and the very old. Social media, the Internet, blogs all are forms of communication that give everyone the same power and the same access, though outcomes will vary.

And thus we close the first part of the loop: Stories, fables, legends and myths serve a purpose. They allow us to categorize, compartmentalize and make sense of the world. Stories that we tell ourselves are the most important stories of all. This is why motivational speakers the world over talk endlessly about having a positive mindset; which allows us to tell ourselves stories that are positive and uplifting.

But, what do we do when the stories aren’t that great: When the trauma, dysfunction and conflicts lie at the core of our stories?

-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/