Change One Percent at a Time if You…

…don’t have the courage to confront the ongoing, unresolved cultural conflicts and frictions in your organization.

…if the resistance to change at scale from the organization and even individuals is too hard to address.

…if your fellow employees who should be your allies, cannot be motivated because of internal, intrinsic factors that you can neither understand nor appreciate.

…if you are struggling with explaining to yourself how you continue to “fit” in the culture you’ve become used .

…if you attend in-person trainings, read books, try new methods and techniques, and still nothing changes.

…if you think that you have been patient long enough for change.

…if you have given up on changes happening and are now comfortable and familiar with the lip service that the overall organizational culture pays to change.

Then, you might be ready to take the courageous, risky step of changing the culture that you are in one percent at a time.

Change, driven internally by friction and conflict, always happens slowly at first (sometimes taking years) but then arrives all at once, to everyone’s surprise in your culture.

[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.

[Strategy] 1…2…3…What Are You Hiring For?

Entrepreneurs (some of them) remember what business owners of all types have forgotten, at scale:

You get the conflict culture you hire for.

Think about it.

If you hire people that are looking for the organization to guide them to another level in their careers, past self-doubts, bumps in the road, dips in projects, and changes in the economy, you will create a resilient employee culture.

If you hire people that are looking for reassurances, permission, the answer to “Is this going to be in the test?,” and people who want to be paid extra to give extra, don’t be surprised when your conflict culture is based in avoidance, delaying, surrender, and a lack of responsibility and hiding.

If you hire people that are empathetic, focused on others and their experiences (customers, clients, etc.), who can make courageous decisions and take action in the face of a lack of standard operating procedures, but still justify those decisions in the context of advancing organizational goals, values, and growing the brand promise, then you have created an organizational culture that people (customers, clients, etc.) will cry out for.

The trouble is that with 20th century mass production came mass hiring. With mass hiring the organizational idea grew that your organization wasn’t doing well, unless it hired everybody in a given pool based on factors that had little to do with your organizational culture, e.g. they lived close, they had the “right” credentials, they answered the questions in the interview in the “right” way.

Well, the era of being able to accomplish goals and do work at scale that matters with just anybody off the street, has passed; and, what has replaced it is ever smaller groups of people, doing more and more work that matters, using emotional intelligence, caring, resilience, and empathy to manage the inevitable conflicts that come with change.

If you want your organizational conflict culture to look—and people in it to have the courage to act—in a transformational manner, and be successful in an ambiguous business future, then hire for it.


But don’t complain that you can’t get where all the other organizations are getting, with customer and client awareness, attention, trust, and revenues, when you don’t hire for those outcomes.

And don’t complain when your “best” people leave the conflict culture that you hired for, for a more robust culture across the street.


[Strategy] KPIs For Managing Workplace Conflict

There are typically three methods employed to manage workplace conflicts:

  • Avoid the issue and let the employees involved know that the work is what matters, not the conflict. Avoidance looks like censure, a write-up, a conversation in private or in public, or a mandated training.
  • Accommodate each employee and try to negotiate with each party to get them to return to work, not the conflict. Accommodation looks like supervisory silence, employees teaming up and deciding what’s going to happen in the conflict situation, or not actually doing the work at all.
  • Attack each employee and make sure that any other employees know that the work is what matters, not the conflict. Attack looks like threatening to fire employees, a write-up, a “disciplinary warning,” a mandated training, or even actually firing somebody.

None of these methods is effective at preventing, addressing and resolving employee conflicts. All the methods represent a hybrid of personalized conflict management styles, poor, little or no organizational training, and deeply ingrained organizational cultures that resist shifting for a variety of reasons.

There is, of course, another choice.

The goals for managing conflict in the workplace should go beyond merely the metric of “Is the work getting done in spite of what’s going on?” and should shift to “Is the productivity of the people being impacted because of a conflict fueled work environment?”

Here are some alternate metrics to consider:

Measure the resolution of conflict as a value that is offered as a customer service to internal stakeholders (i.e. employees). This metric can be tied to specific benchmarks with consequences attached to missing the benchmark—or attaining it.

Develop the process of conflict resolution through creating systems as a series of steps that are antifragile in nature—flexible and sturdy at the same time. Most systems in organizations cannot withstand external shocks (i.e. economic downturns) or internal shocks (i.e. a sexual harassment lawsuit) well. This is why any resolution system based in mediation, arbitration or even litigation must be flexible based on the nature, type and intensity of conflicts.

Implement training that focuses on three levels: knowledge gain, skill set gain, and emotional gain. Most corporate training is mandatory, meaningless and ultimately not absorbed or used by the employees who need to absorb and use it. This is primarily because most employee training in conflict resolution focuses on skill attainment and some knowledge gain, but there is little attention paid to emotional content. Mindfulness training, de-escalation tactics and active listening strategies are the first step in this direction, but in reality, after 100 years of psychology and therapeutic methods, there are many, many more.

Coach managers, supervisors and others higher in the hierarchical chain to attend trainings and get involved in the conversation around conflict in the workplace and what can be done about it. Many employees are elevated to supervisor or managerial status without fully understanding how they can motivate and encourage people, what their own conflict management styles are, and how to develop competing styles in a work environment that is perceived as resource deficient. This reality seems easy to overcome (“We’ll just bring in an outside trainer!”) but without follow-up, support and coaching from their supervisors, the training is just as useless for them as it is for the employees they supervise.

Elevate departments, divisions and even employee positions that were previously viewed as “hand slapping” or “regulatory” into change agents, charged with supporting the development and maintenance of new systems after the training is over and the consultant is gone. Raising the profile and status of human resources from a regulatory/litigation prevention arm of an organization to the status that it deserves as a change agent takes time, training and trust. It also requires a shift in the cultural thinking of C-suite executives about how their organizational culture can change its approach to change.

When organizations complain about the establishing of these metrics and relegate them to the province of HR, they surrender the ability to create workplaces that employees desire to be productive inside of.

Establishing a new management style, developing training and following up with it through coaching and implementation of outcomes, and means testing resolution strategies is not just “fluff.” Taking such actions represents the only way forward for many organizations. Past short terms wins that appeal to shareholders and the media and toward long term gains that create genuine, long lasting cultures.

Saying to employees in conflict “Just get back to work,” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Download the new FREE eBook courtesy of Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT), on Forgiveness and Reconciliation by clicking the link here

-Peace Be With You All-

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