[Opinion] The 4 Areas of Organizational Conflict

In many organizations, the anticipated fear of doing something that might not work when resolving a conflict outweighs the anticipated benefits of taking a risk and resolving a conflict in a new way.

This anticipated fear shows up in four areas.

  • Customer service interactions—these are the ones that involve poor or miscommunication, bad service, a dissatisfied customer, or even a service that doesn’t do what the end-user (i.e. the customer) thought that it would. Conflicts in these areas tend to be the ones who’s outcomes are used to define the organization by its external supporters and detractors. They are usually resolved through speed and immediacy flooding the point of contention, followed by organizational silence.
  • Product recall incidents—these are incidents where a product is created, developed, produced, distributed and marketed in “good faith” but then proves to be defective in some way. Conflicts in these areas tend to focus around a material loss of some kind and are rarely resolved with an apology. They are resolved through litigation, regulation and in some cases, destruction of the organization.
  • Process innovation failures—this is when a product or service changes in some way and the changes are dissatisfying to the end user, the seller of the product or service, or the creator of the original product or service. Conflicts in these areas tend to take a long time to manifest and usually begin in the customer service area. They are usually resolved through changing cultures at two steps below the surface level (i.e. firing and hiring) but are rarely resolved thoroughly.
  • Employee disputes and conflicts—these are the most common internal conflicts and occur when visions, values and goals rubu up against each other. They are usually responded to internally through either avoidance, accommodation or attacking and are rarely resolved thoroughly until employees “move on.”

Many organizations assume that immediacy of response in all four of these “dispute” areas equals resolution. The problem “goes away” and then there is silence—from the press, from the customer, from the stakeholders, and from the employees.

This assumption exists because organizations operate at scale. Scale creates degrees of separation between the person impacted by the outcome of the interaction, the incident, the innovation or the conflict, and the person who is “at the top” of the hierarchy in the organization.

As human beings, from the age of tribes to the age of multinational organizations, we have outsourced the resolution of conflicts to third parties—chiefs, in essence—with the expectation that with distance comes freedom from emotional entanglement and rationality in decision making.

When the chief knew everyone in the tribe, this might have been—and may continue to be—true. But when Dunbar’s Number kicks in at scale, and organizations begin to grow, more and more resolution is outsourced to fewer and fewer people who are called to sit in judgment, render a verdict and not consider the consequences.

The unspooling of the Industrial Revolution and its outcomes and consequences, at scale, has put to lie, the myth promulgated throughout mass media, mass advertising, mass unionization, and even mass government for the majority of the last century: The individual, whether employee, customer, neighbor or advocate, can get resolution to conflict, disagreement, or disappointment at scale from an organization.

All conflicts, interactions, incidents, disturbances, and any other synonyms humans use to describe conflicts and disputes are always interpersonal, and thus can only be resolved at the interpersonal level. But many organizations—schools, nonprofits, businesses, corporations—only function well and “change the world” at scale, rather than in interacting with one person, employee, customer, neighbor or advocate, at a time.

The solution for this is not to prevent organizations from scaling. This is as impossible as canceling biological maturation or natural growth. The deep solution is for the chief to purposefully change attitudes and minds at the individual level through coaching, training, and leading, and then leaving a culture in an organization behind that repeats the vision, mission, values and goals that they want to see.

This is the real innovation that requires courage at the beginning, the middle and the end to execute. But many organizations would rather put out burning fires than build a better house in the first place.

-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/

[Opinion] Symbols Matter

Mattering and meaning are more important to the accomplishment of work tasks—and the avoidance of work conflicts— now than ever before.


But not if you talk to managers, supervisors, executives and others.

The people who are bosses still believe the Industrial Revolution idea that the work is the only thing that matters, that shows dedication, service and loyalty to the cause, the company and the future.

For employees though, symbols in the workplace have been cheapened because of the deeply held beliefs that bosses sometimes have, exemplified by human resource policies, time away, manifestos, and quotes on the wall.  When asked, many employees (particularly those who have been in an organization more than six months) report that they “don’t even pay attention to that stuff anymore.”

This is because the symbolism behind the policies and procedures no longer matters to an employee, when the lived out, organizational substance doesn’t match.

In the world before Google based transparency, where rumors, tall tales and other misinformation could spread about an employer, the work was the substance and the symbols didn’t matter to anybody.

However, institutional lethargy and fear of change has caused many organizations to cling to the past, even as the waves around them swirl, demonstrating that symbols bring mattering to the workplace. And even more than that, symbols backed up by substance, history, and truthful stories told truthfully, are the only things that can give employee work meaning.

Otherwise, thrashing about work-life balance versus integration, time away versus time at work when away, and all of the other human resource based arguments that have arisen over the last forty years, don’t really matter much in the larger scheme of reducing workplace stress and conflict.

-Peace 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: http://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Advice] 4 Locus of Control Questions

Confirmation bias occurs when a person believes that the situations and experiences they continually run into, reaffirm their persepctive on their place in the world, and their preconceived beliefs or practices.


Case in point: When a person looks at the amount in their paycheck every week and mutters “ Well, I guess we’ll always be middle class.”

Or, when a person tells another before a difficult decision, or contlict, “Well, you had to know that Bob was going to react that way.”

Confirmation bias occurs because we want reassurance that the stories we tell ourselves are the only way reality could possibly be organized. This is why we emotionally, psychologically and somtimes even physically, resist when we are confronted by a different outcome someone else has experienced in the same situation. The fact of the matter is, we are in charge of our own stories—and the stories that we tell ourselves—but we often don’t believe it.

This dovetails with locus of control.

Based in studies and research from the 1950’s, locus of control says that some people believe they are in control of their lives, and other people believe outside forces determine the  direction of their lives and their decision making processes.

People with a high internal locus of control believe the world is something they control.

People with a high external locus of control, believes the world controls them.

Confirmation bias reinforces the stories of both personality types: If I believe that I’m in charge of my destiny, then I will continually tell myself the ” I’m In Charge Story.” But if I believe that destiny is in charge of me, then I will continually tell myself the “I’m Not In Charge Story.”

Most often, when things are going well, confirmation bias and locus of control concerns become secondary to a good time. But in a difficulty, confrontation or a conflict around things that matter, confirmation bias and locus of control (both internal and external) can serve as drivers that both intitiate and continue the conflict spiral.

Perceptions, stories and triggers are the fuel in the car of conflict situations, and the only person who can alter the fuel successfully is you. Here are four challenge questions for determining your conflict story:

  • What did I learn about difficulty, confrontation, control and conflict from my family?

Family is the world’s first organizational structure. And many of us learned the wrong lessons from those in charge. But the real issue is that we keep confirming the same lessons repeatedly with others.

  • What did I learn about control over my environment when I left the home?

Formal schooling in (at least in the United States) begins at around 4 or 5. This is when true confusion sets in, and when uncomfortable questions get asked about “reality”—and sometimes hushed up.

  • What messages have I had reinforced through my friends, associates and even the media I chose to consume?

There is a reason that many individuals with high internal locuses of control, refuse to watch the news, choose their friends carefully and are elitist about companies to whom they decide to give their money, time and talent.

  • What messages am I sending out to the world that are reinforcing difficulty, confrontation, control and conflict stories that are no longer relevant to my experience?

If you have succeeded in overcoming a poor story, or have moved the needle on your locus of control, revisiting old stories that are no longer relevant is the surest way to experience the same things over again.

-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/