Nobel Peace Prize?

A recent article appearing in the New York Times captured my attention. The headline screamed, “President Trump a Nobel Laureate? It’s a Possibility.” 

It is obvious, to many that Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a Nobel laureate. Trump has characterized himself as dystopian in world view, divisive in rhetoric and perhaps unhinged. In a span of 2 years, he has mocked people living with disability, threatened violence on some, and exhibited a plethora of other bad behavior that only Trump can pull.

Granted, an individual with a tainted self-, heck, national-image would be a hard sell to bring world peace. But what if he is? History was made a few weeks ago when the presidents of North and South Korea, two countries that hitherto did not see eye to eye shook hands on the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone separating the two countries in the first such summit in more than a decade. This handshake came in the backdrop of more than five years of missile tests and threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim had even threatened a nuclear war if push came to shove.

And that is where Trump comes in.

Pundits in South Korea think that Mr. Trump deserves a Nobel Prize for helping start the unexpected peace process unfolding on the divided Korean Peninsula. And the world is picking up on this vibe.  President Moon Jae-in has gone ahead to endorse this idea of a Trump Nobel, noting:

It’s really President Trump who should receive it; we can just take peace.

An imagination of Trump as a Nobel Laureate, perhaps is far-fetched. In the same light, this creates a different conversation for practitioners in the field of conflict resolution. What matters most: peace or image? Are two antagonistic parties likely to engage a mediator who is dystopian in nature, but who gets the job done and takes care of interests at hand!

Many international conflicts are characterized by bloodshed and endless loss of life. It is anyone’s guess who the perpetrators and financiers of such violence are, yet the same men (and women) who regrettably end up sitting on the negotiation table seeking a satisfaction of their interests. The loss of life, as such, becomes nothing more than collateral damage.  Should such antagonists demand a sounder peace facilitator?

Peace is a mirage. We cannot at any one-point shout that the world is at peace. At the same time, peace should not be construed to mean the absence of war. Trump walking the USA out of the Iran deal puts the world in the same place a cordial co-existence between South and North Korea seeks to run away from; a danger zone filled with economic sanctions that mostly affect women and children.  

Photo by Gage Skidmore

When Tribalism Infects your Company

Webster’s dictionary defines tribalism as: “loyalty to a tribe or other social group especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.” Tribalism can be cultural, departmental, faith-based, political, and so on. Birds of a feather may flock together, but this doesn’t work when collaboration is needed. 

Cultural tribalism reflects a strong ethnic identity that possesses traditions, language and customs. This can lead people to exclude those outside their same culture. For the outgroup in the workplace, this can lead to a hostility, high turnover, and lower productivity. The BBC NEWS published an article Tribalism ‘rampant’ in Kenyan workplace which states “If you do not have somebody in a position who is from your tribe, you will not get into particular organizations.” Cultural tribalism is destructive and among the hardest problems to solve, for a wide variety of reasons.

Departmental tribalism is a little different, however there are common traits of conformity. In business colleagues from various departments, like marketing, production, front office or back office, need to work collectively. However, when everyone has their own objectives, it creates competition for resources, and sometimes  even competition for praise. Departmental tribalism can take a life of its own; this detracts from the strategic objectives of the organization.

Early warning signs of Tribalism:

  • Lack of collaboration. When friction appears between different teams of departments a proverbial line in the sand has been drawn. Sometimes teams will neither listen nor speak to one another because the disdain has become so strong between the groups. As an example, I once worked in a dental office where the front office was responsible for the scheduling. They consistently overbooked patients, leaving the back office team under tremendous pressure to calm the patients down, and still perform the necessary dental treatments.  The back office team repeatedly voiced their concerns, but to no avail. Then came the rebellion; the back-office team stopped rushing, leaving the patients to stew in the front lobby where the front office team would have to deal with the disgruntled patients. The two were no longer on speaking terms. It became a team vs. that team mentality.
  • The blame game. Do your teams  blame each other without communication amongst themselves? Corporate Psychologist Robert Kovach did a case study on tribalism and stated that teams who blame each other, unjustly criticizing or continually throwing rocks at each other present a clear sign of tribalism. Again, I will point to the dental office example.
  • Cultural Tribalism. Ethnicity, culture, values; there is something to be said for each of these, yet at their most extreme scenarios they can damage a team. A predominant group will have identifiers that exclude others, resulting in cultural tribalism. I worked with an assisted living facility that was experiencing tribalism, to the point that care for the residents was being compromised. Group ‘X’ was smaller then group ‘Y;’ however group ‘X’ was very culturally dominant and pushed down group ‘Y,’ which was very submissive. This was apparent when each group would ask for assistance; each group would most often call on their own group members for help. We found evidence of tribalism at lunch and holiday functions when each group sat on opposite sides of the halls. 

How can we reduce tribalism?

  • Neutral locations for collaboration. Neutral locations for a meeting allow for a more collaborative environment. Members from the same group should not sit next to one another. Why is this important? Look no further than a White House meetings between Democrats and Republicans whereby all Democrats are on one side of the table and Republicans are on the other; its as if two walls are confronting one another with each holding a position and appearing unified. This is very adversarial.
  • Frequently express common goals.  Express common goals to teams and individuals. We can develop these ideals through training and team building. Team building does not just mean a singular team but interdepartmental teams that rely on each other to complete tasks. I remember a time when I worked for company that held softball tournaments. The teams always consisted of staff vs. management; looking back, having staff compete against management was probably not a great idea.  It was great for morale, however, it may not have been great for reducing tribalism (us vs. them). A better way would be to mix the two groups creating WE. The same goes for meetings, mix it up.
  • Teamwork/ Balance. Teams need to balance differences, fighting to advance your power can provoke an equal response. What is best to remember is cohesion; communal identity within a team creates a cooperation, sharing and respect. It is utopian to believe there will not be any forms of conflict, however implementing balance could bring about “good” conflict.

Realistically, whether real or perceived, tribalism can and will divide teams. It will render them ineffective. Hire people who are willing to listen to new ideas, discuss common goals, who have a willingness to evolve, and have the capacity to express themselves positively. A good team develops mutual trust and shares in success and failures, alway striving to improve. Above all else, be an effective listener, you will be amazed at what you can learn when you stop talking.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and opinions.

Lee Stotts

Conflict Analyst

Early Signs of Conflict

I have recently been asked about how to recognize the beginning phases of conflict. Conflict is different for everyone. However, there are some early signs of conflict that indicate a conflict may be brewing. You can use these to intervene before a conflict becomes destructive within teams and/or in your organization.  

Conflict can manifest itself in many ways. The impact of people’s actions can have a profound ripple effect throughout your team or company. Recognizing these beginning phases of conflict should be a primary concern.

Early Signs of Conflict

  1. Trust issues- Trust is the cornerstone on which teams and organizations are built. Trust is built from a relationship of confidence, support and respect. When trust is broke, it is time to take a step back and address everyone’s concerns.
  2. Cliques- If you have found that cliques have formed this is an advanced sign of conflict. Here are some ways you can recognize a clique:
    1. The same people always find themselves on the same team,
    2. After a meeting there are sub-meetings,
    3. There are non-verbal cues between clique members,
    4. Clique members share activities inside and outside of work,
    5. There is a ranking order within the clique,
    6. There is  a group lingo, speech patterns, and attire.
  3. Consistent disagreement- Do you find your team members are in constant disagreement over even the smallest things?
  4. Over-reaction- This is good indicator that there is anger or angst within a team.
  5. Unproductive meetings- This can manifest in many forms:
    1. Complaints,
    2. Repeated tardiness or absence from meetings,
    3. One strong voice that dominates meetings,
    4. Many complainers,
    5. Disengagement,
    6. Anger.
  6. Theft- Employees often steal as anger manifest itself.
  7. Power struggles- Instead of team members working on common goals, they compete and focus on each other’s flaws.
  8. Lack of communication- Individuals work independently rather than collaboratively.
  9. Non-verbal cues-
    1. Paralanguage- vocal tone, pitch, cadence, etc.
    2. Space- Are they distancing themselves or aggressively close.
    3. Facial Expressions- The human face can show an array of emotions and some people can be read like a book.
    4. Body Language- People are intellectual beings and can sense when someone is upset, angry, hurt, happy, engaged.  
  10. Appearance- Appearance can an early indicator to conflict. When we see an individual come in disheveled (dirty cloths, unshaven, no makeup, etc) or they stop dressing up as they once did, or their grooming standards have changed significantly, this is an indication that something is bothering that individual.

In order for organizations, teams and individuals to work in a productive fashion members need to be able rely on one another. Understanding and valuing each member is imperative. Having the capacity to be constructive communicators in both good and bad times allows teams to build bridges, not walls. Recognizing when members of our team are exhibiting indicators of early conflict can save you from hitting setbacks in achieving goals.

Companies do not effectively teach conflict resolution skills throughout their organization. Instead, employees are taught to report problems to a supervisor or human resources, or they are taught to compete rather than collaborate. People are faced with daily stresses, yet they often have little to no coping skills. People are not commonly taught communications skills, such as active listening, effectively restating a question, or how to recognize non-verbal cues. Recognizing these early signs of conflict can benefit your organization by stopping a potentially bigger conflict before is has a chance to escalate.

Great companies strive to achieve long-term success by focusing on missions statements, balance sheets, team building skills, and corporate branding. BUT, very few focus on recognizing these early signs of conflict. If the warning signs are present, my recommendations is to address it as quickly as possible. Be proactive so that you are not forced to be to reactive.

Again, I always love to hear your feedback and experiences. Please write back and share your thoughts.

Lee S.

Why do a Conflict Assessment?

A conflict assessment is a useful tool. Useful for getting conflicting parties to the table. Useful for giving conflicting parties a common base of knowledge to work from. I have discussed these uses in the preceding 5 posts I have written. There is another more important use I will discuss today.

Standard Uses

We already know what a conflict assessment does: it tells you, for the most part, who is in conflict and why they are in conflict. There will always be surprises, hence the ‘for the most part’ hedge. If you are already involved in said conflict you may have an advantage in assessing the players and purposes over an independent, third-party assessor, but doubtless there will still be some surprises.

When you are an independent third-party you hopefully begin your assessment with an open mind. Initially, there may be some surprises in assessing your conflict. This is where the assessment comes in handy. The lack of any surprises could indicate that you have an idea of the conflicting parties motivations and are ready to intervene. However, any big surprises could indicate some very real dangers to any attempt to intervene.

The Real Reason you do a Conflict Assessment

It is in documenting those surprises and dangers that provides the utility of the conflict assessment. You could find that the conflict you are involving yourself in is ripe conflict, that is, caught up in a painful stalemate (see I. William Zartman’s theory of ripeness discussed here). You could also find that intervening in a particular conflict will put personnel and resources in danger.

A conflict assessment is useful in helping you to make the determination of whether to involve yourself and/or your organization in any attempt to resolve a conflict. This is an important question because aid workers are often kidnapped, tortured, and murdered for their efforts. The threshold for risk is something that each individual and organization must decide for themselves.

Those who would intervene in any conflict place themselves in real danger. Assessing a conflict beforehand allows them to determine what, if anything, can be done and where to place people and resources most effectively. There is not always a right time to get involved in a conflict, regardless of your intentions. Most certainly, there are bad times to get involved with a conflict. The real utility in conducting a conflict assessment is that it gives you a tool to help you understand what kind of situation you are placing yourself in.

Lewin’s Change Management Theory

Change is constant; whether you work for a large corporation, mom and pop business, or a start-up.  We live in a culture of light-speed information, so the adoption of a change management process that allows some flexibility is worth considering.

Change Management

Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model is one of my favorites. It provides a process of evaluation one can follow before moving to the next step. You might ask why is this important; over the years I have seen organizations implement an entire system of change and expect the staff to immediately adapt to it. What we end up seeing is exceptionally high turnover, poor services, poor quality, and ultimately, a loss in revenue. Some executives will say “this is just a learning curve;” I would counter that the new system was implemented much too quickly.

Change Management has four stages of development:

  1. Prepare
  2. Design
  3. Execute
  4. Sustain

Each phase has an important role, and must be adhered to maximize success. This requires a huge commitment. The change management system that will work best for your company may simply be one that is the simplest to execute.   

Lewin’s Model

Lewin’s model is one of the more effective and popular change management models developed in the 21st century.  It requires exactly THREE elements:

  • Unfreezing
  • Make changes
  • Refreezing


Step one is to strip your current management system down. Start by retraining key members of your team. A significant amount of time will be getting your team to recognize, dedicate and implement change. This period may be the toughest phase simply because it’s the most psychologically difficult to adjust to. For some, however, change will be welcome.  For these staff change is much needed and they will flourish. During this period you will not just be asking your company to change its organizational culture, but also asking for creative ideas to move the company forward.

Make Changes

Phase two is the “transition phase.” New structures are being implemented, so this phase may create some degree of culture shock.  During this phase you may experience varying degrees of resistance and confusion as people get to know their new roles or are gaining familiarity with new processes. Pay particular attention to behaviors as most people are creatures of habit, so some may revert back to old habits. It is important to note that this too is a process. The situation will improve as your team starts to see the benefits of this new system and recognizes how they will benefit from it. Additionally, this process underscores the importance of effective communication. Your team will always benefit from better communication. Good communications shows that the company and its management are actively engaged in the process. Addressing concerns early and often is another key to successfully navigating change.

Remember, this is the take action phase that involves “people,” so celebrate achievements, both big and small.


One of the biggest mistakes I see a company make during this phase is to introduce a new “process” without the previous process being fully integrated. When this happens “the team” can revert back to old ideologies and habits. “Freezing” is a temporary time to change behaviors or improve a process. It is a time to make sure change has taken place. After the change has occurred we can unfreeze and introduce another process or area and start again.

Operationally, Kurt Lewin’s Model of Change Management has the added benefit of a “Freezing” phase to allow an organization to evaluate process, albeit temporary. Only after processes look strong do we then proceed. This model was designed due to the fact that Lewin understood that when organizations change too fast they will tend to not accept the “new” methods, but instead go back to their old ways.

Lewin’s Tips

  1. Make sure you communicate often.
  2. Make sure you support the team.
  3. Training, training, training.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on how you see and view this model. Please leave your comments for me and I will respond asap.

You can reach out to me personally at

Long-Term Thinking in a Conflict

In October 1962, an American spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba.  This led to weeks of antagonism between America and the Soviet Union in what has come to be known as the Cuban Missile crisis.

This crisis provides an excellent example of the use of long-term thinking during a negotiation.

Cuba was a communist country and a friend of the Soviet Union, which was under the leadership of Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. It is imperative to observe that during the previous year, 1961, the Kennedy administration had tried, and failed, to remove Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power, using mercenaries, in the Bay of Pigs crisis.

One conclusion that could be made, granted the foregoing, is that the Soviet Union was retaliating on behalf of its friend Cuba for the 1961 invasion by the United States. A deeper analysis of this conflict, however, demonstrates that standing up for Cuba was not an interest of the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union was using Cuba as a guinea pig in a wider game of antagonism with the United States.

I used this example a while back to demonstrate how BATNA works.

In the world of BATNA, it is a possibility that the Soviet Union used Cuba as an alternative in an already existing conflict, ostensibly as a distraction or to spread existing risks.

Long-Term Thinking in Decision Making

For his part, President John F. Kennedy had a decision to make:  Whether the United States would respond too strongly and live with possibility of nuclear war, or respond too weakly and allow the Soviet Union’s influence to intensify. President Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade around Cuba. The aim of this “quarantine,” as he called it, was to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites.

Eventually, the Soviet Union complied.

In his memoirs, Khrushchev claims that the outcome of the missile crisis was a “triumph of Soviet foreign policy and a personal triumph.” Khrushchev’s foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, in his memoir account of the Cuban events praises Kennedy as “a statesman of outstanding intelligence and integrity,” but is silent on Khrushchev.

From the foregoing, president Kennedy, in reaching his decision, sought the counsel of his cabinet and advisers. This was not the case with Khrushchev, who it is apparent was on a personal self-actualization journey focused on HIM alone as opposed to working for the greater benefit of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev demonstrated no long-term thinking in reaching his decisions.

It is imperative when in a conflict to think not only of the immediate moment, but also the consequences a conflict or the alternatives available will have on the future. Long-term thinking must be a part of every decision. As has been said elsewhere on this forum, conflicts should never harm existing relationships; in fact, it should be quite the opposite.

Lead-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory

Ever wondered why roles are “unofficially” assigned to teams or staff members? What does is mean when you hear your boss say that a person is their “right hand man?” Or calls another their “go-to person” when things need to get done? These unofficial positions can garner a patina of weight, but most certainly they demonstrate varying degrees of favoritism. In this post I will explore what Lead-Member eXchange, or LMX, theory has to say about group behaviors.

LMX theory was developed to nurture staff feelings; as a bi-product, it also enhanced creativity. LMX theory can enhance staff positive behaviors and help foster good relationships, if used correctly. In order for LMX theory to work, management has to show a great deal of positive leadership skills.

What is LMX Theory?

LMX theory looks at dyadic relationships of leadership in management behavior, or more specifically, how an in-group member is treated in relation to the out-group.  

LMX uses Vertical Dyads to describe the relationships of in/out groups in unique ways. These vertical dyads evaluate the quality of the relationships between management and teams and divide them into 5 categories:

  • mutual trust
  • loyalty
  • support
  • respect
  • obligation

The Out-Group

The out-group are those who are behind on the work given to them, thus they need help completing tasks and require more attention or assistance (i.e. training, mentoring, follow-up). They may be tasked with jobs they do not like.

The In-Group

Those who can accomplish work in an efficient manner are considered the in-group. Outside of the obvious benefits to the organization, an in-group person can benefit personally by being assigned favorable tasks or gaining specialized skills.

Negative aspects of LMX theory

  1. Management not allowing underperforming team members to progress to more significant roles once they master the work put before them
  2. Lack of support from management
  3. Resentment
  4. The feeling of favoritism from the out-group

Positives aspects of LMX theory

  1. Upward mobility
  2. Greater rates of pay
  3. Lower turnover
  4. Increased job satisfaction

Thomas Hobbes wrote that the first rule of life is self-protection and that behaviors originate out of self-interest and happiness. My personal observation is that those working within the in-group are most happy and that by doing so become “protected” in ways the out-group have not garnered. Group members understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teams.

LMX theory recognizes the in-group from the out-group. All organizational cultures are aware of these behaviors. My question would be, is it ethical or moral to have in-groups and out-groups?  What are your thoughts on LMX theory?

Conflict Assessment – Putting it all together

I have spent the last several weeks going over the foundations of conflict assessment. I have explored the players, their interests and intentions, and impediments to resolution. All of these are part of the structure that builds a conflict analysis, but putting these together to build a useful tool requires some knowledge and a bit of skill.

The Mandate

One of the basic requirements of a conflict assessment is a reason why. In the literature this will likely be described as a mandate. The mandate provides the preliminary information that will help you get the conflict assessment started. What is important is that the mandate is clear; that is, you know what you are expected to accomplish. The mandate should detail the goals and agenda of the assessment, a listing of stakeholder representatives, and a detailing of the phases and timeframes for the assessment.

Where the mandate comes from is also important. If you are an outsider to the conflict, your mandate could come from some party or parties involved in the conflict. It is also possible that you could be a party to the conflict and your mandate comes from within the parties to the conflict; if this is the case than you must exercise extreme caution to guarantee that other parties cannot accuse you of bias.

The Process

After the mandate comes information gathering. Information gathering is the process of collecting the facts on the players, their interests and intentions, and the impediments to conflict resolution. In addition to this information, artifacts and materials that are germane to the conflict can be gathered as well.

Analysis involves turning these gathered facts into something useful. This can include mapping of the parties to the conflict, or zeroing in on important issues. This initial analysis is the basis for the conflict assessment report.

The Report

The purpose of a conflict assessment is to provide a shared body of knowledge to the parties to the conflict. Typically, this is going to come in the form of a report or presentation, but regardless of form it should provide utility to its end users. This report will detail a number of issues:

  • Listing and description of the stakeholders
  • Listing and description of the interests of those stakeholder
  • Structural issues contributing to the conflict
    • Social
    • Political
    • Economic
  • Listing and description of the known impediments
  • Listing and description of stakeholder conditions for resolution of conflict
  • Listing of authorized stakeholder representatives

The report will go through a number of iterations based on repeated distribution, feedback, and revision. At the end you want to provide a tool that can be used to facilitate a negotiation between all conflicting parties. The downside is that sometimes you end up with a document that provides proof that negotiation is not possible. Either way, the conflict assessment will be useful in explaining what can be done, or not, in a given conflict.

King and Nonviolence

On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. retired to his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. King had spent the better part of the day meeting with sanitation workers who were protesting for their rights.  The previous day, King had electrified the protesting workers with a speech which has come to be called “I have been to the mountaintop;” a speech that rallied the workers to continue demanding, in a peaceful way. He noted:

Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.

On the night of April 4th, however, King was assassinated while on the balcony of his motel room. He has been dead for 50 years now; more than the 39 years he lived on this earth. The comfort that we find in King’s absence is that he bequeathed onto the world the ideals of nonviolence as a way of resolving conflicting or fighting injustice.

King was a minister and an intellectual who believed in nonviolence as a personal philosophy and against doing harm to other human beings. It is this kind of nonviolent strategy that he used to effect social change.

What is Nonviolence

Nonviolence is more than the absence of violence in pursuit of satisfying one’s interests. Nonviolence, at its core rejects any form of retaliation and seeks inclusive solutions. This is what King stood for, and he led by example.

It is ironic that whereas King stood against violence, his life was taken in a violent manner by the barrel of a gun. 50 years later, America is faced with a conflict premised on gun rights and the second amendment on the first hand, and a quest to limit what guns should be in the market, on the other hand. It is imperative to note that the debate aimed at resolving this conflict has been characterized by acrimony and can also be described as less than inclusive discourse. Each side seems entrenched in intractable positions. What would King have advocated had he lived to see this day?

King’s non-violence strategy was complimented by what I will call a love for the antagonist. Rarely would he shame the other side or attempt to moralize those with whom his interests were at a divergence. This simply entails a strong desire on his part to maintain a solid relationship with the other side.

King is a reminder of the frontiers of conflict resolution and peacebuilding: that such efforts take time and the road can be arduous. The key is to remain consistent and faithful to the course.


Pay Equity

The National Committee on Pay Equity has concluded that ‘pay equality’ for women will not be achieved until 2059. Ensuring that a company’s pay structure is fair and equitable to women and minorities is difficult. Wage discrimination is difficult even to discern unless it is overt.

Inequitable Practices

Gowri Ramachandran, professor at Southwestern Law School, writes that “Title VII prohibits both intentional and unintentional discrimination of wages … wage gaps can occur even when NOT rooted in intentional discrimination … but can occur due to socialization of women and people of color to negotiate less aggressively.”  This may be considered an unintentional form of an unfair pay structure. Clearly, this would be an area that requires attention.

Another factor that requires consideration is systemic compensation discrimination where there are clear disparities based on race and/or gender between similarly situated employees.  Other things, for example, how the organization evaluates work experience, education, performance and productivity, are legitimate factors in evaluating compensation.

How to Ensure Pay Equity in Your Organization

The National Committee on Pay Equity has a Ten-Step Guide to evaluating pay equity. This is a self-audit to help you ensure that salaries and benefits are in-line with industry standards, that all jobs have proper descriptions, and that evaluations of job performance are consistent.  These are all areas that require considerable attention.

As a consultant, I am inclined to look at job application ratios (a review of applications received against those who have been hired), as there is often overt bias from the beginning of the hiring process. I would also be looking to see if the above practices are incorporated in your business.

Lee S.

Photo: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images