Conflict Without Casualties

Who’s Hacking Who? Worthiness vs. Identity.

Your worthiness is independent of others. I’m OK, You are OK. Period.

This means that while people can do and say horrible things, and you may have very strong negative reactions to their behaviors, their behaviors don’t define your OK-ness. Neither do your behaviors define their OK-ness. Worthiness can’t be hacked without your consent.

Your identity is interdependent with others. You exist within relationships, roles, and connections.

This means that people care about the impact of behavior. It matters how we act because relationships matter.

Drama is all about hacking identity and worthiness, and manipulating them as weapons. Drama deceives you into believing one of these three fake news stories:

  1. I’m OK, You are Not OK because you are stupid, lazy, uncommitted, boring, or weak.
  2. I’m not OK, You are OK because I am stupid, lazy, uncommitted, boring, or weak.
  3. I’m OK, you would be OK if you’d accept my help and appreciate how smart and capable I am.

The only way to be worthy AND interdependent is through compassionate accountability – the process of struggling with others in a spirit of dignity.

Drama orchestrates an adversarial struggle to confuse and mislead people. Compassionate accountability embraces the invitation to struggle with others by accepting these truths:

  1. I am OK, you are OK, even if we are different.
  2. Our behaviors affect each other and it’s OK to talk about that.
  3. Our identity is co-created, so we have the opportunity, privilege, and obligation, to make something amazing together.

I’m OK, You are OK.

Behavior matters because relationships matter.

You can struggle with others instead of against them to co-create an identity that measures up to your worthiness.

Compassion can’t be hacked.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2018

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Opposites In Harmony

Our family loves the winter olympics. We’ve been glued to our TV every night watching the latest from Pyeongchang, rooting for underdogs, tracking the medal count, and watching our favorite athletes display their skills.

My favorite aspect of the 23rd winter olympic games has been watching North and South Korea compete together in some of the events, a symbolic and significant gesture of unity.

Yin-Yang symbolism was prominent in the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. In Chinese philosophy, yin yang can be thought of as complementary, rather than opposing, forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Yin-Yang is about opposites in harmony.

Competition has not always meant a win-lose battle between adversaries.

Dating back before the 17th century, teams would come together to “co-petition” the gods for blessings.

The traditional playing field is a rectangle dissected by a line with a circle in the middle. It was believed that blessings would be brought down in the circle, thus making it the focus of the contest. The overall purpose was to advance the greater good of the community.

I believe it is time to bring that focus back. I invite you to help usher in a new era where differences are seen as assets, not liabilities;

…when people from other countries are welcomed instead of feared;

…when divergent value systems sign a potential to solve great problems instead of stoking bigotry;

…where conflict is an opportunity to create something new instead of cut people off;

…when we focus on the greater good instead of the greatest number of retweets.

This is why I’m passionate about Compassionate Accountability. Compassion and accountability are opposites that can exist in harmony. Using the principles of compassionate accountability people can engage conflict without casualties in a creative “co-petition” for something good.

Get started with these free resources.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2017

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Sharing Responsibility For Learning Outcomes

I’m writing this post on the heels the 2018 Association for Challenge Course Technology International Conference in Ft Worth Texas, where I delivered the opening keynote and a workshop on how positive and negative conflict manifest in facilitation.

In general, people don’t like conflict. The challenge course industry is no different. The majority of participants who came to my workshop and our exhibit booth agreed that they struggle with conflict too, even though most of them are in the business of helping people get along better. In the last year we surveyed nearly 2000 people in the general public about their response to conflict. 72% of all participants say they choose compromise to avoid conflict. Nearly one third habitually slip into drama. 

Drama is what happens when we fall into one of three behavioral roles and seek justification for our behavior while losing sight of effectiveness. It’s called the Drama Triangle.

The Persecutor assumes the position that they are OK, others are not, so they feel justified in using intimidation, guilt, blame, and attacks to get what they want. Victims assume the opposite position, putting themselves down and inviting criticism. Rescuers overthink and over-do for others with unsolicited advice, violating another person’s autonomy and free choice while creating dependence.

Training and Development professionals aren’t immune from drama. We surveyed over 500 L&D professionals at the 2016 and 2017 ATD international conferences using our Drama Resilience Assessment (DRA), an online assessment of a person’s risk for each of the three drama roles, as well as their capacity to choose a more constructive course of action. Participants in our survey exhibited the highest risk on Rescuer role. Rescuers often have an air of superiority with an attitude of “I know what’s best for you.” The next most common role was Victim. Many professionals we spoke with described how they switch from Rescuer to Victim if their help isn’t appreciated or their efforts backfire. Many described their bosses as the Persecutor!

There’s a better way. It’s called Compassionate Accountability; blending kindness, care, and concern with attention to results and boundaries. Compassionate Accountability replaces the roles of Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor with the skills of Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence to create a learning environment where responsibility for learning outcomes is shared, in a spirit of dignity.

Compassion means “to struggle with others” in a spirit of dignity and respect.

Openness is about confident transparency and support. Open people share their feelings and disclose their motives. They validate and accept others’ feelings and motives. Openness supports an environment of safety where the real issues get talked about, reinforcing the message, “We are worthwhile.”

Resourcefulness is about creative problem-solving, engaging people collaboratively to find the best solution. Resourceful people put their ego aside so that they can learn from failure and avoid getting invested in their own solution. Resourcefulness supports an environment of curiosity, reinforcing the message, “We are capable.”

Persistence is about boundaries, principles, and commitment. Persistent people keep promises, uphold their principles, and encourage others to follow through on commitments without attacking or blaming. Persistence supports an environment of consistency, reinforcing the message, “We are accountable.”

Putting it all together, L&D professionals can change how they relate to co-learners by using all three skills to engage conflict without casualties. Can you see the Open, Resourceful, and Persistent components of this statement below?

I feel anxious about where we are in the curriculum today. I’d really like to make it through section two before 4 PM and we are a little behind. What ideas do you have for catching up? I’m committed to covering the material in the most helpful way possible. 

I’m feeling defensive because I care deeply about this topic and want to be helpful. When you questioned my credentials in front of the group, I took it personal. I’d like to explore other ways of getting feedback. It’s important to me to preserve my dignity while being open to constructive feedback.

A mentor once told me, “If you are doing more work than your client, you’re doing something wrong.” Practice compassionate accountability to share the load.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2018

Get the book, Conflict Without Casualties!

Develop your Compassionate Accountability Skills

Get Certified to deliver Compassionate Accountability

Get connected with Next Element!




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Who Is Responsible For The Gap?

Last week our government shut down again, and the finger-pointing was at an all-time high. The problem isn’t that we have a gap. Differences and disagreements can be terrific grist for the mill.

The problem is how we are viewing and positioning ourselves relative to others. Drama is what happens when we struggle against each other to feel justified about our positions and unhealthy behaviors.

Asking “Who is responsible for the gap?” is the wrong question. We need a better way.

The questions we should be asking are:

What is my role in creating and perpetuating the gap?

Why am I invested in struggling against others?

What could I do to close the gap?

What could I do so others would feel safe enough to approach me?

How could we have conflict without casualties?

Is there a third way that allows us to struggle together towards a common goal?

This is compassionate accountability.

Copyright 2018, Next Element Consulting, LLC

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With Gratitude For The Struggle

Lately, I’ve been using “With gratitude” more in my salutations. And I sincerely mean it.

Here are some things I am grateful for;

  • You, because you are here with me right now reading this post, and I appreciate that.
  • My community at Next Element for being open, resourceful, and persistent in order to practice what we preach and tenaciously pursue our mission.
  • My wife, Julie. Loving, conscientious, smart, playful, dependable, wise, and elegant.
  • Failures that invite humility and lead to better ways of doing things.
  • College-age children who come home feeling grateful for family, actually wanting to be around and talk about things that matter to them.
  • Yard work that helps me feel sore, alive, and satisfied.
  • Wisdom from people who have learned valuable lessons and are willing to share it with others.
  • My mom, my father in-law, and my other father figure and mentor, Taibi, for being the kind of parents a 50 year-old needs.
  • Fresh ground coffee and home-made whipped cream.
  • Stories of changed lives from our global network of trainers, coaches, facilitators, and consultants.
  • Opportunities to make a difference in my community.
  • A BBQ smoker I found across the street that a neighbor was throwing away.
  • Friends of 30 years who love each other and would do anything for each other no matter how long it’s been.
  • Anyone who has taken a stand against sexual assault, bigotry, and economic oppression.
  • All the bloggers and podcasters who have welcomed me on their shows and lent me their platform to share our message of compassionate accountability.
  • Trevor Noah’s fabulous new book, Born A Crime, for triggering a flood of memories from my high school years in Southern Africa. And for teaching me so much more about apartheid. I recommend the audiobook since it’s narrated by Trevor himself.

None of these things has made my life easier or more luxurious (except the coffee). They have added meaning, purpose, and connection. Life is about struggling together. There’s no greater gift than a struggle that creates something amazing. Especially when it happens with others.

Where have you found gratitude in the struggle? Will you share?

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2017

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Openness Before Honesty: The Third Disruptive Behavioral Technology

This is part three in my three-part series on disruptive behavioral technologies that will dramatically improve relationships and results.

How do you feel when someone starts a sentence with “If I’m being totally honest,” or “May I be honest with you?” Are they lying the rest of the time? What have they been hiding?

It’s a setup. It’s a justification for them to share their opinion or feedback about you, while keeping themselves conveniently out of the hot seat. (more…)

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Dov Baron: Leadership and Loyalty Show


I recently had the privilege of presenting a pre-conference workshop, breakout session, and plenary session for the 2017 Kansas Conference on Poverty. It was a terrific experience sharing the message of compassionate accountability and leveraging personality differences to a passionate audience seeking to end poverty in our state.

I was pretty excited about making a positive impact until I heard Glenn Martin speak. Wow! Talk about putting things into perspective. Have you ever felt like others were making a bigger difference than you, like others were doing really important work compared to yours? Have you ever felt your efforts aren’t really that significant compared to others? I experience it from time to time, and here’s my story of a recent example. (more…)

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Apology Accepted, United

Today I received a personal apology from United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz. If you have flown United, you probably got one too.

I frequently fly United, and was shocked by the recent event of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. Following that I was disappointed by United’s response to the event. I’ll admit, I’ve fantasized about what I would have done in that situation and what advice I’d give United if they asked.

The letter I got today is what I’ve been waiting for. A real apology. It uses the principles of Compassionate Accountability, and almost exactly adheres to the four steps for an effective apology I described in a post on the topic last year. Here are the steps, what Mr. Munoz said to me, and my reactions.

Step 1: Share your feelings

“We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.”

I appreciate this, and I would really like to hear how you, Oscar, actually feel about this. Are you embarrassed? Ashamed? Anxious? Sad? Get honest and transparent with me.

Step 2: Identify your behavior and how it caused harm

Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes….It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

Thank you. This is important because if you don’t know what you did, why it happened, and how your behavior caused harm, you can’t make meaningful change.

Step 3: Make it right

“..we will no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board.”

“We will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and will be eliminating the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new “no-questions-asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy.”

Specific actions that show you intend to change your behavior are critical. Thank you United.

Step 4: Be receptive

“I have found myself reflecting more broadly on the role we play and the responsibilities we have to you and the communities we serve.”

I’m glad this experience is inviting United to step back and reflect. Even better, I’d like to know what’s going on with you personally? Any transformation on the inside that would give us confidence you are changing for the better? I would have also appreciated an invitation to share my feelings, ideas, and beliefs about what United can do to improve. A real apology reactively AND proactively takes into account the other person’s feelings and experience.

My wish for United and Mr. Munoz is that this experience has helped them recognize that no matter how big you get, you are still dealing with real people who have real feelings. This is a relationship business.

Trust is built by answering two questions every day, in every interaction.

Am safe with you?

Can count on you?

I will fly United again, and I look forward to struggling with you, Mr. Munoz, to turn this mistake into a stepping stone for success.

Read my entire letter from Mr. Munoz

Check out this fun site analyzing apologies.

Conflict without Casualties—Mobile, Tablet and PrintJoin the Compassionate Accountability movement with my new book, Conflict Without Casualties.

Inside…the template for making a better apology.

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My Manifesto For Change. Conflict Isn’t The Problem.

It’s not surprising that when I Google the word ‘conflict,’ the terms ‘resolution,’ ‘mediation,’ ‘management,’ and ‘reduction’ pop up. All of these words convey an important message about our association with conflict; that it needs to be managed, reduced, resolved and mediated.

The problem with conflict mediation, conflict management, and conflict reduction is that each one positions conflict as the culprit.

Whether intended or not, these labels and much of the methods used in the conflict and communication fields reinforce the misconception that if we can remove the conflict, things will be better.

When we mediate, manage, or reduce the conflict, we necessarily reduce the energy available for productive problem-solving. When we respect the tension and use that energy to create instead of destroy, the results can be transformative.

Read my entire manifesto at In it you will discover,

  • The Four Myths of conflict
  • My definitions of drama and compassion
  • The Compassion Cycle, a model for conflict without casualties
  • The unwritten rules of drama-based cultures
  • The 10 Rules of Engagement for Compassion-Based Cultures

Read my manifesto

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2017

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