Equilibrium in the Workplace

Man balancing on tightrope

In my June 22, 2016 post, I explored the relationship between concepts of ‘perfection’ and ‘equilibrium,’ and how embracing equilibrium can cultivate a more sustainable trajectory for your emotional self. But this dynamic doesn’t only apply to the individual, it can be scaled up to the group level. Today I’ll discuss how the concept of equilibrium can apply to the workplace, helping you and your team to avoid volatilities that negatively impact work outcomes.

Cultivating equilibrium in a work community is about identifying and accommodating appropriate fluctuations that help maintain the community’s balance, while avoiding destructive ‘dives’ in morale, relationships, or productivity. [Read more…]

Tone of Voice in the Workplace


Hope you have had a safe and relaxing summer.

I write an awful lot about what we say to one another, and how it does or does not serve us in our relationships or in conflict scenarios. It behooves us, however, to remember the striking fact that only around 7% of our communication is based solely on the words we use.[1] This doesn’t mean our words don’t matter, but it does mean that when it comes down to what ultimately gets understood in a communicative event, nonverbal cues can be the determining factor. This is as true in the workplace as it is in your personal life.

Today, communication in the workplace is a major determinant of career success – which we now know is about much more than what we say around the office. This article kicks off a series on nonverbal communication in the workplace, beginning with an important topic I’ve written only briefly about before: tone of voice in the workplace.


The human voice communicates a great deal more than the literal content of its linguistic message. Tone of voice constitutes 38% of our communication. In fact, a great deal of meaning would generally be lost from a message if you removed the vocal component. Think of how ridiculous and funny it sounds when a recorded, robotic voice repeats a normal human sentence: the content is there, but it doesn’t really seem to mean anything.

[Read more…]

False Perfection, True Equilibrium: Empty Ideals and Healthy Realities

In the last four or five years, the internet has been in an uproar over, oddly, photoshop. It turns out the flawless dreamy skin and hourglass shapes plastered across magazine covers are generally not depictions of amazing humans; they are, rather, the portrayals of a gigantic social fantasy reproduced and made possible by sophisticated image editing techniques. The image components just don’t add up to the real versions of the people in front of the camera lenses, and people have begun demanding that editors and publishers give a more honest depiction of the societies they are representing. Consensus is growing around the idea that these misrepresentations have very real consequences: pursuing that kind of false perfection is often a patently dangerous idea. Health is rather more likely to reflect a commitment to balance and consistency, not extreme attempts to achieve superficial and unrealistic ideals.

In a recent blog post Michael Williams argues that a similar idea can be applied to our emotional well-being. [Read more…]

Objectivity, Subjectivity, and the Known Unknowns: Intentions vs. Assumptions in Conflict Resolution

In my last post I wrote about asking, and the important role questions play in creating possibility for conflict resolution. Today is an exploration of important areas of objective and subjective inquiry.

Perhaps we’re all familiar with the analytical equation: in life we have our ‘knowns’ and our ‘unknowns.’ Both can then, in turn, be known or unknown. There are things we are aware that we know (known knowns) and things we know, but not consciously (unknown knowns). Then there are things we know that we don’t know (known unknowns) and things we don’t realize we don’t know (unknown unknowns). In conflict, it’s the unknowns that often trip us up, and the last category – the things we don’t even realize we don’t know – that can be the most insidious. [Read more…]

Your Mind’s Secret Skew: Exploring Implicit Bias


I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer, and found some time to relax with your friends or family in the sun and heat. As we turn the corner into autumn, it’s time to recalibrate to new rhythms and schedules, and maybe new projects, ideas, or colleagues.

Perhaps this shift is a good time to reflect for a moment and consider the hidden biases that we all carry with us in our interactions with the people we encounter in our lives. Harvard research from the past decade has revealed that the vast majority of us see people through lenses of prejudice or bias that we don’t consciously recognize. Even more befuddling, it appears most of us can’t necessarily predict our own biases when we try. This newsletter explores the concept of implicit bias, what we can do to counteract it, and what it means for mediation.


Many of us are aware of the destructive patterns of bias and discrimination that we have inherited from earlier configurations of this society. And on a broad spectrum, many of us have every genuine intention of disengaging from those destructive behaviors and building an increasingly egalitarian world. But in their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington are telling us that those good intentions may not be enough. Not enough, anyway, to upset the staying power of this persistent hangover of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice that seems to plague our society. That, it seems, will take some more intentional effort. [Read more…]

Conflict and David Brooks’ Moral Bucket List

Recently David Brooks published a popular opinion piece titled “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. In it, he contrasts two categories of virtue, one which he dubs “résumé virtues,” the other “eulogy virtues.” Describing his admiration of striking and enlightened individuals who excel in the latter, he argues that culture in the United States encourages people to focus too heavily on cultivating the first category, frequently at detrimental personal expense.

“We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”

While acknowledging the importance and gratification associated with résumé virtues and career success, Brooks insists that this trend results in a kind of institutionalized disassociation.

“You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.”

Brooks paints a compelling picture, and when it went online the piece struck a chord with a substantial readership. As a mediator I was struck most poignantly by the way Brooks’ perspective relates to interpersonal relations, and the consequences of putting the human aspects of our lives beneath our professional imperatives. All too often such an imbalance manifests in our relationships in the workplace, in the community, or at home. And all too often, it results in avoidable conflict or escalation. Reading Brooks’ piece inspired me to write this blog post about conflict related insights that can seem at odds with marketplace pressures, but that are essential for maintaining our humanity and, ultimately, the sense of humanity in all the social spheres we inhabit. [Read more…]

Holiday Post: The Hyperstress of Relaxation

Newsletter Edition: December 2014

The holidays are upon us, those blissful few weeks of tradition and cheer, vacation time, family gatherings – and, according to surveys by the American Psychological Association, boatloads of stress. I want to share how conflict resolution theory and practice can help us deal with the troublesome side of this season. If you’re trolling around the Internet looking for holiday gifts or recipes, you’re likely to bump into troves of gimmicks referring to “holiday stress” (“stress free” holiday recipes, gifts schemes that are sure to help you relax!) It’s become such a trope of American Christmas culture that the Huffington Post has an entire blog post category devoted to it. Insights from conflict resolution and mediation shed light on how it is we end up so stressed as the year draws to a close, and to find some richer, more thoughtful strategies for avoiding conflict and managing hyperstress during the holidays.

Insight on Stress: What’s at the root?

Insight mediation is a mediation strategy that emphasizes reflection and digging into the root source of a conflict or problem. Sometimes taking notice of where an issue originates can completely change our perspective. By putting some mental distance between the strong emotions we are experiencing and their underlying causes, we may avoid misplaced, displaced, and overblown conflicts (which I wrote about last year at this same time). Below are some possible places to look for the instigators of holiday hyperstress.  [Read more…]

Trust: Foundations for Peace

Trust is a fundamental part of all relationships. While we often have a basic understanding of how trust is vital in very close and personal scenarios, we may not be fully aware of the constant role it plays in daily functional exchanges. Trust can be pivotal to successful negotiations, collaborations, or conflict management. A more complete awareness of trust may aid us in understanding how relationships of all kinds can be geared towards more positivity and cooperation.

Types of Trust

In her book The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Leigh L. Thompson[1] describes three types of trust, and ways we can be mindful about how it is both built and broken.

[Read more…]

Conflict Climate: Context Matters

When it comes to confronting conflict, there is a wide array of valuable tools and tactics available for mediators, conflict managers, and individuals to learn and employ in the face of growing tensions or the threat of escalation. However, to see a conflict only in the moment it arises is to see it out of context. The norms and structures within an organization play an influential role in how conflicts originate and play out.  Well before you find yourself searching for a way to intervene on a destructive conflict, you can take account of the conflict climate in your organization, and change the nature of conflict before it even begins to take place. We wrote about this topic in our November 2011 Newsletter as well.

Conflict Climate: More than the Environment

It’s summer, and the heat is creeping in, but when we talk about conflict climate we don’t mean the settings on your air conditioner or the rise in global temperatures. While the environmental characteristics of a setting can influence the tenor of human interaction, conflict climate refers to the social and psychological landscape in which a conflict takes place. No matter the climate, conflicts of varying intensity are likely to punctuate any workplace, community, or relationship, but variables such as trust, power, conflict strategy, and behavioral patterns can have a tremendous impact on their constructive or destructive potential.

[Read more…]

Stress Causes Conflict that Masks the Core Issue

While the holiday season is generally thought of as a happy time of year it can be stressful for many people.  Just getting ready for the holidays and visitors is stressful.  I found myself getting very angry at someone who was helping me over the phone recently and I realized that the source of the conflict was stress and worry about a family member. It had nothing to do with the telephone transaction. It was an example of displaced conflict.

Stress and Conflict

Hyperstress  happens when too many tasks and responsibilities pile up and we are unable to adapt or cope with these changes.  In hyperstress the source is identifiable, such as too many competing deadlines at work and home.  Hyperstress causes physical and chemical reactions in the body.  If the stress is not alleviated exhaustion sets in.   So at this time of year many people experience hyperstress.

Someone who is in a state of hyperstress may cause a conflict to occur that is really not about the core issue.   For example they may be upset and worried about a sick friend or parent. When they’re in hyperstress they unknowingly take this anxiety out on the clerk in the convenience store who is slow at the cash register.

There are three types of such conflicts: [Read more…]