Episode: 293 |
Ken Cloke :
Conflict Resolution:


Ken Cloke

Conflict Resolution

Show Notes

Ken Cloke is a leading global expert on conflict resolution and the author of over a dozen books.

In this episode, Ken shares the principles of conflict resolution, and how he became a pioneer in the field.

Learn more about Ken on his website:  https://www.kencloke.com/about

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m here today with Ken cloak, who is an expert in conflict resolution. Ken, welcome to the show.

Ken Cloke 00:20
Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.

Will Bachman 00:23
Ken, I’m really excited to have you on the show today. I’ve never really spoken with someone who does conflict resolution for you know, businesses. I know you work with businesses, nonprofits, governments. Tell us a little bit about what is what is a conflict resolution expert?

Ken Cloke 00:41
Well, it conflict resolution is in the first place and ancient skill. Because as a species, we have had conflicts since the very beginning. You might say that it may not be the oldest profession, but it may very well be the second oldest profession. And then the second part is that in really the last part of the 20th century, during the 1980s 90s, on into the present, certainly for the last 40 years. Conflict Resolution has taken on a brand new face. It’s become a profession in its own right. It has developed elaborate and rich procedures, methodologies, approaches to looking at organizations from a conflict resolution perspective. It has developed a very rich set of dialogue, facilitation skills, collaborative negotiation skills, what are called nonviolent communication skills, restorative justice, appreciative inquiry, all of these are fields of work within conflict resolution. And the basic idea of it is that every organization experiences conflicts, in part because it consists of a diverse group of people being brought together to achieve some common purpose. All right.

Will Bachman 02:17
Um, so yeah, give us some examples of, and that’s interesting, because a lot of times, you might think if there’s a dispute, if you can’t resolve it, you call the attorneys that might be, but this is an alternate route, tell us some examples of a type of situation where you might be called into a business to, you know, to help resolve a conflict.

Ken Cloke 02:40
Sure, um, there are actually there are 1000s and 1000s of examples, ranging from conflicts between individuals in the workforce conflicts between workers and supervisors, supervisors, and upper management, conflicts within upper management about which direction to take place to go in, conflicts over having been treated badly, or in ways that feel disrespectful conflicts over poor communication, miscommunication, team conflicts, conflicts, over kind of the strategic orientation of the organization, conflicts with suppliers, cultural conflicts, or cross cultural conflicts, conflicts based on diversity, based on race based on gender. All of these occur in multiple ways throughout the workforce, and throughout organizations. So the goal of it is really to create a kind of integrated approach to understanding the source of those conflicts, particularly to understand the chronic conflicts, the ones that repeat over and over again, and then to design approaches to those conflicts that will be less costly, take less time and produce greater satisfaction in terms of results.

Will Bachman 04:23
Fantastic. Could you give us some examples of you mentioned that the field has built a wide range of procedures and approaches and techniques to help resolve conflict? Could you maybe walk us through an example that you’ve worked on, obviously, you can sanitize it, but walk through an example of a conflict that you’ve helped with? And along the way, maybe share some examples of techniques or approaches that a non professional and amateur like one myself or one of the listeners could put Adopt, you know, in our in our practice? Sure, um, there are so many I’ve done, I’ve been doing this work over the last 40 years and have done 1000s and 1000s of these, let’s take a case, let’s say a case where you’re helped resolve a conflict, sort of within upper management, that’s gonna be pretty relevant to a lot of us. So it may be something where maybe the top team was not aligned, and you helped resolve a conflict among Sure.

Ken Cloke 05:32
Here’s a conflict that took place in a fortune 100 Entertainment Corporation, between the two top leaders of the organization, both of the men and the person who was the CEO, was in conflict with the CEO, essentially, of the organization, not just over kind of how the clo was managing things, but the perception of the CEO that the CEO was undermining his position, his authority and perception on the clo was part that the CEO was yelling and diminish demeaning people, and making his job more difficult. And what happened was that they the two of them, each believed that they were right, and the other one was wrong about how they were approaching this. What they discovered through conversation was that they each had a different approach to solving the same set of problems. And rather than thinking of one approach being right, and the other approach being wrong, they could begin to talk about what was valuable in each approach, and how those different approaches could be combined together in a creative way, that would make them stronger, and more powerful.

Will Bachman 07:10
Alright, let’s, let’s, let’s dive in a little bit. So that sounds awesome. Like, what were the things that you did to help get to that resolution? Like when you sort of interview each one individually? Or talk to all their, you know, reports, or do a 360? Or, like, what were the things that you did to help them get to that point?

Ken Cloke 07:30
Yes, the answer is, both of those. But let me drill down a little bit beneath that. So in the first place interviews, of course, we all understand how valuable and important interviews are. The question is, what questions are you asking in the interviews, and what we’re trying to do here is to discover the sources of the conflict for each person. And those sources go back layer after layer after layer, into prior experiences that people have had with the certain types of behavior that are difficult for them to handle. And what these represent is fundamentally a lack of skill at being able to handle particular kinds of behavior. So then there are opportunities to help them develop those skill, skills, and those take place in the form of individual coaching. But the basic purpose is to, for me to then design, a conversation that is going to bring them into connection, empathetic connection with each other, a connection where they’re able to actually learn from each other. And the assumption is that conflicts all take place, when there are two or more truths, each one of which believes that it’s the only truth and that there are no others, or that the others are lesser. And so the goal of it is then to create a kind of dialogue between them. Now, what had to happen here was, there didn’t have to be a 360. Because each of them had to look at how they were being perceived by the people around them. And the goal of the 360 is not just to find out what people think and reported back, the goal is then to turn that in the direction of collaborative problem solving. And that’s the piece that is oftentimes missing in many organizations. And in order to do that, there has to be a kind of dialogue on the part of the people who are in the top leadership team, about how everybody is going to tackle this problem and how they’re going to do it. together. All right.

Will Bachman 10:04
Tell us about another example. So you mentioned that you one would be conflicts with suppliers. I’d love to hear an example of that. And like, what was the situation? And how did you get involved in that one.

Ken Cloke 10:17
Um, this is one that involved a very large agricultural produce organization. And what was happening was that there were, there was a lot of waste taking place at the suppliers, and that was being then passed on to the primary organization. And the difficulty was that they had created a reward and compensation system that did not incentivize a reduction in waste. And so we just came in and realize that this is what the problem was, that it wasn’t actually an interpersonal problem at all. But instead, it was a systemic problem. And look, when when looked at from the point of view of how you could, for example, create a system of pay for reduction in waste. All of a sudden, the problems begin to reverse. But this had to be brought down to the level of the people who were actually doing the work. So we had to create a multi step process for doing this. But here’s a place where it often comes up in conflict resolution, where people believe that they are having a conflict with another person. And the reason they believe that is because the organizational system doesn’t show up as a participant in the conflict. The organizational culture does not show up as a participant in the conflict. Instead, individual people show up, and they become then the expression of that those systems and processes. Okay.

Will Bachman 12:23
So for those of us who are listening, could are Is there a set of three or four or five kind of techniques of conflict resolution? Or maybe it’s a process that those of us who aren’t, you know, going to professional conflict resolution professionals, but still encounter conflicts with our clients? And we’d like to help them? What are some of the basic tools that we should, you know, get familiar with maybe could teach us some of those basic tools?

Ken Cloke 12:55
Sure. And I would say that it’s not just for organizational conflicts, because organizational, the way that people behave in conflict is not limited to how they behave in organizations, but they do similar things at home, in their families, in their marriages, in their communities, as neighbors, whatever. But here are a couple of things that work number one, to describe the problem as an IT rather than as a you. And every problem that you frame is a you can be turned into a description of a problem as a net, or a description of a problem as an eye or a Wi Fi. So for example, if you say you are lazy, that that expression is going to predictably produce defensiveness and counter accusation. But if you say, there’s a lot of work to be done, how should it be divided? Nobody’s going to get defensive. Because you’ve framed the problem as an asset rather than as a you. The second thing is to shift the focus from the past to the future. So people can argue forever about who did it first. You did it? No, I didn’t. Yes, you did. No, I didn’t. Yes, you did. But if you ask, Do either of you want it to happen again? The answer will be no. And you will easily reach consensus on a future course of action that will improve behavior moving forward. A third approach and possibly the most powerful of these is to shift the focus from positions to interests. A position is what you want. Interest is the reason why you want it. And when you state a position, you have presented it in the form of a win lose game. So if there’s a total of 10 points, they start winning. If I get seven, you get three. But if I get eight, you get two. And there’s a different approach, which is the approach of interests, which is, why is this important to you to simply ask that question? And then what you will get is an answer is a question that can be answered in multiple ways. So if the reason that I want the air conditioning unit to be turned off, is because I’m freezing, somebody can give me a jacket, we could bring in a space heater. But if the reason I want to turn it off, is because it’s too loud, and I can’t hear you, we could bring in a microphone, I could speak louder. And what we discover is, with interest, there are multiple ways of satisfying them that don’t require a loser. Then, so those are sort of three top ones, there are others. Search for criteria for a successful solution. Um, ask people listen to the problem. And actually, don’t try to solve the problem until you figure it out. And really discussed and plumbed a little bit deeper to figure out what the problem actually is. Because oftentimes, the real problem is not the problem that presents itself for a solution.

Will Bachman 16:43
Give us an example of that of where you’ve gone into a situation. And they gave you the surface problem, say, you know, please help us resolve this surface problem conflict. Yeah. But then you help dig deeper.

Ken Cloke 16:57
Sure. So here’s one, this is another conflict in a leadership team between a CEO who is very hard driving, and comes into work at 530 every morning, and expect all of the people who are going to be successful in that organization to arrive within a half hour of him. And if you don’t, you’re in trouble in the organization. And what it turns out is, in working with him on these issues, people are pushing back and saying they’ve got kids, they can’t really do it. They’ve got to take the kids to school, whatever it might happen to be. And it turns out that he his father, went to work at five in the morning, and would get up before the sun rose, and go downstairs to shower. And his the CEO said he never saw his dad. And his dad missed all of his games, because he was always working late. And so I said is, is that what you want to have for your family? And he just started to cry? And he said, No. And he then prepared a presentation, we prepared it together to his top leadership team, in which he, he said, here’s what I have been doing. And I’m gonna stop. And, yes, I still have expectations that everybody is going to give their best effort to this. But we’re going to have a lot more flexibility about how you do that. And when you do it.

Will Bachman 18:43
Fantastic. So yeah, so Yeah, go ahead. So these are some really helpful techniques, do you have a kind of Jen generic or general process to think about going through as you encounter a conflict to work on resolving it? So is there a sort of a set of steps like, you know, figure out what’s going on, and you know, that, you know, information gathering, and then, you know, is there step 1234 that you did that you have?

Ken Cloke 19:16
It’s easy to identify those steps. And there are different ones for different types of processes. I wrote a book called resolving conflicts at work with a colon subtitle is 10 strategies for everyone on the job. And they’re identified 10 different strategies that you can pursue and trying to resolve workplace conflicts. There’s a different set of strategies, for example, in what I call, large group, multi stakeholder consensus building processes. That is when you’re working with city governments, for example, or if you’re working on environmental issues, or if you’re Trying to resolve zoning disputes, or any number of different issues that involve multiple stakeholders. And then there’s a different set of sometimes 10 or 12 different ways of doing it. But the important thing to do is to reinvent those generic steps every time you do it. So and not to assume that you know exactly how this one is going to come out, because every one is going to be different. And in doing that, there are certain basic, what you could call values, or principles that work. The first one that works is listening, listening deeply, not rushing into solutions, but actually stopping for a moment, and asking questions about what is really going on here. And earlier this week, I taught a course on the art of asking questions. And what we want to do is to figure out what are the questions that we need to ask that are going to help us get beneath the surface, a description of the conflict down to the actual level that it takes place at, which is much more profound? And much harder to talk about, which is the reason why it’s so defended?

Will Bachman 21:31
Could you tell us a little bit about how you can enter this field of conflict resolution?

Ken Cloke 21:40
Yeah, actually, there were three things that kind of combined together. In the first place, I was a judge, um, I had been an attorney and had become a judge in California, and felt that the work that I was doing was, you know, sort of relatively superficial and not particularly effective. Because the law, as a project doesn’t permit certain kinds of conversations that are exactly the kinds of conversations that need to take place in order for people to get to a place where they’re able to resolve their disputes, informal conversations, for example, personal conversations, off the record conversations, emotionally informed conversations, simply brainstorming conversations, where people are trying out ideas for, to see how they work. Those kinds of conversations couldn’t happen. The second part was that I went through a divorce myself and experienced how difficult that was, and felt that there had to be some better solution. And the third was that I was selected as the first judge on People’s Court before Judge wapner. And we they did a pilot program. And I decided this case, but instead of deciding it, I asked some questions of the people and figured out a solution that didn’t require anyone to win or to lose. And the parties walked away very happy with the outcome. But I was fired immediately afterwards, by the producers, because they wanted to have someone lose in order to be able to interview them afterwards. And take that moment of, you know, sort of emotional upset an accident, and show that on on television. And so following these, I was thinking about all of these and I found out about conflict resolution. As a judge, I had done some settlement work and had been assigned to settle cases and found out I was good at it. And then found out about mediation and immediately changed my life.

Will Bachman 24:16
And tell us about your sort of portfolio of career. So you’ve written a whole series of books. You I think, I think you’ve also taught and you work as a consultant consultant, how do you kind of combine all these different aspects of your portfolio career?

Ken Cloke 24:35
Yeah, there are those there are a series of others. In addition to those I designed conflict resolution systems for organizations. I do what I call conflict coaching, and consulting. I teach a course at Pepperdine law school in Malibu on campus. Conflict Resolution consulting. And I would say that at the center of it are a set of core ideas. What connects all of these different processes and procedures and methodologies together is a fundamental respect for human difference and human diversity. And a search for ways of bringing those into productive conversation with each other. So my way of thinking of it is that there are two ways of combining things together, you can take hot water and cold water and combine them together to produce lukewarm water. And that’s compromise. Or you can take water and add flour, and yeast and heat and make bread. And the bread that comes out at the end has nothing in common with the flour or the yeast or the heat or the water. And yet, it’s the product of all of them. It’s a higher order synthesis, or combination of those ingredients. But they have to be mixed in the right amounts at the right times in order to produce that amazing product of bread. And that’s what we try to do in conflict resolution. And that’s the thing that is for me at the core of this work, that experience every single day of helping people make bread.

Will Bachman 26:34
It’s a shame that that you didn’t get on the show, I think that there might be an appetite for show like that. I’d be fast. Yeah, the amazing show to actually see conflicts in resolved in real time, be amazing. It’s in. So tell us a little bit about the kind of the range of the clients that you serve.

Ken Cloke 26:57
all over the map. Let’s see, I’m working right now with a very well known internationally famous, I guess, environmental organization. I have been working with a city government in Arkansas, on resolving environmental disputes. I am working right now with an organization really a non violent political organization in the Middle East that consists of former soldiers for the Israeli Defense Force, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, etc, former fighters for these organizations have decided to come together and say that, you know, some, we have to have a different approach. Um, I am working. In addition, with a sort of Corporation right now that has a, it’s a union environment. So there’s the head of the Union, and the head of the company, they’re at loggerheads with each other. I just finished doing a training for a large sort of producer of mechanical parts for engines and, you know, sort of engineering these parts and putting them together. And they’ve been having a lot of divisions in their workforce, particularly things that have come out of the pandemic. And an effort to sort of help them figure out how to do that, how to talk to each other and how to resolve their differences. I’ve done work with hospitals and healthcare organizations, resolving conflicts between doctors and nurses, mediating wrongful death cases. I still work occasionally as an arbitrator in labor management disputes. But mostly I like to mediate those wherever I can.

Will Bachman 29:06
How is conflict resolution different than negotiation? So if you think about the word of Stuart diamond or other negotiation sounds like there’s a fair bit of overlap, but there might be some areas out there outside, how would you distinguish the two? What’s the what what’s the overlap and what’s, what’s the difference?

Ken Cloke 29:27
Yeah, there’s a little bit of negotiation that goes into every mediation, fundamentally, both are part of a larger field of conflict resolution. And negotiation is one way of addressing differences. But there are multiple ways of addressing those differences and not just negotiating outcomes. And even within negotiation, there are adgroups, adversarial forms of negotiation and collaborative forms of negotiation. Fundamentally, what we, I think realize in the process of negotiation is that we are not just negotiating quantities, we are negotiating qualities, the quality of our communication, the quality of our relationship, the quality of our process. And these are really essential to understand because whatever it is that we do, that undermines the other side in order to gain some temporary advantage, can create ongoing problems in the relationship that last much, much longer. So, I spoke, for example, not too long ago with a union organizer in a collective bargaining dispute that I was mediating. And what he said was about the history of this case, was that three years ago, he had been the head of the Union also, and they had negotiated a deal. That was a complete success for the union and totally destroyed their relationship. And now they’re paying for it. And they had to come back here in mediation in order to reverse that process, because the relationship was far more fundamental than the agreement that they reached, and far more lasting.

Will Bachman 31:33
Amazing. Well, this has been incredibly educational for me, can you Where can people who wanted to learn more about your work and your books, where’s like to point them online?

Ken Cloke 31:45
Probably the best place is my website, which is www dot can cloak that is CL o ke e.com.

Will Bachman 31:55
Fantastic and and we will include that link in the show notes. Ken, thank you so much for joining today.

Ken Cloke 32:01
A total pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me. I really appreciate it.

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