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The Past Matters

Turning the Wheel of Conflict

In mediation disputes the past does matter. Earlier this fall I wrote about the Wheel of Conflict, a concept introduced in a book written by Professors Bernard Meyer and Christopher Moore. In their analysis of conflict, a series of common themes interact with each other; some more heavily than others. Yet, they all play a part in the dynamics of a conflict.

Spin the wheel and the arrow will eventually stop on “history”. What does the history of the parties to conflict tell a mediator about the nature of that conflict? An experienced mediator knows that this is a key element in any conflict and it must be described and expressly recognized so that any decisions reached build important elements of continuity that have value in resolving the conflict.

People that view conflict through the prism of their experience in the business world can have a distorted understanding of how conflict is resolved. For many it is a problem that is taken outside the normal processes so that work can move forward. The fact that it is often moved outside of the normal processes sometimes results in people involved a conflict not having the opportunity to resolve underlying issues; which can color or adversely impact all future relationships involving the parties to the original conflict.

Sometimes the parties to a conflict stay involved all the way to the resolution, and still those underlying issues can remain unresolved. Add to this dynamic the reality that many companies, being sensitive to accountability and diligence concerns, choose binding arbitration which generally solves the immediate issues, but does little to address the root cause of the conflict in the first place.

Some conflicts are easier to resolve than others. Family feuds can last beyond an individual’s lifetime, and the damage can be incalculable. In business disputes the goal is to resolve the conflict in way that preserves the relationship so that the work can move forward without further disruption. They are not necessarily easier to resolve, but the simple fact that people’s careers and livelihoods are often on the line tends to focus one’s attention on search for ways to solve disputes in a business environment.

What the parties to the conflict need to know about the other party matters. Failure to understand the motivations and values of the other party(s) to the conflict will lead to assumptions about the other party that are almost always wrong. The drawing of conclusions will create negative biases that can impede or damage progress, delay resolution of the issues, and even bring about long-lasting harm to a business relationship.

The above cannot be overstated. Whether you Kellogg protecting a cereal brand, Mattel defending a line of dolls, or Oracle protecting its software, the battles are costly, time-consuming, and damaging to the reputations of both parties in these types of disputes.

Mediation is often the overlooked avenue that prevents conflicts from escalating to the point they become a legal precedent or a case study in business schools, and these outcomes are legacies most companies want to avoid.

Want to know more about prevent or mitigating business conflicts? Contact us at or by E-mail at We can also be reached by telephone at 832-452-8537.

I strongly support small business development. I do this through the Services Cooperative Association here in Houston. SCA helps people become successful business owners and entrepreneurs. If you work in Houston, Texas have breakfast with us at the Lakeside Country Club on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017. We will be hosting the 34th Annual Economic Forecast. Contact me for a ticket at a reduced price, or learn more about the event here.

The Hidden Snares

Before decisions comes the problem solving

I live and work in Houston Texas as do many of the people who read my letters and follow my blog. Many of you living here work for companies with a focus on or an involvement in oil and gas production. Others work in companies not related to oil and gas, but represent a number of other industries. No matter which industry, most of the companies over a certain size, have the following characteristics in common:

A compliance program conforming to the regulations and rules promoted by either the federal or state government.

An ethics policy

A credo stating the company’s foundational principles

Procedures and guidelines that incorporate clear standards of behavior

Training programs that direct managers and employees in understanding their obligations across a range of ethical issues.

For many companies these are important processes that go back decades. Companies spent tens of thousands of dollars to set up and implement these processes and spend thousands of hours and a significant amount of money each year managing these processes, analyzing and reporting on their adherence to and compliance with these requirements.

Last week I stood next to a client looking at a section of the Interstate that passes in front of his office about 100 yards away and some three stories below us. He noted that the real estate we saw in front of us had changed a lot in the 30 plus years he had been at that location, and that the way he did business had changed even more.

We had just finished a meeting where we were discussing some changes to the way his company approaches ethics training and it was a conversation that had some difficult moments for both of us because his company spent a lot of money to install and implement the processes that are in place and the training that supports it. He was still not convinced of the benefits to his operations.

As we stood there, I asked him to think about the fact that he and I are surrounded by companies that have all the above processes, including his company; all of them trying to get it right. Yet the landscape is dotted with companies that operate under a Consent Decree or Deferred Prosecution Agreement imposed by the Department of Justice because in spite of the above, they didn’t get it right.

That is the harsh reality of today’s compliance environment. It does not matter whether your company is in the oil & gas industry, banking, or retail, none of these processes and programs offer any level of certainty. Given the number of companies that fell short and paid sizable fines, and must now conduct their operations under the watchful eye of the government, the question becomes how to avoid being added to the list.  My client thanked me for giving him such a warm and fuzzy feeling and said that perhaps we did need to talk more on the ideas we discussed, and he invited me back in the New Year to talk more.

The people who manage and administer a company’s compliance program well appreciate the difficulties they work under.  For them it is a constant search for behaviors behind decision-making that do not conform to the standards, working to re-orient, and train managers and employees not to take the wrong action. Compliance professionals know full well that somewhere someone is taking a shortcut, intimidating an employee, or engaging in any number of actions that lead to unethical conduct, which if not corrected, will result in adverse consequences that are almost always severe and expensive.

Here at the Ethics Workshop, a division of CDCI we help our clients focus on the human factor behind these processes and procedures. In our presentations and training modules we look for ways to have conversations that promote an organic approach to ethics. To learn more please visit our website to view these offerings in more detail.

If you read my letter on a regular basis you know that I support those starting new businesses or looking to grow their business, and I offer that support through an organization called the Services Cooperative Association. The SCA is hosting an economic forecast on January 11, 2017 and the keynote speaker will be Mr. Chris Brown, Houston City Comptroller.  Also speaking is  Professor Sophi Haci of the economics department of Houston Community College who will give an overview of the Texas economy. It will the 34th year that SCA sponsors this event and I invite you to visit the announcement here to learn more about it and put it on your calendar.

Thought for the day and one of my favorites: “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” (John Wooden).

The Absence of Courage

Broken concrete pier or jetty and rocks on a blue sea. Hills on background. Long exposure photography.

After the Shock Wave

This week’s blog can also be called Ethic’s Seismic Fracture, and here is why.

Wells Fargo Corporation opened fake bank accounts and fake credit card accounts, and charged its customers fees for accounts they did not know existed. These actions were both illegal and unethical and will have significant consequences for all those involved. It has all the trappings of a soap opera scandal and everyone is piling on adding his or her opinion wherever they can. But the story is not over and I think there is more to come.

This is an ethical failure of seismic proportions, and I will likely write about it in a future letter, but it is too soon because I don’t believe we know the whole story. It does offer an excellent segue into a related issue that I think is relevant to this story.

An article in the Harvard Business Review discussed the subject of listening and why this is such a critical skill for CEOs and other leaders. The author noted that a recent survey indicated as many as 25 percent of CEOs of major companies were either not good listeners or down right bad at it. The article went on to explain that this deficit at that level of leadership in a company can have severe consequences to the point of damaging the company. I think it’s safe to say the authors of that survey got that one right.

When such a deficit exists at the top level, imagine what the absence of this skill would mean in someone heading up a major business unit who must communicate and receive feedback from other business unit leaders. Information naturally flows up an organization making information transfers across the various organizations difficult at best, but it is made more difficult if the person in charge of one of these organizational structures does not listen well.

Think for a moment about a company much like Wells Fargo where employees at multiple levels in an organization are trying to convey important information up the chain of command; information that signals the train is going too fast and is about to go off the tracks, but that information doesn’t move up the organization. It meet resistance that shows itself in several ways. These can be procedures that require detailed explanations and lengthy reviews for no apparent reason, a set of well-established routines that do not conform to any written procedures or policies and which cannot be bypassed, and a culture that says to the average manager or employee “make your numbers first and save your complaints for later…” The transition from poor listening skills to an un-willingness to listen is a very short step.

One of the most important skills a leader has is the ability to listen. It is one of the ingredients of leadership that separates a leader from the rest of the crowd. Does this mean that you can’t achieve a leadership role without this skill? No, it doesn’t; a person can achieve a leadership role in a company or organization without this skill, but the chances of doing well in that position are significantly diminished without it.

The leaders at Wells Fargo failed in their leadership role. It is not the first company to suffer a severe failure of leadership, and it won’t be the last. As more time passes I think we will find there were ample opportunities to change the work ethic in that company, but the warning signs were ignored. I believe the failure to listen at various levels of the organization was the catalyst that sowed the seeds for disaster.

Successful leaders learn early in their careers that listening is part of a process designed to produce communication with others that works so that misunderstandings are reduced or eliminated. I encourage those who read my letter each month to read, or if you have already, then re-read Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He understood that listening, especially empathic listening requires training. Sometimes leaders trained themselves to achieve this level of listening, and sometimes leaders found someone to teach them how to achieve this level of listening.

In chapter 5 of his book Stephen Covey wrote that there are several principles of communication and he begins by saying “seek first to understand then to be understood”. I believe those principles are as valid today as when he wrote his book some 30 years ago.

The idea that you first needed to understand the person you were talking to was a completely foreign concept to the vast majority of people. In the business world of that era it was seen as an impractical point of view, and that view was not hard to understand in that most communication at time was directive in nature where the boss told his employees what to do and when he wanted it done and the employee was expected to figure it out.

I am firmly convinced that empathic listening as he wrote about has a sound ethical foundation and provides the best framework for building listening skills of the scope and reach that will separate you from the crowd, and sustain you in your role as a leader.

A strong ethical culture requires the right kind of action. Listening is an action and so it must be supported by the right kind of action to be successful.

Food for thought: Great readers and great listeners all have great work ethics. They work hard at what they do and they are devout about their reading and listening. (Andy Wilkinson)

CDC Integrated Services believes that small businesses are the foundation of ingenuity and supports the efforts of the Services Cooperative Association in Houston in its efforts to foster and promote entrepreneurship

Emotions and Conflict

Tough to brakeThis is the third post in my series of comments on the Wheel of Conflict developed by professors Bernard Mayer, Ph.D. and Christopher Moore, Ph.D. In developing the graphic illustration of the different factors that drive conflict, these two gentlemen placed Emotion immediately after Structure. There are sound reasons for their decision to place where they did because emotions drive one’s actions, behaviors, and even thinking.

More than 50 years of research offer compelling evidence that emotions strongly shape most decisions, and are a key driver of behavior, and are often the impetus behind conflicts in the workplace and even between companies. Emotions are not uniformly negative as both science and history teaches us. Strong emotions can drive people to achieve extraordinary things; even anger can generate positive outcomes.

But the converse is equally true in that emotions such as anger can create a negative and damaging environment in the workplace and is often the driver behind many workplace conflicts.

Psychologist John D. Mayer argues that emotions carry a physical aspect when they bridge thought, feeling, and action and can impact a person’s physiology both positively and negatively depending on the level of stress being felt at the time of the decision/action. This simple truth has been experienced by anyone confronted by a demanding task coupled with a critical timeline.

Managers and supervisors often fail to recognize that decisions people make in the workplace are judged, by those making the decision or taking the action, on the basis of the risk to themselves. That perceived risk strongly influences their decisions or their actions. Someone who feels anxious about the impact of the outcome on him/her may choose a more conservative approach, involve others, take longer to execute the task, and potentially sacrifice the best outcome for one that is safe.

A negative work environment will drive other negative behaviors. Doing the safe thing can lead to doing only the least necessary to stay “under the radar”, and it can lead to other more damaging behaviors such as missing schedules, making excuses, asking others to do the work for you.

Managers and supervisors need to develop an active awareness of those situations where emotions can have an adverse effect on the work, the cohesiveness of the group, and the productivity that is necessary to produce the necessary outcomes, and they must be able to react in a constructive way to avoid the potential for conflict without creating reasons for greater anxiety and uncertainty.

Want to know more? Visit us at or call us at 832-452-8537.

August at the Library

Direct from The Ethics Workshop.   Have you been to the library recently?

Well, come join us at the Kendall Branch of the Houston Library (see below) on August 25th.

Start Now Indicating At This Time And Immediate

Experience an Introduction to:


Mark down the date and location shown below. Spend just two hours with us and you will learn about the building blocks for a more dynamic culture in the workplace.

Behavior drives failure and behavior drives success. Lean how to prevent/mitigate failure and increase success in your work.


In two hours YOU will learn:

That doing the right thing sets the stage.

That doing the right thing at the right time defeats failure

That doing the right thing for the right reason is the difference between success and great success.

In two hours find out how these building blocks apply to real life situations and can transform a department or a company.

 AUGUST AT THE LIBRARY – join us on the 25th from 1:15 to 3:15 PM at 609 N. Eldridge Parkway, Houston, TX 77079.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST??  WOW!  YOU ARE IN LUCK. For this day only it is FREE.

The regular price for this is event is $189.00 per person, but we are introducing it to businesses in West Houston and Katy on the date indicated above through this no cost introductory offer.

To register, or for more information about other dates, please contact Jerry Cooper at: 832-452-8537, or at

Jerry P. Cooper

CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Structure and Conflict


In my earlier post I introduced the Wheel of Conflict created by Professors Bernard Mayer, Ph.D. and Christopher Moore, Ph.D.  When you read their work and the work of other practitioners, the starting point is often a discussion about the role of structure as a source of conflict. The point the two authors emphasized was that many conflicts result from the dynamics that exist between a manager/supervisor and the employees that report to him or her.

The primary fact of any company’s or organization’s structure is they contain a hierarchy where the higher you are in an organization the more authority and power you have over the actions and decisions of others. The manager or supervisor is the key player in anticipating and mitigating the potential for conflict. Therefore, one of his/her primary rolls is avoid being the source of conflict.

In any department, group, or team conflict is inevitable because the members of that organization will have different views on how to advance the work and often there will be differences of opinion on how to proceed. These differences can be exacerbated by the realities that every organization faces: limited resources, limited time, budget constraints, and a range of other constraints as well.

The manager or supervisor has a critical responsibility to see that the structure under which the team operates does not become the problem. The organizational structure by design puts limits and controls over any process and the people there. The manager’s goal is to make those constrains as neutral as possible.

It often sounds trite, but the key to eliminating structure as a source of conflict lies in the way managers communicate with the other members of the team. What gets communicated, how it’s communicated and when are critical factors in how a team responds to the information they must work with.

The Wheel of Conflict

Steering wheel of the train service for controlling

Wheel on train service vehicle

No single element in a conflict stands alone, and no conflict arises from one single reason. There are multiple factors and these are better understood when they are placed in relation to a wheel as discussed below.

Structure, emotion, history, communication, and values are elements/factors that influence the dynamics of conflict in the workplace. All of these exist to some degree in every conflict, and how they interact and influence each other often drives the direction and the severity of a particular conflict.

Professors Bernard Mayer, Ph.D. and Christopher Moore, Ph.D;’long time students, teachers, and practitioners of conflict resolution, created a graphic in the form of a wheel to help those who want  to avoid, mitigate, and when necessary resolve conflict. Each of the above elements, viewed as a section of the wheel, form distinct aspects of a conflict, and those confronting conflict can use this representation as an aid to thinking their way through the minefield that is conflict in today’s workplace.

In the coming weeks I will use this space to discuss each of these factors and why looking at them individually is a necessary first step in understanding the larger picture. The concept of the Wheel of Conflict is important for those trying to resolve conflict because it helps them understand the complex and tense emotions that are present in these situations.   The wheel reminds us that one’s point of view is not necessarily shared by the others involved in the conflict.

I will discuss structure in more detail in my next post, but for the moment I will leave with Messrs Mayer and Moore’s description that it is in part  “…the dynamics of the participants that might be creating the conflict, for example, boss and employee…”

Just a Thought

tug of warThe word Argument is heard often in the field of conflict resolution. It is one of the words heard most often when a conflict is examined during the course of a mediation or even a post-mediation lessons learned process.

It is an important word with broader application that one gets by listening to what goes on around them. Many of us hear every day that someone got into an argument with so and so. All of us can benefit by the reminder that the most common understanding of this word is well down the list of definitions. There are a total of six definitions for this word, but one is obsolete, so only five are relevant today.

For this post, I believe the strongest benefit for us in our everyday considerations is number two on the list which is “a reason or set of reason given in proof or rebuttal”. Closely following this definition is the third definition which is “a coherent series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion”.

Defining an argument as a quarrel or disagreement is well down the list. My point in this post, in a sense, is a continuation of my earlier post. As executives, leaders, managers, your goal is not to avoid or mitigate disagreements, but deal with them through reasoned persuasion or by reasoned argument. And lest anyone forget, reasoned argument carries with it the obligation to listen using both active listening and empathic listening skills.

Want to learn more? We can help. Call us at 832-452-8537 or write us at: