On Dualities

 This post’s topic is the idea of dualities and understanding how we tend to frame our thinking based on our collective experience and our own personal enculturation.

Bruce MacAllister, Executive Director

Bruce MacAllister, Executive Director Business Excellence Solutions

I recently prepared a talk for an upcoming presentation to a group of graduate business students at a large university on the power of framing and setting the frame and operating metaphors for conversation. Politicians, for example, have long been adept at understanding and using “framing,” “pivoting,” and choosing “metaphors” to help them claim the “high ground” (a metaphor itself) in political dialogue and for influencing their voter-base. This week’s national political events powerfully illustrate framing issues.  (My next post will focus on “framing” in the recent political context.”)

For those who are not familiar with these concepts, before jumping into today’s topic, perhaps a refresher on terms will be helpful. “Framing,” in this context, refers to placing the concept that you wish to share within a “frame” or “framework” that is based on a set of assumptions that you, as the person doing the framing, presume are governing in the situation. Essentially, we tend to form our thoughts and express our opinions based on our personal framework. Framing often occurs subconsciously. Examples of how we communicate within a frame include choosing a particular metaphor or analogy that we believe will help the other person understand “where we are coming from.” Typically our metaphors are spawned out of collective experience, shared culture, myth, or legend, or widely held traditions. Examples include comparing “progress in the workplace” to “gaining ground” (a football or military metaphor). Or comparing someone’s behavior or a natural phenomenon to an animal – “the fog comes on little cats’ feet,” “scared-ie cat,” “bullish” “on the scent of …”

On the other hand, “pivoting” is a term that is often applied to situations where a person wants to reset the frame that they are presented and apply a new and different framework that they perceive is more fitting or enables shifting the direction of the conversation. A classic example of pivoting can be seen where a politician is asked about his or her low poll numbers and replies along the lines of “my constituents don’t care about polls, they care about the current unfair tax burden.” This allows the politician to reset the frame to attempt to induce acceptance of a different framework – in essence, a different reality or value base.

Having shared a bit about terminology, I want to turn the focus to the concept of “dualities.” The concept of dualities is, of course, its own frame. As we often view it, it assumes that for virtually every state or value, there is an equal and opposite state or value: sleep/awake, light/heavy; dark/light; good/evil, hot/cold – the list goes on and on. While American culture is wonderfully diverse, the roots and tendrils of some Anglo-American concepts are so deeply imbedded in our systems, that they are institutionalized. The concept of oppositional dualities is one example. Our culture is deeply steeped in the tradition of dualities in opposition. Our forefathers established a legal system that hinged on opposition, with the stronger position prevailing. A bit earlier in this system, “our” western traditions even accepted trial by combat, where the position of person who prevailed was deemed valid based on prevailing in this conflict. Our culture is steeped with institutions that function with dualities in opposition as a fundamental framework. Our court system, many sports competitions, our two-party system, and many other institutions provide excellent current examples.

This tradition of dualities existing in opposition to one another has been carried forward into literature and modern research. We are traditionally taught that stories focus on “man against man,” or “man against nature,” and, indeed, many literary masterpieces are bases on such a premise. Anyone remember reading Moby Dick?

One issue with accepting the concept of oppositional dualities is that it assumes movement only if the forces are not equal. That is it assumes that the “righteous will prevail.” However, in todays complex world, it appears that embracing the concept of oppositional dualities can lead to no movement at all, because old issues and beliefs never truly disappear and opposition resurfaces with new force and when forces are balanced no movement can occur.

At a recent conference for dispute resolution professionals, a prominent writer and professor who focuses on dispute resolution research gave a wonderful talk about his latest book. He focused on what he referred to as “conflict paradox.” He listed even more oppositional dualities: optimism/realism, avoidance/engagement, principle/compromise, and others.

After the presentation, I bumped into a colleague whose traditions and frameworks were developed in a completely different cultural setting. She reminded me of my article on The Tao of Communication. (See my February 4, 2014 blog article). To her the concept of assuming that dualities primarily exist in opposition was an understandable but unnatural concept. Instead, she indicated that, in her culture, they saw dualities as bringing the world and people together in balance and harmony.  

I discussed this concept of dualities in my blog article and included verse quotations from the Tao Te Chin. I gave examples of the operating framework for this concept as illustrated in The Uses of What is Not. Here, we spoke to the idea that often the value of something is found in where it is not such as the space inside a glass, or the value of a door leading into a room. I each example there was value to the item, but essentially because of it’s the space it made. This is an important martial arts concept, but it is also an important concept for communication and, indeed, for governance.

I do not mean to over-simplify or overstate the idea that Western tradition always places dualities in opposition. The  Western, Judeo-Christian tradition includes exceptional examples of approaching dualities in balance and in season. Recall the wonderful verses in Ecclesiastes 3 … “for every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven …” When dealing with crisis or conflict, I have found through the years that the concept of accepting dualities in balance and “in season” is extremely helpful to self-care and to acceptance

In our next post we will continue our focus on framing — its power and pitfalls.  Future posts will focus on the value of acceptance using the framework of “in its season,”  or in within the framework of harmony, such as the concept of “yin and yang.”

BJM August 15, 2017

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Program and System Review

Program and System Review – Updates on Services

We have recently made a number of changes and upgrades to our current website. Given that currently over 40% of our visitors view our site with an iPhone, Android device or a tablet, our goal is to eventually completely retool the website to be more phone and tablet friendly. Meanwhile, we have made a number of content enhancements, including introducing new collaborators and program details. Most recently we upgraded our “Services Detail” page to include a more detailed explanation of a growing area of our current workload, conducting program reviews.


We have wide-ranging experience in working with organizations to review the sources of systemic inefficiency and chronic conflict. We normally approach these sorts of reviews using our tried and true Organizational Assessment process (link). But, our experience with conducting specialized program reviews that focus on evaluating service quality, system compliance, gaps, and ethics and legal risks is equally wide ranging and includes work with colleges, universities, multi-national corporations, and specialized units. Our expertise includes evaluating system compliance to mandated design specifications, and evaluating the effectiveness of specialized programs such as ombuds programs, mediation systems, and other alternative dispute resolution programs.

Team expertise

Our team has the exceptional and diverse experience necessary to conduct comprehensive, credible system and program reviews.  Our team includes experts who have designed and launched programs from the ground up. We have experience in finance, law, quality, system administration, management, performance assurance, technology transfer, and information technology. We have successfully conducted programs reviews for a diverse range of clients, including high-tech, defense-related organizations; higher education departments and systems, R&D organizations, and smaller, specialized organizations.

Overview of Approach

Our fundamental, driving philosophy is that any review conducted is only valuable if it addresses every aspect of the organization’s concern and answers the key questions necessary to enable the organization’s management to make advised decisions that work within the culture and values of the particular organization.  A program review is not a one-size-fits-all activity!

To ensure that our product absolutely meets the needs of the requesting organization, we have developed our own library of unique tools to enable a thorough, but customized review. Our reviews always include a customized agreement that serves as the basis for our review. Based on our years’ experience in performing the review function, we can now draw from our huge library of possible system and process questions, to develop customized “lines of inquiry.” We are experts in reviewing current system documentation and identifying gaps and opportunities in enhancing current systems, processes and accompanying documentation.

Fundamental Values and Approach

Our reviews are premised on recognizing that it is absolutely imperative that the review can only be credible if those conducting the review gain deep knowledge of the organization. To this end, our reviews invariably involve extensive one-on-one interviews in addition to review of the more tangible program components, such as systems and documentation.

Finally, a key element of our approach, which distinguishes us from other review resources, is our steadfast commitment to a close engagement with management to explain our findings is indispensible.  We are not satisfied with simply producing another document that will gather dust on a manager’s desk.  Our goal is to engage the managers and teams involved and to help them engage in solutions.  We recognize and appreciate that our suggested approaches may not be the only way to address the identified concern and we commit ourselves to the successful implementation of the solutions that the organization finds to be the best fit.

BJM – May 2017

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Overview of Activities

Catching Up!!

MacAllister Square CropFor many years, we posted articles and updates on a reasonably regular basis.  In 2014, I accepted a challenging project to implement a major new ombudsman program for a large, public university.  This involved nearly two years of effort to design, implement the program, work to see that the program was integrated into universe of existing university programs, and was, indeed, fully functional.  On completing my role with the university and returning to the Rocky Mountain west, I again directed my focus to the consulting services we provide through the Business Excellence Solutions consortium.

The months of Bizexteam Blog silence were definitely not the result of lack of interest or lack of potential content.  They were simply due to human resources and time limitations.  Meanwhile, I along with my colleagues were busy with lots of challenging work. Here is a sampling of some of my major activities:

  • Implementing a major new faculty/staff/student ombuds program for an elite AAU university, developing all of its systems, designing its physical space, and ensuring that the new program was fully integrated into the university and its existing systems.
  • Providing detailed organizational recommendations to the University President, some of which were publically cited as support for significant organizational realignments. (The topic of an upcoming post. Meanwhile, here is an article on the topic: (http://projects.registerguard.com/rg/news/local/33933225-75/university-of-oregon-cancels-high-profile-brandingadvertising-contract.html.csp)
  • Conducting a major organizational assessment and development work for a United States National Laboratory, resulting in restructuring communication systems and organizational lines of support.
  • Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 4.07.48 PMServing as an expert source for several significant articles on the ombuds model and on dispute resolution system design. (See, for example, the article at: https://www.higheredjobs.com/Articles/articleDisplay.cfm?ID=1087
  • Authoring an article about current issues and challenges to the ombudsman profession in a respected journal, which later formed the basis for a 90-minute symposium at an international meeting of ombudsmen. (You can find the article at: http://journal.calcaucus.com/uploads/3/4/6/5/34659306/journal_final_2016.pdf
  • Being elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the International CalcaucusOmbudsman Association (IOA), and currently serving as the Vice President of the IOA.
  • Continuing service as the Ombudsman for the International Foundation for Online Responsibility.

While the world of organizational consulting is invariably full of challenges that can, at times, demand all-consuming attention, now that I have regained some free “head space,” I am delighted to share more thoughts and updates in the coming weeks and months.

 BJM May 2017




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Welcome Ramey Miller!

Ramey Miller

Ramey Miller

I am delighted to announce that Ramey Miller has joined our team as a new collaborator! Through its existence, Business Excellence Solutions has delivered services through a dynamic, adaptive business model that maximizes flexibility and organizational agility and enables its collaborators maximum latitude to collaborate through our informal consortium while also pursuing individual professional interests and projects.

Over time, we have found that the professional focus of Business Excellence Solutions has evolved. Initially, there was a larger focus on professional training and organizational trouble-shooting. While both of these areas remain major areas of focus, with the growth of smaller enterprises and sole professional practitioners of all types, the demand for individual coaching has increased.

Ramey Miller’s professional focus and expertise is a perfect fit for this evolving focus. Ramey is the founder and Life Coach at her company, rundeep. Over the past seventeen years, she has worked as a Radio Show Host, a Payroll Administrator & Quality Control Analyst, a Program Assessor, a Case management Specialist, an Academic and Student Affairs Office Manager, and an Assistant Ombuds. She has diversified experience in: ombuds advisement, communication training, community work, and small business management.

Ramey will be a regular contributor to the BES team in leading and supporting our various initiatives.

Welcome, Ramey!

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REALTOR® Ombudsman Programs

Need a simple turnkey program to meet the NAR requirement?

Sold - REALTORThe National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has adopted policy that requires all local and state associations of REALTORS® to offer, either directly or as part of a cooperative enforcement agreement, ombudsman services to their members, clients, and consumers by January 1, 2016.  Based on your association’s preferences, we offer a range of program models including a simple turnkey program that will meet this requirement and dovetail nicely with your other conflict resolution processes.

Business Excellence Solutions is a team of expert consultants that can work with you to develop an approach that works for your association:

  • Assistance in implementing a program and then serving directly as your ombudsman staff.
  • Initiation of a program starting with a program design and implementation plan, operating procedures, policies, and guidelines.  We can help you identify and train a team of volunteer ombudsmen from your REALTOR® association.
  • Alternatively, we can help you identify a staff ombudsperson and work closely with them to implement a program.

With any approach we provide implementation plans, procedures, policies, intake and tracking systems, brochures, and other necessary materials to help you launch your program.  We provide orientation training for staff and Directors, and specialized training for those interested in serving as ombudsmen.  We have extensive experience training ombuds staff and volunteers.  Our training sessions are engaging, interactive, and informative.  Training topics include: communication and conflict; conflict management styles; dealing with difficult people; negotiation skills; and ombudsman best practices.

Our team has a broad range of experience within the real estate profession and as ombudsmen for various organizations.  Please refer to our website for additional information:


A package price for services and fees can be identified up front to ensure cost containment.  We look forward to working with you to develop an ombudsman program that meets your needs.  Please contact: 505-660-7800 / 505-690-8385.

Business Excellence Solutions

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Welcome Deborah Davis!

Deborah Davis

Deborah Davis

I am delighted to welcome Deborah Davis to the Business Excellence Solutions Team as a Senior Consultant!  Deborah comes to the Bizexteam with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the area of professional standards administration for residential and commercial REALTOR® Associations. In addition to her experience working with professional standards, Deborah’s diverse career includes: 

  • Conflict resolution program development, implementation and training
  • Mediation and ombudsman services
  • Human resources management (centralized and distributed models)
  • Policy development/modification to ensure compliance with regulatory and legislative requirements
  • Development and presentation of training courses, briefings and other topical communications
  • Business administration, office management and team leadership

Deborah played a key role in implementing an Ombudsman Program for a residential association designed to respond to concerns related to real estate transactions in a more confidential, timely and effective manner.  This program resulted in a dramatic reduction in complaint resolution time and significantly reduced formal ethics complaint filings within the association.

She has also worked in many roles at Los Alamos National Laboratory, including serving as a chief of staff, overseeing personnel and staff relations, budgeting, financial, procurement, operations, safety/security, and quality assurance.  She worked in human resources, supervising activities in the areas of staffing, recruitment, benefits, compensation, job classification, performance and salary management, policy development, and training.  As a Staff Relations Specialist, Deborah assisted managers and employees in resolving work-related issues such as discrimination, harassment, misconduct, performance, and policy violations, and as a Benefits Specialist, she counseled employees on disability insurance plans and medical leaves, and coordinated disability cases with insurance carriers, retirement department, and Workers’ Compensation.  She also provided management consultation and employee training and counseling on employment policies, benefits, and other HR initiatives.

She has extensive mediation experience and served as a mediator with the Albuquerque Metropolitan Court, and with the Ombuds Office at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Deborah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Psychology from the College of Santa Fe.  She has advanced professional training in conflict resolution, ombudsman, professional standards, communication, facilitation, management, human resource management, business administration, employment law, compensation, benefits, and quality assurance.

We are honored and delighted that Deborah has joined our team!

\BJM August 2015


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Ombudsman Programs Expanding into New Professional Fields

Ombuds Programs for REALTOR® Transactions

For many years one of the essential services that REALTOR® associations have provided is a review process for ethics complaints. And, for some years now, local and regional REALTOR® associations have experimented with ways to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of ethics reviews and disputes among REALTORS® and between REALTORS® and the general public. One approach that some REALTOR® associations have used, and which is now of growing interest, is an ombudsman approach.

While of deep historical origins, which date perhaps back to Viking tradition, the first use of the Ombudsman[1] approach is of Swedish origins in the 18th Century.  An ombudsman was a person identified to independently examine concerns of the community and to advise the king.  In modern times the ombudsman approach has been in continued use by governments around the world as an avenue to provide an independent examination of issues and to advise those in government.  More recently the ombudsman model has been adapted and extended into long-term health care and medical treatment facilities, where an ombudsman can independently review complaints regarding care and make recommendations to resolve any concerns discovered in the review. Dating from the 1960’s and forward, the ombudsman approach has been incorporated into the higher education and the corporate world.

For a full discussion of ombudsman models, see: http://bizexteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Ombuds_Model_Descriptions.pdf.

GAAR-2A few years ago, I was asked by the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS® [GAAR] to help the Association design and implement its Ombuds Program. This involved working with the staff that currently handled ethics complaints to help the Association design a new Ombuds Program from the ground up.

(I posted an article on this site on January 11, 2012 about the program. See, http://bizexteam.com/index.php/2012/01/11/new-ombudsman-program-for-real-estate-transactions-in-albuquerque/ )

Implementation included the following steps:

  • Briefing the Board on Ombuds Program considerations and design elements;
  • Working with GAAR to decide among the models and approaches on its preferred model for its ombuds program;
  • Developing a Program Implementation Plan for the Board and staff so that the program could be launched to a coherent and efficient plan;
  • Drafting the GAAR Organizational Ombuds Program Charter;
  • Working with the staff to develop the GAAR Ombuds Program Brochure;
  •  Helping the Executive Director and staff, develop the Ombuds Program Position Descriptions so that they could recruit new people interested in serving in the program.

Once the program was operational, I worked extensively with GAAR to ensure that the individual ombuds were fully trained and, most importantly, felt confident that they could provide the help that their visitors deserved. This training involved extensive research into the sorts of ethics complaints that the Association typically encountered and then developing a customized training program to best enable participants to gain exposure to typical issues and practice experience helping visitors resolve their concern. Under my lead, three professional ombudspersons and a mediation expert provided a comprehensive two-day ombuds training program that included:

  • Scenarios
  • Role play exercises
  • Standards
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Conflict Styles training
  • Subconscious styles and Rapport
  • Framing and reframing
  • Use of metaphor
  • Best Practices
  • Program Completion Certificates

GAAR-3We continued to help GAAR mature its new ombudsman program by helping GAAR design a new case tracking system so that trends and patterns could be identified and designed and helped to implement a new case statistics “dashboard,” which allowed the program managers and leadership have current, “real-time” access to trends. Our support of the GAAR program continued and we provided several comprehensive follow-up training programs.

Apparently, based on the success of the GAAR program and other REALTOR® programs, the National Association of REALTORS® recently enacted Professional Standards Policy Statement #59, which now requires (as of January 2016) all local and state associations of REALTORS® to implement ombuds programs.

The NAR professional standards policy, which is now included in the current NAR Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual provides that:

Every local and state association of REALTORS® is required to offer, either directly or as part of a cooperative enforcement agreement (consistent with Professional Standards Statement #40, Cooperative Enforcement Agreements), ombudsman services to members, clients, and consumers on or before January 1, 2016. 

Every local and state association of REALTORS® is required to offer, either directly or as part of a cooperative enforcement agreement (consistent with Professional Standards Statement #40, Cooperative Enforcement Agreements), ombudsman services to members, clients, and consumers on or before January 1, 2016.  (See, http://www.realtor.org/ae/manage-your-association/local-and-state-association-ombudsman-services ).

As an organization with extensive experience in ombuds program design, we have been approached to help REALTOR® organizations execute to comply with the new NAR requirement. As one who has worked with different models of alternative dispute resolution for 37 years, and has served for nearly 20 years as an ombudsman in both classical and organizational models, I applaud the National Association of REALTORS® for its move in this direction.  Our organization, Business Excellence Solutions, includes consulting experts who are recognized leaders in ombudsman program design, mediation, grievance systems, arbitration, case audit, and organizational conflict resolution. We look forward to helping see that the transition to including the ombudsman approach, goes seamlessly for the state and regional associations of REALTORS®!

If you are working in the REALTOR® field and would like information on how we can help you design and implement your program, and train staff to manage the program and to serve as ombudspersons, please contact us at Transformations@bizexteam.com or post a comment below!

[1] There are sometimes questions about the term “ombudsman,” which some find gender-biased. While the men and women of the International Ombudsmen Association embrace the term as a gender-neutral term of foreign origin, many organizations use a variation of the term, often shortening to “ombuds” or expanding it to “ombudsperson.” For consistency with the International Ombudsman Association and its standards, for purposes of this article, I use the traditional form of the term.

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New posts are coming!

whats-new-image-large-290x155My apologies to my blog readers for the delay in additional posts on effective communication.  I have been very occupied designing and implementing a new University Ombudsman Program for the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.  This is now the fifth ombuds program that I will have been involved with designing and implementing.

A full-featured organizational ombuds program is completely new to the University of Oregon, and to launch such a program for over 30,000 potential beneficiaries of program services (students, staff, and faculty), involves extensive program design and documentation.  So far this work has included, among other things:

  • Drafting a new draft program charter;
  • Coordinating with public affairs and design staff on program materials and official announcements;
  • Designing a completely new website with program information and frequently asked questions (FAQs);
  • Drafting and designing temporary and permanent outreach materials such as visitor brochures;
  • Developing a temporary visitor tracking system and benchmarking and designing a permanent system;
  • Engaging in extensive outreach to effectively embed the program into the University context.

thAs a result, my ability to focus on my consulting business blog has been temporarily diminished.  However, I will resume our discussion on tactics and move forward into the next communication topics very soon! We have several more posts scheduled in our series on effective communication, and will also soon post additional information on ombuds programming and implementation tips.

We also have a series of articles in the works on the brain science of communication and my partner organization, the Center for Resolution Advocacy, will be hosting a new colloquium on brain science and mediation.

Meanwhile, I am excited to help the University of Oregon implement a world-class ombuds program  to complement its world-class academic programming and am blessed to have the opportunity to work on one of the most beautiful and diverse college campuses in the world.


June 2014

Copyright, Bruce J. MacAllister,  June 2014, all rights reserved

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The Tao of Communication?

Thoughts on the Tao of Communication

Events in my daily life often inspire the focus of my blog posts. I apologize to those of you readers who like a linear structure to the topics.  Sometimes I wander afield for a post or two, based on something that inspires a slightly different focus. So, breaking from our current running focus on identifying and neutralizing tactics in communication and negotiation for a bit, I thought I would share some thoughts on philosophy and communication, stemming from my practice of martial arts.

Tao- Yin-YangFor many years I have practiced, and now teach Korean-style martial arts – both a popular form called Tae Kwon Do and a lesser-known but very effective form, called Hapkido. I have the wonderful opportunity to practice my martial arts under the regular guidance of a “ninth dan” (or a martial arts “Master” who is a ninth degree black belt) and his late “tenth dan Grand Master” from Korea, who was the founder of the form of Hapkido we practice, and the highest ranked Master of this form in the world. (In contrast, I am a much lower ranked black belt: a “third dan,” or third degree black belt.)

TaeKwonDoRecently, I was coaching a group of young black belts in a Tae Kwon Do class.  My master joined the class at its end and asked the students (all about 14 years old) a series of questions about wisdom, philosophy, and the role of martial arts in their lives. We talked about martial arts and how the philosophy behind them influences other aspects of our lives. This dialogue caused me to reflect on just how much my practice of martial arts has influenced my approach to communication and conflict resolution and problem solving. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on the subject in this post.

Among many things, the practice of martial arts has taught me to be more situationally aware. That is to be alert to my surroundings and the overall context.   This awareness does not only focus person safety, but, in the context of important discussions, awareness of the room, how people sit, where they sit, what the alignments are, what the “proxemics” (or how people claim and use space) look like, who are their apparent allies, what are the apparent relationship dynamics, and more.  Basically, when I come into a mediation session or an important meeting, I note things: Who is sitting where? Why have they staked out that location? With whom are they sitting? What are the potential alignments, alliances, competitions, and conflicts? What factors affect their sense of comfort? It helps me to put the whole communication in context. I use this awareness to craft my approach and my specific communications.

A fundamental concept of Hapkido as a martial art is the concept of “yew-wahn-hah,” or “soft-round-together.”  This phrase embodies the concept of yielding to an attacker’s oncoming energy (either by slight redirection, body movement and avoidance, or managing the distance) then redirecting that energy and bringing the forces together in a response that effectively manages the “attack.”  I had the pleasure of working with our late Korean Grand Master, and filming him training other high level black belt masters from around the world. During these sessions, one thing that he repeatedly emphasized was soft, smooth movement that places you just where you need to be.

Spokes of WheelApplying this philosophy in the context of communication seems pretty easy, but it definitely takes on-going practice. When someone gets angry and launches a personal (verbal) attack, a natural response is to launch a counter attack of equal intensity – more or less engaging in a verbal boxing match. But, as with real boxing, this can be exhausting (at least emotionally) and can deeply and permanently harm an important relationship, as boxing often bloodies the opponents. Applying the concept of soft-round-together, we can deflect the personal verbal aggression and suffer little or no personal harm. We take what is directed against us to understand more deeply what is bothering the verbal “assailant,” and to allow them to ventilate their pent-up energy and frustration. By taking the time to respond softly and then coming around to bring together a thoughtful response – perhaps even at a later time, we protect ourselvesfrom the “assault” and can give ourselves the time necessary for a thoughtful response that is designed to effectively manage the relationship from a long-term and more strategic perspective. By redirecting the energy expended by the other, we show ourselves as a person in control of the situation. While this may seem to be a slow approach, martial artists distinguish between quickness and speed. One can respond with appropriate quickness.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu

In the philosophy of the Tao Te Chin[1] as well as in the philosophy of many martial arts, we value things as much for what they don’t have as we do for what they have.

A popular verse from Lao Tzu is entitled, The Uses of Not, or sometimes entitled Emptiness.  One popular translation reads as follows:

The Uses of Not

Thirty spokes meet in the hub. Where the wheel isn’t is where it is useful.

Hollowed out clay makes a pot. Where the pot isn’t is where it is useful.

Cut doors and windows to make a room. Where the room isn’t is where there’s room for you.

So, the profit in what is, is in the use of what isn’t.

vaseHow does this translate to communication skills? I find that reminding myself of the “uses of not” is so helpful in managing what might otherwise be emotional communications. When I work with people who have recently lost a promotion or suffered a set back, I often find that it is so helpful to focus on the many things in their lives that do not hinge on the promotion, and the many opportunities hidden in personal setbacks. I find the power of silence as a welcoming space for another to fill is immensely powerful.

I also think of the power of silence, when used to calm a situation, rather than escalatingWaterfall the shouting and volume of the conversation.  I think of the power of cool when used to avoid a hot response.  I think of the power of listening to what is not said – at least verbally.  I find a sense of confidence and peace that comes from being prepared and comfortable with yielding, deflecting, re-directing, and channeling energy to a positive outcome. I find it far less stressful to be prepared mentally in a different way. Rather than thinking I must overcome in an argument, I think of the power of water.  Water flows around the stone as an obstacle, but the stone is worn away.  Staying in harmony with my own sense of values and my own commitment is often a challenge, but I find it to be a wonderful anchoring point.

Bruce MacAllister, February 4, 2014

©2014, Bruce J. MacAllister, all rights reserved.

[1] There are many variations for the English spelling.
Posted in Communication Skills, Conflict Conscious Communication, Conflict Resolution, Decision Making, General Activities and Topics, Listening, Mediation | 6 Comments

More on Managing Tactics

Tip Nine – Continued – Managing Tactics When Necessary

In our last several posts, we’ve been discussing tactics. In my first post on the subject, I explained that, even though tactics can pose a challenge to your progress towards your objective, they also provide you with important information about the concerns of those who are using them.  Often, if we pause to explore the underlying reasons that a person is using a tactic against us, we can address their concern and enlist them as an ally.

In my second post on the topic, we explored how people use space as a tactic. I mentioned that we call the study of space proxemics.  Placing you in an uncomfortably small or, on the opposite end, in a very open unwelcoming environment, can make us uncomfortable.  When we feel uncomfortable, it detracts from our ability to focus on our objective and to maintain our focus.  We also talked about managing space when we are involved in managing a conflict situation. I explained that, when people are stressed and feeling threatened, their space needs increase substantially.

Today, we will focus on several other tactics that you might encounter during an important conversation or negotiation. Today’s examples of tactics that your might encounter include:

  • Extreme initial positions – it is a proven axiom that higher aspirations yield higher results. So – particularly in situations involving purchase negotiations, or in situations involving settlement of claims – you will often encounter opening positions that are extreme. By “anchoring” the initial position to a higher or lower extreme, the other person hopes to pull you farther in that direction from the outset of the discussion. How do we counter this? Some useful tools to manage an extreme opening position include:
    • Alternatives – if you have done your research and you know that you have the option to simply walk away and to seek the item or service from another, you have leverage.
    • Benchmarks – likewise, if you have done your research and you know what the alternatives are and the generally accepted fair market value of the item or service, you may be able to quickly pull the position in your direction.
    • Shared benefit – typically, when you are negotiating for an item or service, there is a mutual benefit.  Often you can neutralize an extreme opening tactic, if you can shift the paradigm from one of competition to one of mutual gain through the exchange.
  • Good-guy/Bad-guy – you see this on TV cop shows all the time. One person behaves in a very threatening way and the other appears to alleviate the threat.  So, you end up trusting the “nice” person, who then maneuvers you into concessions that, without the looming threat from the “bad” person, you might not have otherwise considered.  Some ways to deal with this tactic, are:
    • Identify the tactic for what it is by simply identifying the tactic when you see it and letting the others who are trying to use it know that you recognize it as a tactic, you may not only neutralize the tactic, but put pressure on the “bad guy” to behave! (You may find that openly identifying the tactic is a powerful tool to neutralize many tactics.)
    • Refuse to be ganged up on – if you identify the behavior for what it is and it still continues, another approach is to simply refuse to work with the “bad guy,” or you can control the environment so that the behavior, if continued, must happen in front of witnesses or in settings where misbehavior will be less tolerated.
    • Meet force with force – I am certainly not advocating physical violence here! However, another proven axiom of negotiation is that one should always start start a conversation collaboratively, but one must also be prepared to mirror the other’s move when confronted by aggression.  So, if you encounter the proverbial bad guy, you may have to be prepared to simply push back and become even firmer in the face of the threatening behavior. When the Good-Guy/Bad-Guy team sees that the behavior is actually strengthening your own firmness and resolve, often the tactic is discarded.
    • Meet force with humor  project confidence and a lack of intimidation by meeting the aggressive behavior with humor. Remember, unless you’re working with someone who really is a bad guy, the routine is an act for them, too.  Humor can force them to “break character.” Once this happens, the tactic is useless!
  • Mutual emissary – this tactic is similar to the good-guy/bad guy tactic in that you are approached by a person who claims to be “on your side” or at least in a position to influence others to come around to your side. So how do we identify genuine good faith versus a tactic? Consider several criteria to evaluate the situation.  First, do you have an honest, good faith, positive relationship with this person and does this relationship predate the current discussion?  Second, if this person has surfaced apparently only for purposes of this discussion, is there a potential for a collateral benefit to them?  Is their relationship with the others obviously strong? If so, what benefit is it for them to help you get the others to compromise or to change their approach? Dealing with a “mutual emissary” as a tactic can involve:
    • Using the mutual emissary to gather information about the others, while being careful about what information you share.
    • Testing the good faith of the mutual emissary by seeing what they can do with a small aspect of the issue.
    • Simply politely declining their offer.

 I’ve identified ten additional tactics for our continuing discussion.  My next post will continue with discussions about several of these tactics.  Once we complete our discussion on individual tactics and some skills and approaches to address them, we will explore ways to manage an important discussion in ways that help you to avoid appearing to use tactics and that help you keep your discussion channeled and focused.

 BJM — January 20, 2014

© Bruce J. MacAllister, January 2014, all rights reserved.

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