In Conflict Resolution, Focus First on Reaching an Agreement

“It’s about fighting for fair and equitable treatment”, said T. Boone Pickens recently about the $700 million in damages he is seeking for future losses related to bids that his wind power company, Mesa Power (web site is offline), lost in wind power auction in Ontario recently. Mr. Pickens contends that NextEra, a Florida energy company, made $18,600 in donations to the ruling Labor Party in Ontario and that donation unfairly tilted the bidding process in NextEra’s favor for certain wind energy licenses. In essence, Mr. Pickens is saying the auction process was corrupted by the donation.

“Fair and equitable treatment”. We all want that, don’t we? We all desire to be treated fairly and we all want fairness in our personal and professional interactions. But what is fair to one might not be fair to another.

When people get into protracted fights based on principles, usually they are fighting for what they believe to be right or fair. For example, one of the driving forces for the American Revolution was the concept that we were being taxed by the King but didn’t have a voice in Parliament. “No taxation without representation” was the slogan. In essence, as a people, we felt we weren’t being treated fairly. So we revolted and went to war with England and gained our independence.

In our increasingly polarized society, the concept of fairness is at the center of the cultural storm. Generally speaking, one side believes that equality of opportunity is all that is needed to say that we have achieved fairness in our society. The other side believes that equality of results must be realized in order for our society to achieve fairness. Trillions of dollars have been taxed and spent on this basic conflict in our society and there appears to be no end in sight.

Small business owners will find that fairness is at the core of most conflicts. But if what constitutes “fair” cannot be agreed upon, then the fallback is to find a resolution that neither side thinks is “fair” but one with which they are willing to live. We do this through the concept of finding an agreeable tradeoff with which both parties can agree. As a small business owner, there will be times when you’ll need to shift the conversation from who is right or wrong to neutral terms where the resolution is found in each side giving up something in order for both parties to reach an agreement. Those who are less mature will hang onto their need to be right, which is why I enter many conflict resolution meetings by stating that everyone must give up their right to be right. “We’re going to look for a solution”, I’ll often say, “not figure out how to make sure everyone’s opinion of what is right is fully satisfied.”

Sometimes, employees fight over mutually exclusive things – such as who gets a particular office or who is responsible for cleaning the employee kitchen or who gets next Friday afternoon off. Many of these conflicts arise because clear policies, roles and responsibilities are not articulated up front by the business owner. For example, space issues can be resolved with a few clear rules. In the company I owned, the rule for having a private office was simple: If your job duties required you to have confidential conversations or if you managed confidential information on a near daily basis, then you got an office with lock and key. So sales got cubicles and most managers – not all – were put into offices. For example, our marketing manager received a cube because that position didn’t have confidential conversations on a near daily basis (at least not in my company) whereas the HR Director did get an office for obvious reasons.

The Bible also speaks to fairness in a number of passages. Fairness is the result of accepting the words of God and living an upright life (Prov. 2:1-11). In fact, Proverbs itself claims that it was written to impart, among other things, fairness (Prov. 1.3). When fairness is lacking, life becomes tenuous and uncertain (Isa. 59:9–11). In Matthew 20.1-16, we learn two things about fairness: A) that if you fulfill your part of a contract, you are being fair and B) whatever God does for us, it is out of His generosity, not out of any obligation of fairness.

The concept of fairness implies an accompanying justice. For example, if I loan you $100 and you pay it back to me, your payment is both fair and just. But if you give me $100, that is charity, not fairness. In our way of thinking, charity is not a fulfillment of justice. The reason the workers complained in Matthew 20.1-16 is because those who worked less received the same pay as those who worked more. We can infer from the reading of this passage that the workers felt the owner of the vineyard was being unjust, unfair, not right in his dealings with the workers. And in our American legal system, it would be illegal to compensate at the same rate for both levels of work. But since this story is really meant to teach us a core lesson about God, I think it’s better to ensure that God’s generosity is highlighted here and not press this story too far to create an unreasonable theology of compensation for business owners. One can only deduce so far before stepping out of bounds. And from this story we learn that no matter how hard we work for the Lord, He really owes us nothing, so any goodness that is given to us is a result of His gracious generosity. Let’s not presume on God. That would be sin.

To sum up – when you find yourself in a conflict, do the following things:

  1. Try to understand what the other party feels is “fair”
  2. Try to reach a tradeoff that creates an agreeable solution where both sides give a bit in order to get to a resolution
  3. Don’t be led to believe that when you have fulfilled your part of an agreement, you have somehow been unfair
  4. And remember, it’s often not about being right, but about finding a resolution

Unlike Mr. Pickens, small business owners don’t have the deep pockets to fight for what’s “fair and equitable treatment” in protracted legal battle. Instead, they often settle for what they believe is absolutely not fair or right, but the tradeoff decision is consciously made: we tradeoff being treated unfairly so that we lower our costs and recoup our energies into growing our businesses.

Fairness really is a moving target. This is why we focus on reaching an agreement.

“I’m Just Being Honest!” Terrell Owens and Incivility in Business

I enjoy watching the series A Football Life, produced by the NFL Channel.
Recently, I watched the episode that was focused on the professional life of Terrell Owens. I thought the producers did a good job of balancing his remarkable athletic abilities against his damaging incivility off the field. As is true with nearly all highly talented people, their inability to manage the relationship aspects of their career cause them to accomplish less than what they should have given their brains, talents and opportunities. Terrell Owens is no exception.

For those who have not heard of or remember who Terrell Owens was, he was arguably one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL. His remarkable career includes holding a number of NFL records, such as being the only player in NFL history to score two or more touchdowns (TD) against all thirty-two NFL teams. But his incivility kept damaging his relationships where ever he went, so he was traded or let go time after time. He played for a plethora of teams during his twelve years, including the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys.

Unfortunately, his remarkable career is noteworthy as much for what he said off the field as what he did on the field. His on-the-field accomplishments were offset by his off-the-field incivility. His comments kept getting him in trouble and repeatedly created the situation in which his on-the-field value became less than the off-the-field headaches and conflicts he created. You can read a summary of his incivility at the Wikipedia page about him (look under the section titled Controversies).

In the Football Life story, Terrell defended himself by asserting that each time “I was just being honest”. It seemed that whatever came to his mind leaked out of his mouth, with little thought as to how his words would affect his team, his fans or the NFL itself. To his way of thinking, if he was honest, then others should have found his words acceptable.

What he never learned (or was unwilling to admit) was that unvarnished honesty without tact is the essence of being rude or uncivil. Incivility is the opposite of President Washington’s advice in his book Rules of Civility: “Strive not with your Superiors in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.” [sic] If there any single thing you can do to create distance and conflict between yourself and others, just be rude and immodest. Terrell Owens did this, at times, in spades.

Incivility isn’t limited to the NFL. It can kill your business by killing the relationships within your business. In their well-researched book The Cost of Bad Behavior, the authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath summarized their research as follows:

“…incivility harmed performance by affecting two specific elements: motivation and ability. When treated uncivilly, people stopped performing, or they stopped performing as well as they could. Job satisfaction waned. Anger at the organization rose. The result was that people were simply not as motivated. Their performance dropped as they cut back effort, quality and time.” (p. 52)

Then authors detailed what their research revealed about the effects of bad behavior in the workplace for those on the receiving end of uncivil behavior (p. 55):

  • 48% intentionally decreased work effort
  • 47% intentionally decreased time at work
  • 38% intentionally decreased work quality
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined

So why is it that people who engage in uncivil behavior are often accommodated in the workplace? Authors Paul Babiak and Robert Hare surmise in their book Snakes in Suites: When Psychopaths Go to Work that hiring managers often mistake leadership for what is, essentially uncivil behavior. In addition, if the uncivil person is especially talented and can achieve the goals handed to him or her, often, senior management will look the other way when their incivility becomes a problem. When push comes to shove, profits and success trump culture in many organizations.

If you’re a business owner or leader, you need to take seriously the effects incivility can have on your team, department or company. When you see uncivil behavior, you should see it for what it is: creating opportunity costs and sending the signal to your top talent that they should consider looking elsewhere for work where the workplace ambiance is more palatable. In addition, take the following specific actions.

First, document what you saw and what was reported to you. You’ll need to do this anyways for their personnel file and it will help you later when you sit down to discipline your uncivil employee.

Secondly, sit down with the offending individual and explain what they did and said. Further explain that their behavior was unacceptable. Plan on them disagreeing with you and deflecting by blaming others, blaming you, minimizing the effects of what they did and said, denying they did or said anything and so forth. They might be so convincing that you’ll find yourself questioning your own experience and actions. Uncivil people can be masters at manipulation too.

Thirdly, stick to your guns and give them a one-time warning that if they become uncivil again, they’ll be looking for another job. No business culture can sustain the employ of an uncivil person and expect to retain top talent and achieve stretch goals. It simply isn’t going to happen. You’ll have to choose between the uncivil individual and the success of your team or company.

Fourthly, give this person (and everyone else) training on how to be civil in word and deed. Civility is not that hard to attain and it gains you so much more in terms of productivity that one wonders why any business leader would ignore it. Amazingly, many people never get any civility or etiquette training. But is an excellent way to grow your team.

Fifthly, check yourself. Find an Executive Coach who can help you understand your strengths and those elements that derail you. Focus on what you can do to improve relationships with those in your sphere of influence. Learn how to build your team or business through improved relationships.

Lastly, check your hiring practices and look for ways to weed out uncivil people in your hiring process. Ideas on this would include consideration of using an outside organizational psychologist to test people before they are hired or having a wide range of interviews in different locations so that multiple employees can observe the individual in different interactions. These and other methods can help improve your hiring practices.

Don’t let uncivil behavior fester in your organization. At the least, unchecked incivility will significantly harm your business. At the most, it will kill it.

Bill English

Background on blessings

What are the different types of blessings?

There are many different types of blessings in the Bible.

Here is the Hebrew word grouping for the English word  “bless”:


Different types of blessings in Hebrew

In the New Testament, the Greek words translated “bless” look like this:

Different types of blessings fin Greek

What do I need to know about blessings?

  1. Our blessings can be cursed by God if we don’t honor Him.

    Take a look at Malachi 2.2 where God tells the Israelites that He will curse their blessings if “you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name.” Hence, God himself can reverse blessings and turn them into curses.

  2. Blessings are sometimes associated with economic wealth.

    Take a look at Proverbs 10.22 where Solomon writes, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” This verse indicates that some will be blessed by God with an exceptional ability to produce wealth and it won’t appear that they have worked hard for it.  It will look as if the wealth has just fallen into their lap.

  3. Blessings are stronger than curses, and we should never curse those who have been blessed by God.

    When we look at the story of Balak and Balaam in Numbers 23-24, it is clear that he didn’t want to curse those who had been blessed by God because he feared God and knew that God would take vengeance against him for the curses.

  4. There are more references to blessings than there are to curses in the Bible.

    Just compare the curses matrix to the blessings matrix below.

So, what follows here is a matrix / summary of biblical blessings—all of which we can bring onto ourselves through careful obedience of God’s laws:

Action Who Blessing Reference
God’s unmerited initiative God Himself Increase, be fruitful and multiply Many, such as Genesis 1.22; 1.28; 5.2; 9.1; 12.2; 12.3; 14.9; 17.16; 24.35
Bless another at joyful occasions such as weddings Friends and family General increase; children overcome their enemies Genesis 24.60
Normal effort at work produces abundance out of proportion to the effort God Himself Abundant outcomes for our work effort Genesis 26.12
Father blessing his son or daughter; grandfather blessing his grandchildren Father or grandfather Material abundance, status, power, God’s protection Genesis 27.25-29; 48.15-16
Being blessed through association with one who is walking with God God Himself General blessing Genesis 30.27; 39.5
Bless before departing from another Either party may bless the other General blessing Exodus 12.32; Genesis 32.26-29
Bless the Sabbath God Himself Make the day holy Exodus 20.11
Worshipping God God Himself Our food and water are blessed; sickness is removed Exodus 23.25
A job well done The manager General blessing Exodus 39.43
Give generously The giver Giver’s work is blessed Deuteronomy 15.6
Give proportionally to our blessings from God The giver Giver’s work is blessed Deuteronomy 15.6-10; 16.17
We lend to a brother or sister without charging interest The lender Lender’s work is blessed Deuteronomy 16.20
Give some of our produce to the poor Giver Giver’s work is blessed Deuteronomy 24.19
Obedience to God The one who obeys Blessed in all geographies: children, work, finances Deuteronomy 28.2-12
Enlarging God’s domain


The one who works hard at furthering the kingdom of God General blessing Deuteronomy 33.20
Called to fulfill a special service to the Lord The family serving God General blessing 2 Samuel 2.12
When God disciplines us The one being disciplined General blessing Job 5.17; Psalm 94.12
When our sins are forgiven The one who sinned General blessing Psalm 32.1
When we take refuge in the Lord The one taking refuge General blessing Psalm 34.8
When we trust the Lord The one trusting in God General blessing Psalm 40.4; Proverbs 16.20; Jeremiah 17.7
When we proclaim the Lord publically The one proclaiming God General blessing Psalm 89.15
When we do what is right The one doing the right thing General blessing Psalm 106.3
When we fear the Lord The one fearing the Lord General blessing Psalm 128.1
When we find wisdom and gain understanding The one who seeks and finds wisdom and understanding General blessing Proverbs 3.13
When we listen daily to the Lord The one who listens General blessing Proverbs 8.34
When we are kind to the needy The one being kind General blessing Proverbs 14.21; 22.9
When we convict the  guilty The one convicting the guilty Rich blessing Proverbs 24.25
When we wait for the Lord The one waiting General blessing Isaiah 30.18
When we bring in the whole tithe into the storehouse The one tithing Overflowing blessing Malachi 3.10
When we are poor in spirit The disciple of Christ We have the Kingdom of Heaven Matthew 5.3
When we mourn The disciple of Christ We will be comforted Matthew 5.4
When we are meek The disciple of Christ We will inherit the earth Matthew 5.5
When we hunger and thirst for righteousness The disciple of Christ We will be filled or satisfied Matthew 5.6
When we are merciful The disciple of Christ We will be shown mercy Matthew 5.7
When we are pure in heart The disciple of Christ We will see God Matthew 5.8
When we are peacemakers The disciple of Christ We will be called “Children of God” Matthew 5.9
When we are persecuted for our righteousness The disciple of Christ We will have the kingdom of heave Matthew 5.10
When we are insulted, persecuted and falsely charged because of our relationship with Christ The disciple of Christ General blessing Matthew 5.11
When we do not stumble on account of Christ The disciple of Christ General blessing Matthew 11.6
When we hear the Word of God and obey it The disciple of Christ General blessing Luke 11.28
When our sins are forgiven and covered The disciple of Christ General blessing Romans 4.7
When we rely on faith The one being faithful General blessing Galatians 3.9
Position in Christ The disciple of Christ Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm Ephesians 1.3
When we persevere under trial The one persevering Receive the crown of life James 1.12
When we continue in obedience The one obeying Blessed in what we do James 1.25
When we suffer for what is right The one suffering General blessing 1 Peter 3.14