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08 28 2013

US versus THEM, Incorporated

Barriers to Effective Communication, Business Management Consulting, Communication Issues, Conflict Resolution, Corporate Therapy

August 2013


An overwhelming majority of organizations have inadvertently created “us versus them” cultures. These organizations have turned much of their focus and resources away from serving the customer and directed it toward in-fighting and power struggles. Businesses I work with often have good products and services, but are on the brink of going out of business or have had a history of losing significant market share and revenue because of such a culture. Oftentimes, these losses are not caused by the poor economy or stiff competition, but are actually self-inflicted and caused because of conflict or what I call the “US versus THEM” culture.

The “US vs. THEM” Culture

In essence, people who work in the “US Versus THEM” cultures do so out of necessity. Their day is often focused on the internal problems of the organization rather than providing better customer service, product improvement, and increasing revenue. Oddly enough, these people have the best of intentions, but over time, problems get worse and things start to go downhill very fast until staff and management are reduced to finger-pointing, blaming, and incessant gossiping. Do the following statements sound familiar?

  • “They have no idea what they are doing and we constantly have to do work over because they didn’t plan well. Why doesn’t management ever ask our opinion?”
  • “The last person who gave her honest opinion was picked on by the boss until she was forced to quit.”
  • “I wish I could get my employees to follow-through on projects and think for themselves.”
  • “We just lost eight more employees. Why do people keep quitting after we spend all that money training them?”
  • “Who am I going to promote to manage that department? I don’t have anyone decent to choose from.”
  • “My boss doesn’t know how to manage and build people up; all he knows how to do is tear people down and berate them.”
  • “They want us to do more work, we have less people then we did three years ago. We simply don’t have enough time.”

“They” and “Them”

When working within organizations, I have never met “They” or “Them.” In fact, there is no “they” or “them;” only “us.” So, if you find yourself in an “Us versus Them” culture, get off the fence of indecision, quit griping, and do something about it. Basically, you have three choices:

  1. Choose to stay and learn how to make the best of the way things are.
  2. Choose to leave and find a better environment to work in.
  3. Choose to help change and improve your organization. In other words, be part of the solution.

Choosing the Best Path

If you choose to stay and make the best of it, know that it is a choice you are making and be content with that choice.  Accept your situation and look for positive aspects. For instance, today find five things you like about your company, the product, or the people. Yes, this will be hard, but what choice do you have? You decided to stay.

If you choose to move on, do it within three months. Or, choose to improve your skills or education, and then make the job change within 6-12 months. Yes, it may be inconvenient, but you decided to leave, so do something about it.

If you choose to help the organization improve, it doesn’t matter what your current position is. Isolate the top 3-5 problems in your department, make a plan and offer solutions. If you don’t start the process, who will?

“US” vs. “Them” can become “We are a profitable, winning team and loving it.” The choice is yours.

Kelly Graves, CEO
The Corporate Therapist
Cell: 1.530.321.5309
Toll-Free: 1.800.704.3785
Office: 1.530.321.5309
Internal Business Solutions, Inc.™

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Posted by at 9:51 AM

08 21 2013

Types of Conflict Resolution & How you can Benefit

Conflict Resolution

August 2013

This is where you are, but… THIS is where you WANT to be…
  • Job stress and burnout are on the rise; absenteeism and turnover are increasing.
  1. Talent retention is on the rise.
  2. Higher and more consistent morale exists.
  3. Stress is reduced and communication is more open among people at all levels.
  • Distrust and suspicion are commonplace.
  1. Free-flowing information and cooperation improve productivity, because people are connected to the company objectives and to one another.
  2. Camaraderie is emphasized.
  • A pervasive “US vs. THEM” culture exists at almost every level of the organization.
  1. Creativity and teamwork are creating excellent cross-functional work teams.
  2. Individuals and departments stop turf battles.
  • Job satisfaction and job performance are declining.
  1. Current conflicts are resolved and productivity and profits are maximized.
  2. Individual and group performance improve, because people learn how to effectively and creatively turn conflicts into profitable opportunities.
  • Employee loyalty is failing.
  1. Inspired employees are able and interested in articulating and clarifying their ideas and positions toward the organizational goals.
  • Productivity and profits are at an all-time low.
  1. Organizational objectives are understood by all and, as a result, decision making is improved.
  2. Increased innovation, stimulated creativity, and forward thinking are the norm.

Benefits of Conflict Resolution

Yes, there are many benefits to conflict. It is often necessary to struggle through normal stages of family business, partnership, department or company growth. The value is in understanding conflict and learn how to harness the elusive powers of this sometimes volatile force. As with most challenges, the key is in catching it quickly so you control it before it goes underground (the grapevine) and cause more problems. Or worse, become part of your company culture. Many owners, leaders, managers and employees cant seem to function without drama and conflict and over time; conflict just becomes a way of life. Unless, something significant is done to turn the tide.

I specialize in helping people learn from and move through conflict to create long-lasting, sustained, “win-win” outcomes for you, your family business, partnership, department and company.

Types of Conflict

In over two decades consulting with family businesses and organizations, I have observed three major types of family business or workplace conflict:

Task Conflict Task conflict arises among members of work teams and affects the goals and tasks they are striving to achieve. Differences in vision, intentions, and quality expectations often lead to task conflict. Family or employee relationships may initially appear to survive task conflict, but an important project may not. It is essential to channel task conflict so that these differences become complementary and improve the way the family or team thinks about accomplishing current and future tasks.

Process Conflict This form of conflict centers around the steps or methods used by a family or work-teams to reach a goal. One person might like to plan 100 steps ahead, while another might like to dive in head first. Process differences can lead to communication breakdown and ultimately result in conflict. Like task conflict, process conflict can be useful if managed correctly. Healthy differences in process often lead to an improved way to achieve goals.

Relationship Conflict Often misunderstood, relationship conflict undermines and tears at the fabric of an organization, department or team’s ability to achieve its goals. Relationship conflict penetrates all aspects of an organization. When people in a workplace environment fail to communicate effectively, teams, departments or even an entire organization will suffer. Relationship conflict will quickly consume all the attention and energy of an organization, leaving little time to accomplish profitable tasks.


What can we do to bring conflict to a reasonable resolution? How might our resolution be beneficial to everyone involved? The ultimate goal of conflict resolution is to increase one’s understanding of what happened, why it happened, and how we can learn from it so we don’t become victims to it in the future. Conflict isn’t bad. In fact, it is a vital part of a successful family business or organization. Knowing when to encourage conflict – in a manageable and productive way; knowing how to spot it early and slow it down if need be; and knowing the natural stages of conflict’s life cycle can all lead to highly productive outcomes. Both this knowledge about conflict and the skills needed to manage it successfully are needed to get the best out of your people.

The benefits of professional conflict resolution are great:

  • Resolves current conflicts and maximizes innovation, productivity and profits
  • Teaches independence and ownership of the skills to effectively and creatively turn future conflicts into profitable opportunities for improved communication and learning
  • Improves organizational decision making
  • Inspires family members and employees who are able and interested in articulating and clarifying their ideas and positions toward the organizational goals
  • Increases innovation, creativity, and forward thinking
  • Improves individual, family business and company performance


Kelly Graves, CEO
The Corporate Therapist
Cell: 1.530.321.5309
Toll-Free: 1.800.704.3785
Office: 1.530.321.5309
Internal Business Solutions, Inc.™

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Posted by at 5:26 PM

05 07 2013

Silence is Deadly

Barriers to Effective Communication, Communication Issues

I had been working with a group of managers and their director on preparing for some major restructuring within their large school district. A lot was going to be happening very soon and we wanted to be prepared. We all knew too well, that once it all started, any problems would be costly and would be played out in the local newspapers. As we approached this challenge, I noticed some uneasiness and quiet maneuvering surrounding two managers. I knew we couldn’t go on unless we addressed this covert problem.

It turned out that a couple of years earlier, these two managers had had a significant disagreement and, since then, they had stayed away from each other whenever possible. But, even with their attempts at careful avoidance, their once covert friction had grown loud and developed some teeth. We didn’t need internal sabotage in our mix. There were enough issues to deal with without adding this subterfuge. And, too many other employees sincerely cared about these two managers. Loyalties would be strained if these two formidable players squared off. We had to resolve this quickly so that we could go into our restructuring free of clutter, and with a crystal clear and mutually accepted vision.

I talked privately with these two managers and encouraged them to take the lead to resolve this matter. I suggested they use a structured, problem-solving approach to discuss this topic in front of their departments and the whole group, so that neither gossip nor misunderstandings would follow. They agreed. A whole group meeting was set up with my facilitation. Then, each taking turns, they each told their side of the story. As usual, they each harbored many misperceptions that needed to be cleared up. Clarifying what had happened, what had been said, and what had been meant was essential. Many misunderstandings were cleared up once and for all for all present. Some issues needed additional time and resources, so they were tabled to be addressed at a later time. When appropriate, the group joined in to lend support and clarify their own misperceptions and to squelch rumors and gossip, as well. This meeting didn’t take more than forty-five minutes, but it was invaluable for bringing this team together and helping them learn how to REALLY communicate. Loud and clear this session modeled two values they later chose to guide their group as a whole:

We agree to face challenges sooner rather than later.

We will always work as a team toward our agreed upon objectives.

Clarifying these values was especially important given the gravity of the challenges that lay ahead. We were embarking on one of the biggest restructurings this district had faced in many years. As a result of the problem solving meeting with all members together, the whole team became closer and learned to communicate much more effectively. From then on, as we all began to prepare our plans and contingency plans for the restructure, we had the strength of “all hands on deck,” which was good, because we needed each and every one of them.

When the final decision to begin the restructuring process was made by the school board, this department had their plans and contingency plans firmly in place. Each person knew his or her role and was ready, willing and able to get the job done. There was no lost or wasted time on unfortunate communications problems or cumbersome baggage to impede their work. As a result, their role in the restructure went very smoothly.

Kelly Graves, CEO
The Corporate Therapist
Cell: 1.530.321.5309
Toll-Free: 1.800.704.3785
Office: 1.530.321.5309
Internal Business Solutions, Inc.™

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Posted by at 3:36 PM