This is the audio transcript of Coaching Through Chaos Podcast episode 10
featuring Dr. Colleen Mullen and Stewart Levine

0:00 introduction

3:32 Mullen: today we're talking about resolving conflict. were going to cover this topic in many ways over the course of this show as there's so many  tools and theories out there on the subject. and its so important. i mean who hasn't had a conflict with someone. or a conflict at your workplace where you really didn't know how to resolve it.
And resolving conflict in the workplace is even a money saver for you business owners out there. its thought that 25% of people with a conflict at work have taken time off - called in sick - in order to avoid that conflict. That adds up quickly.
4:04 My guest today helps both corporations and individuals learn to resolve conflict and get back  to life as normal as soon as possible. He is a former lawyer who found out early on in his career that he was better at resolving conflict than in fighting for his position.
He then left the law field  to teach people about conflict resolution full time. His first book - Getting to Resolution - came out  about 17 years ago and a second edition was released just a few years ago.
My guest today is author and expert Stewart Levine of
4:37 Stewart teaches people to create partnership and quickly resolve problems in the face of conflict. He will tell us about resolving conflict through collaboration. I know if you've ever tried to help someone resolve a conflict, you will appreciate his approach. I know I did.
Please welcome expert and author - Stewart Levine.

4:57 Mullen: Stewart, you've got a great story about how you figured out you were gifted at conflict resolution early in your legal career - can you share that story with us

5:05 Levine: sure colleen, as a second year law student working in a clinical program as part of my law school education, i was working for  Camden New Jersey Legal Services - who provided  legal services for poor people. They gave me 25 cases and said "here  you go Stewart this ought to keep you busy for the next 4 months". 
It was a semesters work , and at the end of that time i went back to the head of the program - actually , not at the end of that time (laughs) - after 3 weeks i went in to the head of the program and i said "Fred, I need some more cases".
And he looked at me like "what did you do with all the cases we gave you?"
I said "Well I've resolved them all"
"You did? How did you that?"
"Well, I read  through the files and I got a sense of what might be a fair resolution for both sides, and everybody said yes"
6:05 Now, i didn't know that i was supposed to be an advocate for one side.  I thought that my job was to be a problem solver. And the rest of the story goes, I spent the next ten years
learning how to be an advocate for one side and getting very very good at it; and then feeling that I couldn't continue trying and litigating cases anymore because it was so in-congruent with who I was and the perspective that i was born with.

6:30 Mullen: yes, if you're going to be a lawyer you have to know which side of the fence you're standing on. Now the books that you've written are they just for people dealing with the legal system or can anybody benefit from your books

6:41 Levine: most definitely not, they're actually for everybody in conflict of any kind. Much more of my work today is about organizations and  people in conflict far away from the legal system, because my whole thinking in this area is I would much rather teach people how to fish than to give them a fish every time they get hungry.
It's about giving people skills and tools that they can use to resolve conflict in most any context.

7:08 Mullen. great, and so now you spend your time focusing strictly on conflict resolution and teaching people how to do that through the model that you developed - is that right?

7:15  Levine:  yes, and actually, there's been a bit of a shift over time, I don't focus on the conflict part so much as i focus on the collaboration part. In a way when I created a subtitle for my first book - 17-18 years ago, and the second edition came out 3 or 4 years ago - the subtitle is "Turning Conflict Into Collaboration".  And where i focus now , because it's become in many ways such a big buzz-word, especially in the corporate and organizational world - collaboration is a critical skill. To be able to collaborate effectively, you have to  move through the inevitable conflicts that are going to come up.
So collaboration is the essential intervention, and education that I provide for organizations.
Because that's where we want to get people, back to that place of collaboration -back to that place of win-win alignment, back to that place where people are working at the business that they want to work at , whatever that happens to be - not be mired down in conflict and fighting with other people.

8:21 Mullen: right, sure, it will help everything including the business continue on more efficiently as well  if they have people working in collaboration.  Your model of conflict resolution appears to focus on a shift in thinking, mindset and perspective. Can you talk a bit about that ?

8:36 Levine: most of us are en-cultured, learn and influenced by what we see in the media. And the media loves a good argument, a wonderful term that I think aptly describes it is coined by a colleague and friend who said that we live in a media culture  ARGUETAINMENT ...

8:57 Mullen: that's an interesting one, yes

8:59 Levine: yeah, its pretty good. Its always about one side versus the other. Its all about opposition , its all about  creating that kind of drama. Wheres the conversation for resolution. Wheres the conversation that helps people understand each other - as opposed to the diatribe that goes on in media presentations ?
9:20 Just to elaborate on that, I was actually interviewed  a number of years ago by the trade publication for screen writers. And  the question that they were talking to me about was
whether or not you can have an effective screen play where you don't have bombastic conflict. Where you create drama inherent in whatever problem is going on, but you resolve it without the resort to the violence or battle.

9:45 Mullen: so they were asking would people watch something like that?

9:48 Levine: (laughter) yes, exactly.  or to be more succinct, can you have drama and resolution  without having combat and the answer is

9:58 Both: Of course you can (laughter)

10:03 Mullen: Right, and so when you talk about resolution , is that more about the collaboration you're talking about, because its not about one side winning or losing,
as it may have been back in the days of your legal career. How do you frame what resolution is to people when you go in to teach them about it.

10:19 Levine: so the mindset that people come into this with is  RIGHT-WRONG, WIN-LOSE, FAULT and BLAME.  Its the way most people learn or are en-cultured, those words are embedded in  people.  And when I talk about resolution , essentially to define it in a technical way,  there is no chatter. Meaning you're no longer thinking about the situation because it 's resolved. It's gone. It's cleansed.
In the medical world, when a disease process is resolved - its gone and there are no scars.
In our "legal process of resolving conflict", there are tons of scars because whats not healed is the emotional pain. And what I try and do, the aspiration I have, is that people will be resolved and have n agreement, and that agreement represents both a meeting of minds
(which is a term from the legal world) and also a meeting of hearts.
So their human energy is aligned again and they are back in action, as if the conflict was never present.

11:23 Mullen: its a really nice mindful perspective that you've got.
Now that we know what resolution is, in your book 'Getting to Resolution', you have the ten principles for resolutionary thinking, and the seven step guide for crafting a resolution.
Can you explain the basics of the model, do people follow it step by step? what should they expect when they go through the ten principles and the seven steps.

11:48 Levine: if you look at the model, the overall model of resolution, there are really only 3 action steps, the rest of them are touchstones. So let me talk about the touchstones first, and the first one that comes up as a critical one is what I call RESOLUTIONARY THINKING or THE ATTITUDE OF RESOLUTION.
12:07 And that's the mindset - think abundance - in other words its not you or them, it's YOU AND THEM. Think of full disclosure. Getting everything out on the table, leaving nothing left unsaid and not trying to hide anything.  Seeing the process as one of teaching and learning, teaching and learning.

12:29 Mullen: do you find that people are open to that, once you start talking to them about what the purpose of it is - do you think that they are more easily able to open up and do the full disclosure.

12:38 Levine: yeah, it makes sense..and in some sense, if you don't want to do that, I'm sorry but I don't want to play with you...OK ?  In many ways it's that simple. And other people wont want to play with you either. Its the emotionally intelligent thing to do if you want to continue to work with people. The only place that there is little resistance is in the context of a transactional situation where its kind of a one shot deal, as opposed to a relational situation that extends over time.
13:12  One of my writing partners, they guy I wrote 'Collaboration 2.0' with, he shared that his wife always says to him: "David, do you want to be right, or do you want to have a relationship?' (laughter)

13:23 Mullen: yes, i think I've heard that before. You have to think about what the purpose of the interaction is.

13:28 Levine: so the mindset is one of responsibility, conflict as opposed to differences. Differences turn into conflict when we get emotionally attached - OK? And so conflict lives inside of people as an emotional presence. It's not so much an argument about who gets the corner office, but someones own belief system that they wont shift.
Given the truth of that, you cant give conflict away for somebody else to resolve. You have to engage yourself - so taking responsibility is one of the principles of Resolutionary Thinking. I think that should provide enough of a flavor of the shift in mindset that needs to take place
14:14  Now, looking at the seven step model, like so many other phenomena, it is cyclical. You're in place of resolution and agreement today, but tomorrow something happens.
So this is an ongoing process of human interaction - especially human interaction when people are working together.
14:34 So, up there at about noon, or 12:00 on the clock, you've got resolution, everything is all in alignment. If you move over to about 01:30, conflict occurs. And conflict occurs  for any number of different reasons. Very often because of the essential human differences.
It comes from different perspectives, it comes from different communication styles, it comes from different perceptions, different meaning. And those things just show up when people are trying to work together.  So conflict happens when people are trying to work together o r have a marriage together.
15:11 Attitude of resolution or resolutionary thinking, that's at  about 3 o'clock. That's the mindset  you bring into the process.
At about 4:30 we have telling of stories, and that's kind of the first, what I'll call engagement phase, where people are actually going through  an interactive conversational process. They're each telling their stories, and i don't mean story as a pejorative, but i mean story as the way that people talk to themselves about the situation. So getting that up and out, provides a level of purging, provides a level of 'lets see what this looks like in the light, as opposed to in my mind'. And its often different when people are in conversation.
15:51  The next point, at about 6 o'clock, is like a touchstone. and it is what  I call PRELIMINARY VISION.  And preliminary vision happens when people listen to each other carefully, listen with a sense of fairness, listen with a sense of what are the needs and concerns of each person, and how might I take care of the others concerns.
Remember, abundance thinking says its not them or me,  it's them and me. So that's preliminary vision.
16:22 in situations where the conflict is not too white hot, you can sometimes resolve it at that place where someone makes a suggestion

16:28 Mullen: it sounds like, as you said, you can get resolution but I was thinking it also sounds like the beginning of the real engagement into that collaborative process.

16:37 Levine: you're absolutely right because the big mistake that people make is: conflict in their mind is so messy, in part because they don't have a good mental mode to follow, its just a bunch of messiness. And if you're coming at is as a battle, something to win or lose, it makes it even messier. That being said,  the big mistake that people make is that they want to get away from this so quickly, so they just reach an agreement on the surface, but they're really not resolved, they've got all this emotional stuff going on - and that will come back to bite you.
17:11 The next piece of engagement is a process called GETTING CURRENT AND COMPLETE.  Its a series of questions, very pointed questions, that in many ways force people to go deeper, and to actually share what really on their mind about this situation. And through that collaborative process, what happens is people usually realize that the other person  -or people - were really doing the best they could in a somewhat imperfect world.
And a level of shift takes over, where anger, resentment, hostility can turn into understanding and compassion.

17:47 Mullen: so a lot of movement can happen there.

17:48 Levine: a lot of forgiveness can happen, a lot of letting go can happen. Ive seen that so many times when that shift takes place. and then from there, the last element of the completion process is the question  "so whats the new era, where do you want to step into".
What do you want this relationship to look like in the future?
And that's when people can paint with a broad brush, it's also called an agreement in principle, because when people come to a broad brush agreement in principle, they tend to breathe a sigh of relief :  "Oh, the marriage will continue", "Oh, my employment will continue", "Oh, my membership in this team will continue", "My position will continue".
They  breathe a little sigh of relief, and from there, once they have that broad  brush agreement then they can build a very specific agreement - we re up around 10:30 on the clock.
18:41 One of my models is the AGREEMENT MODEL, how do you create a ten element model for agreement. what is our collaboration going to look like in the future. and when people get agreement over that, then  you're back in a place of resolution, where you have human alignment, when you have a shared vision, when you have an  agreed set of promises that people are going to take care of, when you have a means of resolving conflict in the future, when you have metrics  to measure whether or not you hit that vision.
Those, by the way, are all elements in the model for agreement.
19:18 People, you know, when they first get exposed to the ten elements of agreements for results, its like they've discovered sliced bread.

19:24 Mullen: right, its so many new skills and new ways of looking at how are they going to resolve a problem. As you said they can work through it for something that may have been pending, but now they have tools to move forward with.

19:37 Levine: right. Now, the thing that I want to point out which is critical, is that the last step  of the conflict resolution model, which is a DETAILED AGREEMENT, is also the best way to start off a brand new collaboration, it prevents so much conflict when you start off with a clear shared vision and agreement for what you're doing together. And although many people have an idea about what collaboration is, they never learned when they were very young, so what goes into a collaborative agreement. What do we need to talk about at the beginning.

20:11 Mullen: so starting at the beginning with this is what we want the end to look like, and how to get there.

20:16 Levine: yes, exactly. Elements of here is our share vision are the new agreement. Its amazing how well people can work together when they have that. The followup book to 'Getting to Resolution' is a book I wrote called 'The Book of Agreement - ten essential elements for getting the results you want.' 
And, in it, I have about 35 sample agreements that I prepared over time, in many different contexts, because this is something that just  crosses all aspects of personal and professional life.

20:46 Mullen: so someone can get that book and go to a certain section and find something on how an agreement would look for maybe a problem that they're dealing with

20:54 Levine: exactly (laughs).

20:56 Mullen: that sounds like a great resource

20:57 Levine: that was my intention. And its interesting, part of that comes from my legal background of all of these form books that lawyers use. And most lawyers agreements are what i call agreements for protection - what if this goes wrong and what if that goes wrong.
And I turn that upside down, and I say let's have agreements for results.
Lets focus on what we want to do together, and how are we going to maximize our chance of getting there.

21:25 Mullen: yes, what a great turn on things to have it force that way rather than worrying about all the things that could  go wrong and protecting yourself from that.
So Stewart, do you have a story that you could tell us about a situation that just on the surface looked destined for a big legal fight and how helping the people apply the principles helped them find their resolution

21:45 Levine: two stories come to mind.  One is, and i need to tell this one anonymously, I was recently working with two different teams part of a department of a state government. And the state government was introducing a new piece of software, and there was battling going on between these teams, and they couldn't seem to work together. Deadlines were approaching, the investment on the part of the state government was very significant, and these guys were right at the cornerstone of where collaboration was needed and they were at war for a number of reasons.  I was able to go in, educate, facilitate and come up with a new operating agreement going forward, and that worked.
22:33  The second story has got a lot more human interest, and this one I can talk about because it has been written up publicly. I was contacted by a non-profit adoption agency whose mission was to take kids that are considered un-adoptable and provide the necessary resources to get them up to speed. Bidet, mental, physical, emotional. They are involved in a federally funded partnership with the county of Sacramento, the adoption agency is called Sierra Kids - and it would seem like a natural partnership, I  had marriage and family counselors on both sides, and it would seem a great partnership where the state child welfare agency would supply these kids that they had deemed un-adoptable because they didn't have the resources. The adoption agency would both provide the resources to get the kids up to speed and then place them in permanent adoptive families.
23:29 Now, setting up the context, what's also true is that kids that are emancipated, meaning they are considered 18 or 19 depending upon the state and they don't have a permanent adoptive family but they are still in foster care - within two years 50 percent of those kids are 
drug addicts, homeless, dead or in jail.

23:49 Mullen: yes, those are horrible statistics for these kids, what they face in life.

23:54 Levine: so you would think that naturally these folks would be able to work together.
Nope - they couldn't.   And what we dug up was that about ten years before, the private adoption agency had disclosed some information about some kids to the media that the county people thought was a violation of law, and they felt that they couldn't be trusted.
 And so 'we cant work with those people ' was the mindset of the county people about the adoption agency - even though none of those people were no longer around or present.

24:25 Mullen: right, ten years and they've been holding on to that grudge that we cant trust them.

24:31 Levine: we were able to get to the bottom of what was going on, I did some teaching, I did some facilitating and we put a new agreement in place in terms of how they would operate, and in the first year following the intervention, 109 kids were placed in permanent adoptive homes.

24:49 Mullen: that's a wonderful story. It also goes to show that there's a lot of things that get passed down in companies about the culture, as you said, of who can interact with who; and who can trust who from one company to the next.
Looking at it from a fresh perspective can really bring results, as you just showed with all these kids who got adopted. Change can happen, resolution can happen and people just sometime need to be open to that and look at things from that, have that shift in their mindset as you were talking about to change their perspective and build that resolution in collaboration with each other.

25:27 Levine: it's interesting, you used the word culture.  A lot  of people want to have a culture change,  in [...] they want to change the culture in an organization, and this work has a direct application to that. And the way it is, is the following explanation, the following piece of logic.
So what does culture reflect? Culture in an organization reflects the relationships that are the organization. You know people working together, it's not the bricks and mortar, it's the way people engage, interface and work with each other.
i.e. at 4 in the morning you don't really have a hotel, the hotel is the sum and substance of the relationships among the staff, between the staff and guests.
So culture is reflected in relationships. Great - what are relationships a function of ?
26:15 Relationships are a function of spoken and unspoken agreements between people about how they will work together and treat each other. I say spoken and unspoken, explicit and implicit. And I also say, if you want to change a culture, make your agreements much more explicit - and you'll have a huge impact on the culture.

26:38 Mullen: that would make sense, you have a lot more trust going on if they're explicit.
 Stewart, this has been so much great information for everybody regarding getting to resolution as your book is called, why don't you tell us where people can find you, what kind of services you provide and the books that you have that they can order.

26:58 Levine: sure, my website is  You'll find my books there, you'll finds some videos there, you'll find some information about the work that's there. I work with couples, as a matter of fact I've just formed a new affiliation with an organization called - how you can do conscious divorce. It's interesting, I was selected to be one of their providers, and i come to find that my books are some of their source material for their philosophy and process and technology they put together for helping people move through divorce in a conscious fashion.

27:40 Mullen: it certainly makes sense that that would fit

27:43 Levine:  yes, you'll find the list of services for various kinds of organizations. and really most any situation involving conflict or collaboration, in most any size organization or government entity - my work has applicability.

27:59 Mullen: so companies can hire you, individuals or now even couples can hire you to help them..

28:04 Levine: yes, exactly, and the books are:
Getting to Resolution - Turning conflict into collaboration
The Book of Agreement - ten essential elements for getting the results you want,
a book called Collaboration 2.0 , that I co-wrote with David Coleman, who is an expert in technology and it's about how all of us are working virtually today and how we need to do it
in a more effective way
Those are available through my website...

28:39 Mullen: if you want to find out more about Stewart Levine's work, or hire him for speaking engagements, you can find him at
He is in the Alameda area of Northern California and you can reach him by calling his office 
at (510) 777-1166. I want to thank Stewart for sharing his skills with us today.

28:59  exit comments

30:00 FINIS


Contact email | twitter | @DrColleenMullen | @StewartLevine