Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation’

An Imperfect Metaphor

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

My wife is a biochemist by training, and she was the one who came up with the name “Catalyst” for my fledgling consulting practice in 2006.  A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a reaction without itself being changed by the reaction.  I thought that was a perfect metaphor for the work we do– encouraging change in others.

As we end 2012, I’m realizing that the metaphor is incomplete.

Indeed we catalyze change, so that part of the metaphor works well enough.  However, I myself am often transformed by my interactions with you– my clients and colleagues.


Here are three lessons I learned from you in 2012:

Transformational work is spiritual work. Transformational work that ignores this fact will have a short shelf life.  Leaders are often encouraged to focus on modifying behaviors in order to get better results.  We build incentives (and disincentives) to help reinforce desired behaviors.  But this approach only lasts as long as we can maintain the incentive system.  Once we no longer have the energy (or desire) to maintain it, old habits reappear and hard-won ground is lost.  Sustainable transformations require shifts on the inside, because what’s inside us finds a way out.  For many personal changes, healing and growth are the only way forward.  Many of you have pursued true transformation this year, and you and your organizations are reaping the benefits.

A victim mentality provides fertile soil for self-deception. For some reason, I personally experienced more relational conflict in 3 months during the Fall of 2012 than I had in the previous 3 years combined.  In several of these conflicts, it was easy for me to feel victimized.  When I slipped into this role, it was easy for me to overlook or ignore my part in creating or perpetuating the conflict.  I’ve had numerous clients experience the same dynamic this year.  The best way out of this trap is to acknowledge our own mistakes and courageously pursue reconciliation.

Building teams is hard work. This summer Christin Nevins joined the Catalyst OC team.  I’m thrilled to have her on board, as she brings experiences, perspectives, and personality traits that are highly beneficial to our clients.  Although I often lead ad hoc teams of consultants, this is the first time I’ve had a direct report in years.  Christin challenges the status quo I’ve created, forces me to clarify how and why we do things, and demands meaningful work and growth opportunities.  All this requires my time and energy, and it uses muscles that have atrophied a bit.  But, as you know, it’s worth it.  You have encouraged and inspired me, by passionately leading others through adversity in pursuit of your own visions.


I’m grateful for you, Catalyst OC’s clients, colleagues, and friends.  You continually challenge me to improve my craft and do my best.  I consider this work a sacred calling, and I’m honored that you not only allow yourselves to be transformed through our work, but that you transform me, too.

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Building Trust– Repairing Old Damage through Reconciliation

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

For the past four years, helping teams build high-trust relationships has been a significant portion of my consulting practice.  My clients and I achieved some decent results together, but something was missing from my approach.  Up until 2010, I had assumed that 2 people who have a damaged-trust relationship can shake hands, agree to work together, “let bygones be bygones,” and move forward in a trusting way.

I was wrong.


Trust is confidence in the competence and character of another, based on past experiences.  Higher levels of trust correlate with higher efficiency, productivity, satisfaction, loyalty, and profitability.

What causes a rift in trust between two people is that one (or both) of us feels harmed by some past behavior of the other.  Whether the harm was intentional or not, we learn to avoid that pain and be wary of the one who inflicted it.  Often we assume foul motives:  “She hurt me; she must have been trying to hurt me.”

In 2010, I had an epiphany about trust that changed the way I consult:  Each injury damages the relationship, and the damage adds up over time.  Until we go back and repair the damage, we can’t move forward in the relationship.

Repairing the damage is hard work.  It requires vulnerability, a willingness to forgive, accepting responsibility for the impact of our own behaviors, and some uncomfortable conversations.  Most people would rather ignore the damage and move forward.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Until there is reconciliation between the affected people, the level of trust will be capped by the amount of the unrepaired damage.

The key is to look inside ourselves before we try to reach out to others. Here’s a process I recommend to clients, called the Reconciliation Ladder:

Reconciliation Ladder

We start at the bottom rung.  The first 3 rungs involve determining what element of the damaged trust we each own (“my trash”), then doing something about it.  The next three rungs require reaching out to the other person and accepting responsibility for our own behaviors and impact.  The last two (top) rungs require us to talk about the other person’s contribution to the damaged trust (“your trash”).

It gets harder the higher we climb:

  • The bottom 3 rungs can happen in our own head and heart, so we have control.
  • The middle rungs require us to start being vulnerable by including a second person in the conversation, who may not be aligned with our game plan for reconciliation.
  • The top seems easier, because we’re focusing on others’ shortcomings, but it is the hardest to do well, because we have to carefully speak the truth about someone else’s trash.  The key here is the word “carefully.”  Another way to say that would be “with a loving heart” or “with kindness.”

In this process, we may be rejected.  The other person may not accept the apology, forgive us, or agree with our view of what caused the damage.  But that’s the risk we take.  And in my own relationships, I have found that there is great power in a genuine apology to soften even the hardest heart, over time.  Sometimes the other person won’t get on the ladder until they see me climbing.

Before 2010, I was asking people to leap up to grab the last rung on the ladder, without doing the hard and deliberate work of climbing, one rung at a time.  The ladder can seem daunting when viewed from the ground.  Thankfully, we don’t have to commit to the entire ladder all at once.   Even the first step up is helpful in starting to repair the damage.

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