Saturday 20 February 2010

Moving on to Conversational Riff's dedicated blog

Well, I am moving across to my hybrid blog and general website at

Please do come and join me there.

Monday 18 January 2010

Free Conflict Talk in London, March 2010

I will be presenting in London on Conversational Riffs towards the end of March on a date to be confirmed, but likely to be the 25th March. This is a follow on to a session that I ran with my friends from

You can find their link to my previous talk here Contact them now to book a place.

Want to know if it is worth your time? Well, here is the feedback received from the November session. See you there!

Thanks for inviting me, really enjoyed it – Bally Binning

Thank you for your interesting and well organised event. Neil’s engaging delivery of conflict resolution using ‘Conversational riffs’ helps to unravel, how to identify the hidden messages of conflict and arrive to a solution in an effective manner that is based on mutual understanding and respect. 'Conversational Riffs' can really work for all types of relationships. Neil's passion, experience and knowledge of conflict resolution makes him an outstanding presenter. Johanna Kokko from Dadshouse

A few evenings ago I attended a talk given by Neil on the subject of Conversational Riffs, and I found him to be a very good speaker who presented some very clear and highly useful tools for improving both inter-personal and professional communications. As an experienced professional Hypnotherapist I recognise the value and thoroughly approve of Neil's approach to his work in helping people to recognise the negative and unproductive patterns of communication that we can all too easily fall into. He offers a clear and accessible route map for making better choices in our responses to others, which can be put into action in ones' daily life in a natural and straight forward way. Cheyne Towers M.B.A.Th.H., GQHP Hypnotherapist, Qigong, Taiji and Self-Defence Instructor.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Conversational Riffs reviewed by leading USA mediator

Conversational Riffs, my new book on conflict communications has been reviewed by the leading USA mediator and writer Tammy Lenski.

"Neil offers up wisdom in bite-sized, jargon-free chunks that makes it accessible and actionable. And he does it in such a creative and delightful way that the journey through the short book is a pleasure."

You can find her full review here at her excellent Conflict Zen blog. Pop over there and be sure to leave your comment on her site. Have a look around while you're there.

If you would like to buy Conversational Riffs then you can get it here.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Fail Quickly

Get over it, and move on...

My good friend Mike Ellis recently presented on a notion he calls Collaboration 2.0. One of his slides contains a great phrase that set off a train of thought.

Fail Quickly

Now, I didn't see the talk so I am at risk of trying to make sense of a presentation from just the slides - that is a bit like, as Elvis Costello once wrote, a ballerina learning to dance from a series of still photos.

But Fail Quickly to me opens up all kinds of opportunities from a conflict management point of view.

The fear of failure inhibits innovation and spontaneity. People become reluctant to suggest ideas in case they do not work, especially if there is a legacy of resentment in the wake of previous unsuccessful ideas.

If we were to explore how we can fail quickly then the following things happen;

Build in early tests or samples to see if an idea has potential. If it does not it Fails Quickly before large resources have been invested. This also means that the position of the person who innovated or supported the investment does not need to be defended - a key source of conflict or conflict aversion. (Keep your head down, say nothing)

But Fail Quickly also applies at the other end. If an idea fails, then let it fail quickly. Learn lessons from it - and there is value in learning from failure which can help mitigate the loss of resources - and move on. Get over the failure, both as the innovator and also as management.

Keep going. Move on.

But whatever you do, don't fail slowly.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Tesco's response to my emailed feedback?

Last night I blogged about the disgusting way I was treated by Tesco as a result of asking for my correct change. You can read about that here.

When I said I wanted to complain I was given a feedback card with various contact details.

I telephoned the number on that. It was a recorded message service. Nothing more. No thanks.

There was an email address as well, so I emailed them and referred them to yesterday's blog post. Want to know their response?

"Thanks for your feedback about our staff. Your feedback helps us continually improve our stores and service.
(Powered by Fizzback)."

How do you think I am feeling now as a customer?


Or worse?

Do you think I have been heard? Acknowledged? What could Tesco do to improve this situation and their company policy?

Saturday 5 December 2009

When "Company Policy" Sounds LIke "We Are Going Treat You Like A Criminal"

Tesco's customer service is degrading. They treated me like I was a thief.

Just because you are a massive retailer like Tesco does not mean that you can humiliate and embarrass your customers when they ask for the correct change.

This evening I was in a Tesco on the Bristol ring road. I bought some milk and other bits and the bill came to £6.02. I didn't want to get a pocket full of change so I paid a tenner, and the odd £1 and a 5p coin that I had. The result, a fiver in change and a couple of pence.

I was handed my receipt and a 2p piece. I pointed that I had given a tenner, not a fiver and that is when I signed up, unwittingly, to their suspicions and degradation.

In front of a busy store, and my son who I had with me, I was told that they would have to "Check the till" before they could give me what I was perfectly entitled to.


The cashier called over the store manager who explained that she could not give me my money until she had checked the till. "Company policy." she said, that's all.

So I wait, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and rage, a queue forming behind me, while the manager counts out the till in front of me and the other shoppers. They are resenting the hold up that I feel I am causing. I am livid that my word is being doubted. So what does the manager say to me? Nothing. What does she say to the cashier?

"You can carry on serving now." and she walks away to an administrative section of the checkout tills, leaving me with the cashier.

The cashier looks at me and says something like "Er, you need to go with her..."

So in front of the whole queue I have to dutifully follow the orders I am being given and go to where the manager continues to count the cash tray she has taken out, taking my young son with me. At this stage I am fuming and so, mustering my most courteous tones I point out to the manager that;

"This is shocking customer service, here. I feel like you are calling me a thief for asking for the right change."

"I'm sorry, it's company policy."

"But this is really embarrassing."

"It's not you" she says, "We have had a lot of frauds with people asking for change which they shouldn't have, and so we have to do this."

Bam. That is it.

The rationale for me being treated like a criminal in front of the other shoppers and my son, is because there have been previous frauds perpetrated against Tescos and so my reasonable. If she checks the till, and the till say it is correct, presumably that means I am one of those frauds.

The alternative is they are going to give me my fiver anyway... in which case, why do I have to wait until you have done your check before I get my fiver?

I repeat that I am not concerned about company policy. I would like my change now and to get out as quickly as possible. By this time 5 minutes of this nonsense have passed. "I'm feeling like a thief here," I repeat.

The rather indignant response?

"I apologised didn't I? We're not saying you are a thief, that's wrong, it is just company policy" Note: What I am feeling is not wrong. My interpretation might be inaccurate but the feeling is not.

She then walked off and spoke to the cashier leaving me wondering what is going to happen.

Now, I wonder, what would happen if the till bears no resemblance at all to what it should be? What if the till suggests that I am wrong? Does that create a case in her eyes that I am trying to defraud the Tesco? With my son in tow? Will she call the police?

She comes back and tells me, like I have just passed an exam, like I should be thankful to her, that "The till is up." ie there is more in it than there should be.

Yeah, thanks. I know that. I told you that over 5 minutes ago before you chose to publicly humiliate me in front of the store and my son, blandly hiding behind "company policy." seemingly ignorant or uncaring as to how that is received and experienced by the greatly inconvenienced and humiliated customer.

Your company policy means jack to me in that situation. It is the experience of the customer that has to count. To doubt a customer in this fashion is shocking.

I was given my fiver and started to walk away.

I turned back to the manager.

"That whole thing was out of order. I want to complain. Who can I speak to?"

I was not given a name, but a glib card reading "Please give us your feedback; We'd like your help to improve your store... Every little helps."

Well, Tesco, here is my feedback.

Stop treating your clients like thieves. They don't like that. It reflects badly on your brand, and we will tell others about our disappointing experiences.

Give your clients some credibility and some dignity.

Don't keep them waiting for their problem to be resolved. Or their change.

Don't embarrass them in front of customers, your staff or their own children.

That one bears repeating so forgive me as I indulge myself.

Don't embarrass them in front of customers, your staff or their own children.

Don't hide behind crass semantics "It's just company policy." That sucks. You were saying "We want to check the till because we are not prepared to believe you." Well thanks, Tesco.

If someone wants to complain, don't fob them off with a telephone number that is nothing more than a recorded message server. Give them a name and a number, a talking voice that they can engage with and communicate with.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Conversational Riffs - Coming Soon

In just a few weeks the Conversational Riffs book will be available to buy.

Conversational Riffs teaches us all how we can easily choose a different response when we find ourselves faced with a conflict situation at work, or in social settings.

We look at the three status quo riffs, or responses, that we learn as we grow up and how trying to get by with those three riffs lead us into repetitive, destructive arguments. We then look at six more creative riffs that will help you to create meaning out of conflict and strengthen those relationships at the very moment they are most at risk.

Finally we identify those two response sorts that you should avoid at all costs.

The book is designed to be practical in its approach to conflict communications and can be read either independently or as part of a training program. More details to follow in the coming days. For more information about Neil Denny's speaking work see here

You can catch Neil speaking with other leading speakers here on 19th November 2009 in Oxford. I hope to see you there.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Here, I've built you a platform.

Here is a brief excerpt from my new book setting out how a curious response to conflict might sound.

“Stand there, here, right on this platform. Don’t worry; it’s safe, really safe. I have built it for you because I am really interested in hearing all about your point of view, how you reached that conclusion and what we can learn from it. I don’t necessarily think you are right, but I do believe that your perspective on what has happened, and your experience of it, can help us both now and in the future. I strongly value the work we do together and our relationship. Please, get comfortable. It’s safe. Now, do carry on.”

Thursday 23 July 2009

Collaborative Law. What will we talk about?

I continue to work within collaborative law, helping divorcing and separating couples to communicate with each other to reach a solution.

My Youtube video introducing the concept of Collaborative Law can be found here and is helping people to understand how the process works.

Many people do not understand however exactly what is discussed within the collaborative meetings.

I have prepared the mindmap below to assist in that regard. Click on the "Maximise" button to open the full mindmap in a separate window. Alternatively you can zoom out (a bit) or click anywhere on the map and drag it about.

The items on the left are predominantly procedural. The first collaborative meeting often concentrates on these points.

The points on the right are more content based. Their emphasis and the extent to which they are explored will vary from case to case, and meeting to meeting depending upon where the clients' concerns lie.

I hope that this is helpful. If you would like more information then please do not hesitate to contact me. You can find me at or

Incidentally, I can recommend the mindmapping facility for ease of use.

Monday 6 July 2009

Why rushing to grab a solution is not always a good idea.

One of the chapters of my Conversational Riffs book is titled "Solutions". In part it looks at the tendency to grab the first solution that is put forward without exploring other possibilities.

I have a good joke that I use in workshops and keynotes to illustrate. This is not it but is a good joke all the same and illustrates the point well.

A lesson in why rushing to grab the first solution is not a good idea...

A man went to the doctor one day, complaining of insufferable chronic headaches he had been suffering from for several months.

The doctor checked him over and said;

"Sir I've got good news and bad news. The good news is I can cure you. The bad news is that I am going to have to remove your testicles. You see, you have a rare condition whereby your testicles are placing immense pressure on the base of your spine, which in turn impacts upon the flow of spinal fluid and associated problems with your hypoglossal nerve and lower cortex. I'm afraid they'll have to go."

"Are you sure there's nothing else you can do Doctor?" asked the man.

"I'm afraid not, but I can get you operated on within the week."

Two weeks later and the man was walking down the High Street having had his operation, pleased that his headaches have gone at last but feeling a little low after his life changing operation. As he walked past an old fashioned tailor's store he thought he would treat himself to a new suit to cheer himself up.

"Hello Sir," said the attentive tailor, "What can I get you? A new suit? Certainly, step this way."

The tailor looked at the man. "Hmm, now let's see. I'd say you wear a 42 inch chest jacket with longish sleeves, would that be right Sir?"

"Remarkable," said the man, "Yes I am, how did you know that without measuring?"

"40 years in the job, Sir, 40 years." and he went to fetch a sample jacket.

Having ordered a suit the man thought he would get a couple of new shirts also, just to cheer himself up.

"Hmm, now let's see. I'd say you're a 16 inch neck, would that be right Sir?"

"Remarkable," said the man, "Yes I am,"

"40 years in the job, Sir, 40 years." and he went to fetch some shirts to try.

The man had ordered his suit and chosen some shirts and thought that, just to top off his outfit, he would treat himself to some decent underwear, and said as such to the tailor.

The tailor looked at him, up and down and said;

"Hmmm, now let's see. I'd say you wear 36 inch waist boxer shorts, would that be right sir?"

"Aha," thought the man, "I've got him on this one..."

"No," he replied, "I wear 32 inch waist jockeys."

The tailor looked surprised and said

"Oh sir, but that can't be right. If that were so your testicles would place immense pressure on the base of your spine, restricting the flow of spinal fluid and giving you insufferable chronic headaches..."

Tuesday 30 June 2009

Is emotional unintelligence encouraged by popular media?

Is it any wonder that individuals acquire destructive patterns of communication?

We wake up to radio phone in debates or interviews, where polarised views are pushed forward as being the binary choice available.

On the way to work we read column after column of indignant editorial within our newspaper, or website of choice.

Perhaps at lunch time we might log into a website forum or messageboard. The fans' website for supporters of my football club, Southampton FC, is particularly apt at the moment as fans turn upon their former heroes and saviours for having failed to secure a financial remedy to our administration woes in the most violent language - a great example of the drama triangle perhaps...

Maybe we get home in time for TV drama such as the agitated rant that passes for entertainment within Eastenders and others.

To what extent does this diet of conflict fuelled communication create an expectation or a norm for us and how we ourselves react to conflict, disagreements and set backs? It is simply exhausting.

Tuesday 23 June 2009


Organisations, through the actions of their individuals, invest in and long to see failure. Surprised?

Unresolved conflict, low trust and resentment leads to factions or individuals within organisations turning upon one another, longing to see colleagues and initiatives fail.

Let me give you an example.

Meet John Bercow the new Speaker of the House of Commons.

A new Speaker was required to drive through the pressing organisational need to reform UK parliamentary procedures. John Bercow, Conservative MP was voted in, convincingly, with a mandate to do just that.

Every member of the UK government needs reform, and I have not heard of any who openly disagree with that notion. But rather than working towards that end the Organisation turns in on itself and invests time, energy and, regrettably, reputation on sabotage.

Don't believe me? Here is the comment from one of his fellow Conservative MPs...

"If Bercow thinks he’ll be re-elected unopposed once we have a majority in the Commons he’s got another think (sic) coming," said one Conservative frontbencher." Source

Wow. With friends like these...

How do you see sabotage and a desire for failure playing out within your organisation?

Thursday 11 June 2009

From liquid logic, to solid and back again

In many disputes, the positions held by people are rock hard. Massive costs are incurred in trying to preserve the sanctity of that position.

Conflicts in the field of design and build demonstrate a wonderful conflict dynamic, namely how positions shift from a liquid state to a solid one and the problems that ensue.

Take an architect who designs a build with an innovative ceramic finish.

It transpires that the specified material is unavailable for several months. The contractor is under pressure to complete the build, or else face late completion penalties. An alternative is suggested but the architect is up in arms. It has to be the specified ceramic finish. Nothing else will do.

Positions have been adopted and have solidified.

And yet, it was not so long ago that the decision on the finish was entirely fluid. At that moment the architect could have chosen from any number of options. Here, the logic is fluid. It is possible to consider a wide range of solutions.

To some extent the decision to go for a certain finish is arbitrary. Sure, the decision will have been informed by aesthetic and other considerations, but there will have been other factors in play also.

Perhaps the architect has seen the finish whilst travelling recently. Perhaps it has received some coverage within the industry. It’s a new material with new technology and the architect is keen to lead the field in adopting its use.

When we deconstruct adopted, solidified positions by reverting to these considerations and questions, then we start to reverse-engineer that process that the architect had previously travelled through.

We back-up along the process of deliberation and conclusion. We can return to earlier logical decision branches and entertain what would have been the result if we had chosen a different branch.

We move away from the solidified state represented by the conclusion originally reached. That conclusion starts to dissolve into a more liquid state once more.

Consider the physicality of the dispute. If you have two solid blocks, or positions, that you are trying to bring together, then you have nothing but bricks knocking off each other. Introduce a degree of liquidity and the positions become easier to manage, easier to merge and easier to mould into a shape that truly fits.

I would like to thank Daniel Plunkett of for the discussion that led to this blog entry.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Despair. What is the point?

It is easy, so easy to despair that we can do anything in the face of conflict.

Sometimes conflict's stranglehold on society and individuals feels so tight that it is easy to give up.

I read the news today, oh boy... Lives lost in an argument about the loss of life? That makes no sense at all.

We see these heightened conflicts being played out to their awful fatal conclusions and wonder what is the point? What hope have we in bringing about change.

The same is true in organisations as it is within society. Look at teams and individuals. There is always one, a bad apple, the cat amongst the pigeons. We have initiatives, really freaking great ideas, great big whoppers of ideas, and yet we stay silent. What is the point? It'll never float. It will be bombed, sabotaged, passively supported while at the same time being willed to fail.

Managers go on course after course to help them get over their reticence and give some real feedback, you know, like useful feedback. And it sounds great and, yes I can see how that will make a difference, and we try it. And what happens? We still get the tears from our colleague, or the defensiveness and the sulking. And you know, maybe it is just easier if we just avoid the whole thing.

But but but then we are complicit in average organisations. We are contributing to an organisation remaining in its status quo. We are conspiring to restrict the organisations growth and development. And I'm thinking, its just a hunch, that that is not how we see ourselves, our contributions or our companies.

No, this accursed despair needs to be driven out, put in a box and thrown out into the back yard, like the worry weeds that Tom Waits muses on in his concert film Big Time. Take those weeds and choke 'em.

Let's recognise despair for what it is; a debilitating self-deception that tells us it is alright not to try, try and try again.

When it comes to conflict in the organisation, well then sometimes all it needs is one small change in ourselves and that can turn a stagnant backwater of dissent into a vibrant new river of communication, carrying many with it on its way to who knows where. And sure, there will be white rapids, but we can get through them. It might be challenging, it might be a little bit frightening, but which would you prefer and which approach does your organisation need?

I heard a story the other day that a ship captain had calculated as he was leaving port in South Africa, headed for Australia, that if he changed his course by just one degree that he would miss Australia altogether. The smallest change can make a massive difference and for that reason alone, we need not despair.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Why do organisations tolerate conflict led behaviour?

Why do organisations tolerate conflict led behaviour?

Today’s example, I’m at a store and there is a young chap cursing loudly at an older colleague about a female colleague and how she is paid a lot more than he is to do less work. He’s sick and tired of it, apparently, although he put that in much more colourful language. He is angry and out of control. He storms off with another colleague, swearing very loudly as he walks through the store, past me, my young son in his pram and other customers, tourists, business people.

It just isn’t good enough.

I and the fellow customers are embarrassed, and some maybe a little frightened at being caught in this awful verbal crossfire. I know I was thinking "I hope I don't catch his eye."

This man was feeling entirely justified in his rage and indignation. He felt it was acceptable to communicate a very violent rage in the way he did. But that is no excuse. He has a duty to conduct himself appropriately, a duty he and we all owe to ourselves, our employers and colleagues. We need to stop blaming the other party in conflict and regain some awareness of how we are letting ourselves down, of how we are contributing to the situation.

The problem is that these outbursts are seen everywhere. I saw it the other day in another store, and again this afternoon in a charity shop, albeit with slightly more restrained language.

When organisations are passive in tolerating these outbursts, they damage themselves.

In a presentation I prepared and presented recently I looked at what I called the Conflict Cost Matrix, more on that later. For now though, I would dearly love to get into these organisations and share some fairly low level, non-threatening and normalising presentations with their staff at all levels. Organisations can, and must do more to educate their people. When people are seen acting in such a fashion, whether in stores, reception areas of professional service providers, call centres, then it reflects on the whole organisations.

These front of house people are the interface between your company, all it stands for and your customers. They are your ambassadors and they are letting you and themselves down badly. Give them some skills to help them to help you.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Book review - Reconciling One and All by Brian Castle

Reconciling One and All is a worthy contribution to the library of Conflict and Mediation books which might pass under many readers' radars given its Christian bearing. That would be unfortunate as it has much to offer.

The book is a slim tome, at about 110 pages, but is packed with ideas and provocations, many of which, in a style similar to De Bono, are not fully explored but left for the reader to develop further.

The book breaks down this thing called reconciliation into 5 provocations or parts, namely;

Reaching out to the other; and
God's gift to the world

Memory explores, not hanging onto past grievances, but remembering "rightly" in such a fashion as will enable reconciliation to take place. It goes on to explore the need to let go or lay aside grievances.

"This laying aside does not underestimate the wrong, it is not a repression and it is not an escape. Rather it takes seriously what has happened in the past and shows a willingness, when the time is ripe, to move into the future towards reconciliation. This can only happen when we have an active control of the memory and decide the shape of remembering which, in itself, is a sign that we control the memory rather than the memory controlling us"

Chapter 2, called "Victimhood... or not" starts with a fascinating argument and one that was new to me, namely the idea that Jesus Christ is frequently portrayed as victim within art and other representations. That is a nonesense when considered against the Gospel but is remarkably prevalent. Cue long faces and sombre gatherings all round!

Brian Castle goes on to explore how the psalm writers when faced with challenges and grievances, did not retreat internally to wallow and lick their wounds. Instead they stretched "Out beyond themselves, to God, to prevent themselves from being overwhelmed by what opposes them" - a fascinating view on the need for the individual to go beyond themselves and the natural, tempting sense of victimhood, to reach out and endeavour to create a resolution.
The very act of resolution is seen as combatting the overbearing deluge of the trials that the participants may be facing. I can see this within the Collaborative Law work which I do. The client and their spouse are emboldened in facing up to the end of a marriage by participating within its resolution, instead of absolving that role entirely to the Judges and Lawyers. When it works, it is a remarkable thing to see.

Chapter 3 deals with forgiveness and joins the mediator and individual with the challenges that forgiveness presents. Who's forgiveness is it? What is the difference between forgiveness and mercy? We touch upon the challenge that we are often presented with when trying to broach forgiveness with clients or other people around us:

"In many ways it is disresectful for those who have not had to undergo such horrors even to raise the question of forgiveness..." How often are we presented with the retort "What would you know, you weren't there!" or "You have no idea how I am feeling..."

Brian Castle in turn looks to "Exclusion and Embrace" by Miroslav Volf and how Volf deals with the parable of the all-loving father - incorrectly referred to, Castle says, as the parable of the prodigal son.

The father embraces his son upon his return even before there has been any remorse or confession. "For the father the fact that he was his son was more significant in his relationship with him than what he had done. Of course the moral activity of the younger son is not irrelevant, but it is not as important as the father's relationship with his son."

"Reaching out to the other" is the theme of the fourth paragraph and this, for me, is the most potent section. The idea is that we should acknowledge and embrace the differences between us.
The challenge is that if we do so, we risk transformation, change, maybe even, but whisper it, Growth. The very title of this blog, Embracing Conflict, belies where I feel on this issue. I do believe that we need to be able to step into those differences, competently and respectfully, and be curious as to how those differences between us map out. We need a dialogue that engages, not dehumanizes or pushes away.

The final chapter, God's gift to the world, draws upon the Gospel and demonstrates how this thing called Reconciliation is perhaps the central theme of the Bible, from the tumultuous opening book of Genesis which it is revealed is packed with separation, suffering and subsequent reconciliation, through to Paul's letters including those to the Corinthians.

I would expect the last chapter to provide the greatest challenge for non-Christian readers, but I sincerely hope that his book will be read and debated more widely. There is a great deal of sense contained within its few pages which I hope will stimulate the reader as much as it has me.
The Christian perspective helps to make sense and contextualise this work for Christians. For non-Christians I would hope that Brian Castle's tone is sensitive enough to ensure that it is not over-bearing but that it can serve as a framing for the discussions that follow.

For now, I'm off to find a copy of Miroslav Volf!

Wednesday 8 April 2009

The Happy Workplace

Many marriages break down not because of an excess of conflict, but because of an absence of explicit conflict.

Arguments are banished or avoided. If we allow ourselves to argue, then we are admitting, we believe, that our relationship is breaking down. We are no longer “In love.” Arguing is seen as a loss of intimacy.

The result is that grievances and irritations are not discussed. Resentment grows.

Organisations are the same.

They become afraid of raising contentious issues because we confuse having an argument, or a debate, with falling out. We like to believe that our relationships with our colleagues, staff, volunteers, trustees, are harmonious, and that if we argue then we are jeopardising that harmony.

Or we fear for ourselves. What will happen if put my head above the parapet? Will I be seen as being awkward, or a trouble-maker, or obstructive?

What reaction will I provoke amongst other members of the relevant group?

What if I’m wrong? Will I be humiliated?

The result is that difficult issues are not addressed. Instead, initiatives are not pushed forward, or are allowed to proceed even though one or more members may have identified inherent problems or flaws.

All organisations have a rich mine of opinions, viewpoints and ideas. We need to make it safe for individuals to speak out. We need to encourage dissent so that ideas can be tested or aired in the first place.

Arguments and debate should not be seen as the end of a working or social relationship. Instead, competent, responsible debate can be seen as an indication that the relationship is adequately strong and mature so as to be able to take the strain of a debate and survive intact.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Mogers Guide to Collaborative Law - a trial run at web video.

I have prepared a very rudimentary video and narrative explaining something about the collaborative law process and how it can help to maximise communication and trust in family law cases.

Here it is.

Let me know your thoughts as I will be presenting to Mogers Solicitors on Twitter, YouTube and web 2.0 stuff over the coming weeks. I appreciate the resolution is a bit scrappy and the lighting could be better. I am toying with the idea of various camera rigs for future attempts.

Many thanks


Friday 2 January 2009

Red File - A new choice for separating couples

I have posted, below, a draft press release for the Red File system that I have been creating for Mogers Solicitors in Bath.

Please do pitch in with comments or suggestions. If you would like more details on how the scheme is comprised then let me know with a request in the comments, or by messaging at

New Choice for Separating Couples

Many married couples, having made the difficult decision to separate, are finding that they are unable to do so. For some this will be because of the lack of lending or reducing equity in their homes.

For others it is because of the cost of legal fees themselves.

Either way this can result in couples having to remain locked in a marriage which neither of them wants, leading to frustration and resentment.

One Bath firm have created a new legal service to help such couples.

“We are providing a service to enable people to file and complete their own divorces and financial matters while still offering support and guidance.” explains Neil Denny, family solicitor with Mogers on Queen Square, Bath.

“By working alongside people instead of taking over the full conduct of their case, we can help people to move matters forward in a way which is affordable and easier to manage.”

Neil Denny believes that new services such as these are the future for the legal profession. “The market will increasingly expect solicitors to be more flexible in how they work for their clients. They will want to see solicitors recognising the fact that clients are often willing and able to do some of the work themselves.”

The Red File assisted legal services model works on the basis that clients will choose and only pay a small fixed fee for the sections of their divorce and financial case that they want help with.

“The benefit is that people can budget not only for how much their case will cost, but they can also timetable for when each part needs to be paid.”

“We are excited to be leading the debate on the future of providing legal services with this product. We look forward to making the system available in other areas of law to include probate, children law matters and small claims litigation.”

Contact Neil Denny for more information on 01225 750000.

Thursday 1 January 2009

The problem with dispute resolution...

It is easy, within dispute resolution, to imagine that the movement is beyond criticism.

This is one of the topics addressed in the excellent book "Beyond Neutrality" by Bernard Mayer.

Here is another reminder reported in the Law Society Gazette a couple of weeks ago. Dame Hazel Genn, professor of socio-legal studies at University College London, is quoted as saying that mediation "Is not about just settlement" Instead, she asserts, "It is just about settlement."

There are various schools of socio-political criticism of dispute resolution suggesting that ADR processes perpetuate power imbalances and abuses, keep resolved issues out of the body of publicly decided cases and precedents, and the critique levied here that mediation and ADR processes somehow sidestep or marginalise this thing called Justice.

The article, written by Joshua Rozenburg is stridently put and does not seem to hold too much sympathy with Dame Hazel Genn's position. It is worth noting however that the lectures in which her critique was presented are to be published later in Spring.

It will be interesting to read the whole speech to ensure that her reported comments are in context and also to hear more about the objections to dispute resolution. As Bill Gates is reported to have once said; "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

Monday 29 December 2008

Now there’s passive aggressive for you.

Had a priceless example yesterday of dysfunctional intrafamily communication.

You know how it is. The family are around, doing that “Family time together” thing. Everyone is being ever so ever so. No-one wants to be criticised. Everyone wants to be loved.

So Gramps asks “Can I have the news on at ten past six, please?”

“Of course,” I say, “What time is it now?”

“Ten past six”

Arrrgh! Just ask me to turn the TV on!

What would he have done if I hadn’t asked the time?

In asking the time, was I playing into his game? Was I being played?

Resentment follows.

What passive aggressive exchanges have you been tickled by this Christmas?

Friday 5 December 2008

Deliverance and the Duelling Banjoes

The famous duelling banjos scene in Deliverance can be seen as a metaphor for conflict communications.

In John Boorman’s 1972 film, Deliverance, one of the central characters, Drew, plays music with a complete stranger, a seemingly mute boy. The city professional and the rural adolescent are able to create a whole improvised song between them.

The music develops by a process of answer and call. One of them plays a riff, or a short section of music, which is then followed by the other. They react to one another responding to and developing upon the riff they have just heard. By doing so they produce this amazing music in a memorable scene that is part of cinema folklore.

It represents a rare moment of optimism in what is an otherwise unbearably dark, oppressive film.

In the process of exchanging these riffs the protagonists are effectively collaborating. They are communicating. We can see their riffs as an analogy for talking. The riffs work where the spoken word does not. Drew and the Banjo boy clearly develop and enjoy a relationship while they are playing.

All of this is despite an atmosphere of intense mistrust and power imbalances. The scene starts as one of conflict. The city professionals have got lost on their way to the river where they are hoping to enjoy a canoeing expedition. They come across a local community who are referred to as “rednecks”. The locals suspect the visitors of being businessmen intent on damning the river, flooding the valley and evicting them from their homes.

The scene bristles as Burt Reynolds and his colleagues swagger about making demands for assistance ("I don't think you understand...). The presumed economic, cultural and intellectual dominance is all theirs. This is demonstrated when Bobby, another of the touring slickers, is heard to mutter “Talk about genetic deficiencies.” with regard to the banjo playing adolescent. Another example, this time of economic dominance is seen when, a couple of minutes later, Bobby suggests the relationship between the two musicians can be reduced to Drew giving the banjo player “a couple of bucks”.

There is no respect or trust between the two camps.

It is no surprise therefore that communication is not working. The visitors’ requests for help sound like peremptory demands and only seem to aggravate and alienate. When Bobby’s offensive comment about “genetic deficiencies” is overheard by one of the locals it is met with the response “Who’s picking the banjo here?”.

In the immediate context of the scene this is an observation that the local boy is holding his own in the transactions with the guitar playing Drew. Over the rest of the film though it becomes a potent foretelling as the local community wrestles back control and power in quite awful ways.

Throughout all of this however a unique rapport and relationship is building.

Slowly at first, Drew and the boy playing the banjo create a platform of mutual understanding and respect. The exchanges are brief, tentative, guarded.

The momentum builds. Both players start to give a little more and relax. There is then an explicit recognition that they are safe to continue; Drew exclaims “Come on, I’m with you!”, and the piece and scene takes off. There is a meeting of minds and cultures which is suddenly optimistic, and shown to be highly contagious.

Towards the end, Drew stalls in his guitar playing dazzled by the banjo player’s virtuosity and the giddy euphoria they have created between them. He gasps out “I’m lost!” He is safe to show this failing, this lack of understanding, or guitar playing ability on his part because they have established a framework within which to communicate and build a relationship. It is a relationship where each of the players are recognised as contributing to the dialogue.

The music ends with drew catching up and co-performing once again to bring the tune to a natural and satisfying conclusion.

UPDATE 3rd June 2014
Wow.  I had not realised that this article I wrote back in 2008 was still getting attention.  It is and lots of it. If you are reading this and want to catch up then please pop along to where you can find me and more of my conflict resolution work and writing.  Go well and do good work.

Friday 1 August 2008

What Happens When We Argue TOO Well?

I am fascinated by how conflict plays out. It is full of curious ironies, dynamics and tricks.

Consider this excerpt from the BBC's Evan Davis's blog

"But it was one of those interesting arguments where - despite the other person winning - you remain somewhat unconvinced of their case. He argued it just too well.. I rather came to think he could win any argument he made. "

What a predicament to face. If we argue "Too well" we end up self defeating.

There is a recent family law case where this has been highlighted. In it a wife was arguing that her husband had hidden assets.

She argued that very well. She argued it too well.

She argued it so well that the judge, in the first instance, believed her unproven allegations and made an order against her husband accordingly.

The problem was that the argument was unsustainable on appeal, which she lost.

The awful irony is that she will have perceived she had succeeded in her case, but then faced another 2 years of litigation while the aftermath, of her own very successful efforts, were unravelled.

So, what are we to do?

We need to be on our guard and need to check our arguments. Are we creating a version of events simply to fit our perception? Stephen Covey would call this a paradigm view, no doubt. Are we being seduced by conflict, anger or indignation into seeing a quite artificial view.

There is another example of this very issue breaking as I write, with another BBC story. The former accused killer of Jillian Dando - Barry George - has been found innocent upon appeal. The prosecution case was criticised as follows;

""The only reason that the prosecution say that this is the work of the local loner, the local nutter, the man with these serious psychological problems, is because that is the man they arrested.

"But if you look at the facts of the case they will give you a very different story."

Facts, dear boy, facts.

In the aforementioned family law case, the appeal judgment explained that the problem with the original hearing and the wife's case is that it was not based on "Evidence but simply on a different belief asserted on behalf" of the wife. The extent to which the wife had proved her case was said to be "No more than `I assume that'"

My fuller article on the family law case can be found on my firm's website here.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Heather Mills and the things we say and do in conflict

On Friday 25th April 2008 I presented to a group of businessmen and women. We took a slightly different angle on the recent Mills and McCartney divorce and what we can all learn from the conflict led behaviours seen in that case.

The press coverage that Heather Mills has received following her divorce from Paul McCartney has been most unattractive.

Within our workshop we took a quick show of hands to gauge support for her.

I am pleased to say we had a couple of supporters for Ms Mills, but by far the majority were happy to denounce her. This is in keeping with the press coverage to date.

I shall be referring to the Judge's comments throughout this workshop, to see what we can learn from them.

Firstly let us look at how the Judge perceived Ms Mills and her conduct.

"She is a less than impressive witness."
"I cannot accept her case."
"Wholly exaggerated"

But for all of that, the Judge also recognised that Ms Mills is "A kindly person and is devoted to her charitable causes."

I want to explore the idea that Ms Mills is not as she has been portrayed - if she was then surely it is inconceivable that Paul McCartney would have married her - but rather that she is an individual who has fallen into quite typical conflict led patterns of behaviour.

I will look at 3 specific examples of conflict behaviours.

"To some extent she is her own worst enemy." Justice Bennett

How many of us, when reading these words, can hear the words of our parents or teachers ringing in our ears.

We are all capable of letting ourselves down and we are particularly at risk when we are in conflict situations. Kenneth Cloke wrote in his book, "Mediating Dangerously" that we get seduced by conflict.

There is a temptation to act in conflict driven ways, not least because we perceive that conflict feels so good. It is the "Yeah! That told them!" feeling.

When we are seduced by conflict we act in accordance with conflict's own agenda and not in keeping with our own values or how we would like to see ourselves acting. What was that quote about "Give a speech in anger and give the best speech you'll ever regret?"

Radiohead sang "You do it to yourself, you do, and that's what really hurts" and they were right.

Too often we think we are blaming the other person. We think we are proving that the other person is to blame to whoever might be listening. But all we are doing is letting ourselves down and shooting ourselves in the foot.

Because we lose control in the face of conflict we end up inflicting damage on ourselves. We do it to ourselves and we become our own worst enemies.

Think of a conflict situation you have had to face where you acted rashly and scored an own goal.

"She cannot have done herself any good... by her outbursts in her TV interviews." Justice Bennett

These TV interviews, see below, drew a great deal of criticism.

The public were largely unaminous in their views that these were a bad idea poorly handled.

But, again, was Ms Mills doing anything that you or I would not have done?

Think about it. Think about when you got home after an argument at the office, or having been cut up by another driver on the way home.

What do we do?

We tell our partners about it. Maybe we retell the story later on at the bar with friends, or on the phone to our parents or colleagues.

What exactly are we doing that for?

I suggest we do it to seek affirmation that we were not in the wrong.

"I mean, I was right, wasn't I?"


"Can you believe what they said today?"

When we retell these conflict stories we are looking to recruit supporters to our version of events so that we can be comforted that we did not make the mistake. It is a perfectly natural behaviour.

I think the only difference with Ms Mills is that she was given a much broader platform, namely live GMTV, from which to retell her story from her perspective.

Would we, if we were so inflamed by conflict, have been able to resist such an opportunity to set the story straight, as we saw it?

There is something else going on within these TV interviews and it is this.

Ms Mills is seen maximising her virtues and denouncing other peoples motives.

Again this is something we all do.

If I am late then I justify it my behaviour. there will be any number of explanations. If someone I am meeting is late, then I do not justify it and instead rush to condemn it.

Conflict tricks us into denigrating the other person and all that they say or do.

Many divorce clients when receiving a good, even generous settlement proposal from their estranged spouse, reject it immediately.

"Oh, there must be something in it for them."

We see a terrible conflict irony that the more generous the proposal, the greater the mistrust.

This in part can explained by Karpman's Drama Triangle which I shall now look at.

"The wife's campaign... portraying herself as the victim and he as the monster" Justice Bennett

Karpman created the concept of the Drama triangle in the 1960's. It relates to Transactional Analysis models of behaviour.

It suggests that when we are in conflict we occupy one of the three corners of the triangle. They are labelled Victim, Villain and Rescuer.

Bizarrely, although none of us would ever admit to wanting to be the victim, we often rush to claim that very role for ourselves.

"Can you believe what they told me?/did to me?"

When we recount those conflict stories discussed above, how often do we portray ourselves as the victim.

The problem is that every victim needs a villain. Even if we do not name the perpetrator as a villain, it is implied that they must be villainous. And you better believe that they will know that, or at least "Feel" it.

And so we see Ms. Mills proclaiming her victim status live on GMTV. But her motive is that of the rescuer. She is seen to intervene into her own victimhood and attempt to rescue herself. She asserts that she is speaking out on live TV to set the record straight.

Very often the victim will have had enough and take such "rescuing" actions. The problem is though that she was then roundly condemned as the villain of the piece by having been perceived as attacking her spouse.

Watch out also for the priceless assertion that she is/was trying to "Protect" Paul McCartney.

Again, she is the rescuer. Here, she portrays Paul McCartney as the victim - powerless - at the mercy of shadowy unidentified villains.

Her outburst is not an attack, she would say. It is a virtuous action.

So look out for the drama triangle at play in your life, in your debates at work and relationships at home and in the community.

Watch out for instances where you are retelling a conflict story looking for recruits to join your side of the argument.

And above all, watch out lest you get suckered into carrying out conflict led behaviours rather than adopting a smarter approach to conflict resolution.

You'll be shocked to see that Ms Mills isn't all that different to you and I after all. It is just a question of scale.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

It only takes one to tango

When I present on Conversational Riffs, a question that repeatedly comes up is how can these methods be of any use if the other person is determined to be difficult.

This is a question of “setting the stage” – how are we going to resolve this dispute? It is assumed that it takes two to tango in dispute resolution scenarios. If the other person doesn’t play ball, then our best efforts are all in vain.

I invite the questioner to turn the situation around.

Why would we allow the aggressive, or difficult party, to set the stage on their preferred terms?

Why should that process take priority over our own? If we give up in our efforts to create a positive dialogue then we are endorsing the other parties approach. We are saying “Our approach is not good enough in this situation. Your approach is right and we will commit to play, argue or fight by your rules.” We don’t want to do that, do we?

That only addresses the issue on one level. Implementing, and getting our approach to stick is another issue.

To be successful in setting the stage, we have to create that space within the dialogue which will draw in the other party. We need to anticipate what motivates the other party to resist and then meet, accommodate or resolve those concerns.

Through our own approach and careful communication we can create a conversation that will carry our colleagues or partners with us.

That is the whole notion of Conversational Riffs. The riff I play in an improvised piece of music will lead naturally onto the next passage. In conversation, the same thing applies. If I can pull out a conversational riff from my repertoire, I can influence how that conversation will progress.

My partner within the debate, argument or whatever, begins to improvise with me in creating a new meaningful, spontaneous dialogue.

Monday 3 September 2007

The adversarial principle in society - Politics and the media

The title above is the subject of a debate being presented by CEDR and others on 11th September. I am looking forward to it very much as it is an area that I am increasingly troubled by.

A few weeks ago, I read about Cameron promising "Bareknuckle fights" over the NHS. That will help the A+E wards, then. Bareknuckle fights?

Peter Haine, for the other team, had been at it ahead of the Welsh Assembly election last year, same bareknuckle metaphor.

This weekend, we have the ever-macho William Hague making threats to Gordon Brown that he would be "In for the fight of his life" once any election campaign began.

What is it with this ridiculous posturing, this violent, threatening, pugilistic rhetoric? It is supposed, no doubt, to rouse the party faithful and show strong, fearless leadership. It comes across, however, as nothing more than playground taunting.

It is embarrassing and could well be contributing to the public disaffection with politics generally. There needs to be a new dialogue between our parties and the electorate, one that respects the electorates intellect rather than assuming that they can be whipped into a frenzy with this conflict laden, ugly, playground banality.

All in all, I'm looking forward to the seminar. Here's hoping it is the start of a new conversation.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Great discussion on Linkedin

Have a look here for a great discussion on "The gratuitous insult - How do you respond?"

The author raises a situation where he asks for an explanation and gets the surprising response "“If you don't understand what I mean, then that is probably your problem.”

Enough to take anyone aback.

The question has elicited 90+ responses so far with differing approaches.

Many people say ignore it, or walk away. Some look at reframing or feedback, others would adopt a more directly challenging stance.

More than one respondent suggests a hug.

My response is in the mid nineties... and is set out below

My Conversational Riffs material approaches any dialogue like a blues or jazz guitar solo. Sure, we can stick with the same old easy riffs we all know so well, the tedium of attack, defend and counter attack. That is the Status Quo and it neither interests us, nor serves us very well.

Instead, what we need is a whole repertoire of tiny riffs which we can improvise at any time to take conversations in whole new directions.

So, your colleague makes this comment - probably a defensive comment on his part following a mis-perception that you have just attacked his communication skills - and then counter attacks you in such spectacular fashion.

You can respond as expected above or throw in a new riff. Change direction. Improvise. Create a new dialogue. Try an encouragement, acknowledgment, agreement or invitation riff.. any of these will break the cycle that this conversation looks as though it is about to embark upon. Who knows what meaning and understanding you might create!

Saturday 28 July 2007

Holidays and a link before I go

That's it, I'm off work for a couple of weeks annual leave so it'll be quiet here for a while. I look forward to sharing more ideas and really making some progress with those other career plans when I get back mid August.

In the meantime here's an interesting post on Deloittes blog site that I thought presented some interesting personal dilemnas.

Wednesday 25 July 2007

The relationship / time matrix

I was discussing matters with a colleague last week who could be called a "Distance service provider" - that is to say that their services were provided over the internet, mail, telephone, but not directly face to face.

This organisation were surprised at just how much conflict they had to deal with between the service provider and the consumer.

We had an interesting chat about an idea that occured to me there and then, namely the relationship / time matrix.

We explored whether the problem might be one of low relationship combined with long time delays between communications. Why should that provide a problem?

We came onto narrative theory. Within any given transaction there will be markers.

I placed my order on this date. I enquired by phone on this date and then the goods arrived on this date.

The problem is that the gaps between those recorded incidents then get filled with supposition as each party assumes what has been happening and what the other party has intended.

Within this particular industry, the relationship between provider and consumer of the service was low. This could have an impact given that it reduced understanding between the parties, leaving larger gaps to fill in with suppositions. Furthermore if the relationship had not been developed then there was nothing to preserve there through ensuring that we communicated carefully.

We then explored whether that low relationship was then compounded by the time between each response or element within the communication.

Whenever one party or the other raised a point, typically through correspondence, then there was a time delay. That creates more space to fill with second guessing.

We kicked about looking at a way of possibly reducing such conflict by enhancing the relationship to develop better understanding between provider and consumer, and also challenging the means of communication, systems and processes to ensure that such issues were handled more promptly.

It has led to me thinking, however, how such a matrix would map out. As relationship increases then we would presumably have some more lassitude on time. Indeed, we need to build in time if relationships are to be developed. But there will come a point on that time curve where longer time - too much time - will start to affect the relationship itself.

There you have it. A most nebulous of nebulous thoughts. I'll let you know of further developments on it. Is anyone else working on similar ideas?

Thursday 19 July 2007

Oh to be in Kalamazoo!

Oh to be in Kalamazoo. Why? Well to have an address like that would be enough. Just saying the word is beautiful. It bounces off the tongue. Even typing it has its own unique rhythm. Try it for yourself.


But look at what insight into Kalamazoo life my Google alerts gave me this morning.

Not only have they got Richard's Magic Accordian Show scheduled for 7pm TONIGHT but they have a mediation drop in service at the Kalamazoo library. Now that is the first time I have seen one of those.

Count me as interested. Does anyone have experience of mediation drop in surgeries? I know that in my legal profession, especially in family law, that the free first half hour is prevalent, although it is not something I offer. If you put on a half hour free session then your client is going to be time wary. If they are watching the watch then they aren't able to relax into their story and I am only going to get the most cursory explanation of where their relationship has got to. At the very time that I need to understand them and develop trust and rapport, I restrict the likelihood of doing so because of time pressure.

I offer a fixed fee at a nominal charge but the meeting can take as long as it takes - normally around 90 minutes. You can see the client talk themselves through their initial anxiety, and time concerns, and there comes a stage where they visibly relax. There is a realisation that they can take their time and hopefully ensure that they are fully heard.

That in turn helps me to advise in a way that I hope might be more in keeping with their values and in response to what they have told me their position is.

How, I wonder, can the Kalamazoo mediation surgery settle the participants and get to an adequate level of communication working in the time available? If it works then it could be expanded upon. Imagine, you could have conflict kiosks everywhere. If people cannot agree on something they just pop into their neighbourhood Conflict Corner, settle into their booths, mediate, settle and move on with their day.

On closer examination I learn that Kalamazoo has its own website.

Here it proudly proclaims its status as a "Cool city" - which seems to be trying a bit too hard. Of much more interest though is the story of the Kalamazoo Promise which is a much more interesting matter altogether and something I'm going to have to look into. Real altruism. Real vision. A much more interesting story indeed.

Good morning Kalamazoo! We love you!

Conflict and social networking

Here's an invitation. Have a look at this networking site for people working in or having an interest in conflict resolution or peace work generally. There is some good debate starting to warm up over there. The site seems to be finding it's feet and I am benefiting from some interesting connections that are likely to lead to future collaborations.

My page can be found here. Please leave a comment there and introduce yourself.

The membership is predominantly people working in the field in conflict areas, as opposed to those in training or the corporate aspects of conflict. However there is a broad range of opinion, emphasis, experience and origin. A real hotbed of conflict thinking and application. Join in!

Sunday 15 July 2007

Airport queues and dispute resolution using conversational riffs

Have you ever been spear fishing? I had the opportunity to try it yesterday and it was remarkable. I caught a sea bass weighing about a kilo. Not bad for a man with a fish phobia. There was some healing going on right there. Albeit not for the fish.

Anyway I digress.

As we drove down to Studland Bay I was talking with a great chap called Lee. He travels frequently between the UK and America. We were discussing conflict and how people react to it.

He recounted an incident at an American airport. His flight was lost - whether cancelled, overbooked or whatever. He was in a queue of understandably angry people trying to get more information.

He got to the front of the queue and just had this one other passenger in front of him who proceeded to give the clerk an insight into his frustration.

Not surprisingly he was told there was nothing that could be done. He would need to come back the following day to continue his flight. Apologies on behalf of the airline and so on. He was frustrated when he started, he was angry when he spoke to the clerk, and he was still frustrated when he finished.

Lee steps up, with the same frustrations as the guy in front but tries a very different tack.

"Hi. How are you getting on?" he asks the clerk. "This can't be easy for you. What is the situation with flights?". The clerk tells him what she had told the last passenger, but then goes on to volunteer;

"If it will help I can offer you some meal vouchers while you are waiting"

Sure, says Lee, appreciating the gesture...

"And I can arrange" she goes on "complimentary hotel accommodation overnight to minimise your inconvenience"

The result? He didn't get home any quicker but he got to enjoy his unavoidable day in New York with only minor inconvenience and reduced stress. The passenger before him, with his aggressive, albeit understandable stance, was left with only his rage.

I wrestled with this, while fishing. Was Lee just being polite? Undoubtedly. But what else did he do?

He recognised or acknowledged the clerk's role in this situation, and gave her respect by doing so.

He also created space for himself to consider a different perspective rather than being consumed by the situation he found himself in. The result is that the situation was resolved as best as it possibly could have been.

Lee explained that a favourite line of his when faced with other frustrating situations is "Is there anything you could do to help. I'd greatly appreciate it if so." Again, Lee is inviting co-operation rather than laying down a challenge and even as he asks the question, he is reassuring the other party that they are safe to explore solutions together.

The other passenger was not only rude but unwittingly contributed to his own situation. Given the tack he adopted, which was quite a natural one in the circumstances, he not only reduced the likelihood of working together to find some solutions - meal vouchers and accommodation provided free of charge - but he made such collaboration impossible. In the face of his stance, was it easier, or safe, for the clerk to offer him assistance - which may well have provoked further outbursts - or easier to shut up shop, withdraw within herself and wait for him to move onto the next desk?

A simple fable but one I enjoyed in the telling. Thanks Lee for letting me share it. Now, anyone for sea bass?