Why am I the last one my clients call? A brief history.
The evolution of my work has allowed me to become the voice of reason that can resolve conflict. Here’s how.
In The Beginning, I Was A Curious College Student
Back in 1974, I was an insatiably curious student studying Sociology at UCLA. I quickly became interested in a hot topic amongst professors at the time – gender issues and violence. Specifically, the causes of violence against women piqued my interest. Why was this happening? Why were there so many battered women? And why were battered women staying in their situations for so long? I wanted to know. And I wanted to do the right thing.
Something Isn’t Right Here
Ignited to act, I volunteered at the YMCA in Santa Monica to create a hotline for battered women. This later led to volunteer work at Ocean Park Community Center, a shelter for battered women. Back then – there seemed to be two schools of thought on the issue, from both extremes. Either it was the woman’s fault for not behaving better when he was drunk or upset, or all men were brutes that needed to feel power over women. Neither school of thought seemed right to me.
When All You Have is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail
That old saying “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” seemed apt in this situation. People had one outdated model to “hammer” every kind of conflict “nail”, even though conflict situations varied drastically. Conflict was an issue that needed much better research, and a much better approach. What I was unmasking was that conflicts between people, in the workplace or in the home, were complicated matters that required finely honed interventions. Simple solutions to complex matters were the fuel for making things worse, not better.
Where Research meets Applied Action
Using my abilities as an expert researcher, I did the next logical thing: I gathered as much data as I could from other social scientists, my own volunteer work, victims of violence, perpetrators of violence, and the police. By 1989, I was hired at the USC Center for Women to look at the issues that women were facing at the university. From my previous hard research, I created training programs and direct services at USC. At USC I approached my work as I did at UCLA with a focus on research, training, and applied action. My work was based on my perspective that it is best to understand conflict rather than assume causes and cures. Consequently I was able to handle serious conflicts with the best interests of all concerned.
Helping Scientists Become Entrepreneurs
Hired away to Caltech, I was charged with working on issues of gender relations and conflict as well as studying the status of women in science. While there I was a co-recipient of a National Science Foundation Grant to help promote the status of women in science through visual images. At that time, the concern was that many of the women educated in science were not becoming scientists when they left school.
I discovered in my research that some women were leaving the sciences because of conflicts that were gender-based. My role was to take my point of view that most conflicts can be handled if we were willing to see each case as an individual matter that could be solved with an individually designed solution. I also uncovered that some women, like men, were using their scientific background to do all manner of successful things once they left the program. These findings changed Caltech’s perception of its program from a “pipeline,” in which students enter one end and exit full-fledged scientists on the other, to a “room with many doors” in which students could also use their education for research, technology, or entrepreneurship. And, it changed the perspective that all departures from the sciences were based in gender conflict instead of personal preferences.
Becoming an Entrepreneurial Strategist
While at Caltech, many female scientists came to me for help with their careers. Between 1998 and 2001 the world was a hotbed of entrepreneurial activities in the sciences and technology. Female scientists were interested in attracting investment capital and they wanted to learn how to do so.
My first response was to do what I do best – research, training, and applied action so I put out a call for interested people to join me at Caltech and discuss the issues. Eventually I formed Southern California Chapters of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE), a separate enterprise from my work at Caltech. My strategy was to bring people in to join the organization, introduce them to the principles of venture capital, teach them how to sell their ideas to these venture capitalists. I became a strategist. I helped them find out what they needed, and who they needed. Suddenly I was operationalizing all the work I had done those years around gender, communication, and leadership. Together we raised over $6oo Million in venture capital, all through research, training, and applied action.
Entrepreneurs as Conflict Refugees
Branching out on my own in 2002, I started my own practice helping men and women start their own businesses. And then something remarkable happened. Many of these budding entrepreneurs were there because they were fed up with a work situation where they were being harassed, bullied, or mistreated. I helped them deal with their trauma, analyze their current situation, and overcome it to build their own businesses. I was coaching them how to address the conflict problem while staying in their business, or how to cope with their conflict problems while creating an exit strategy if they wanted out. It wasn’t long before more than half of my clients were there because they needed my help dealing with a serious conflict situation that was detrimental to their life and work.
The Old Models Don’t Work
As when I started, I realized “Something isn’t right here.” My clients had been using the same extreme strategies for handling their workplace conflicts, in particular workplace abrasive and bullying behaviors. Once again I turned to research and found some astounding things. While my perspective and interventions on workplace conflict had evolved to the point where I was very successful at handling the problems, most people and workplaces were still using the old models of blaming the victim, demonizing the aggressor, explaining the problem as either power differentials or character disorders. So I returned to my sociology roots and researched workplace abrasive and bullying by focusing on the top findings from multiple sources: research scientists, sociologists, business leaders, and marketers. From the data, I could see where the same old assumptions were being made, and how traditional conflict-management plans based on those assumptions were destined to fail.
The Voice of Reason
I know from my years of experience that a “one-size-fits-all” solution does not work because every conflict situation was different, and every situation required customized expert analysis to determine the cause of the conflict and the correct approach to a solution.
Extremes are unreasonable. Demonizing someone who is doing something wrong is not helpful. There’s no place to go once you make someone a demon. What do you do? Put them in jail, kick them out, get rid of them? Not a lot of room for an intervention. Commonly used options (including mediation, arbitration, leadership training, and litigation) rarely change the situation.
What I do is bring my wisdom and expertise to every conflict situation I handle. I gather information, find the unique conditions that exist, and then create a strategy for improving the situation. I implement appropriate tactics and stay the course to a positive outcome. Because I base my approach in solid research embedded in each situation, and then develop appropriate training, and applied action, I can become the voice of reason that can help resolve the conflict.
That’s why I am the last one clients call.
Kathleen spends her free time relaxing and traveling. Her kitty, Frank, is a new addition to her life – he walked into her kitchen and refused to leave. Now he helps her with her typing and filing by supervising from her tabletop.