EPISODE 369
Jeremy Pollack
How to Become a Peacemaker (with Jeremy Pollack)

Mark speaks with Jeremy Pollack, a social psychologist and conflict resolution consultant. Jeremy’s company, Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, teaches leaders and employees how to communicate more effectively and rebuild mutual trust through coaching, training, and conflict resolution services. His company has helped dozens of other companies, large and small, in all varieties of industries around the world, to resolve conflicts and foster greater peace.

Jeremy Pollack
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Show Notes

Today, Commander Divine speaks with Jeremy Pollack, a social psychologist and conflict resolution consultant. Jeremy’s company, Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, focuses on the psychology, social dynamics, and peacebuilding methodologies of interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. In this episode, Jeremy discusses the relationship between martial arts and peacebuilding, the one essential ingredient in any conflict mediation, the psychology behind why we get stuck in conflicts, and much more.

Key Takeaways:

  • Care comes first. People need to feel safe, respected, and accepted at an identity level. To be able to solve a conflict with a person, you need to find out what’s threatening them. People have to know that you hear them, you care about them, and are actually considering what they’re saying. As soon as they feel heard, their defenses come down, they can breathe a little bit, and they’re more able to have a conversation about solutions.
  • The connection between martial arts and peacebuilding. If you’re learning from a good teacher, martial arts is not about violence. At its core, martial arts is built on embodying a level of humble confidence that allows you to feel confident, grounded and present wherever you are. This is so translatable to conflict resolution, because as a peacebuilder, you have to be humble, but you also have to be confident enough to hold a neutral space so that people can feel safe to express and explore.
  • Conflict resolution vs. peacebuilding. Conflict resolution is about being able to solve an acute problem, whereas peacebuilding recognizes that there are presenting problems that could be resolved, but there’s a larger system-wide structural or cultural situation that’s allowing these types of conflicts to emerge. When we peacebuild, we address both the acute conflicts and the long-term structural elements that are causing these types of conflicts over and over again.
  • Breaking free from conflict identities. Many people form identities around being victims, being in conflict, or being in control. And if that identity is threatened, it leaves a large gap in the way people see themselves. When someone finally decides to replace that identity with something better, it’s so empowering. But they have to make that decision for themselves.
  • We all want the same things. If you take two people from opposing groups (say, the right and the left), and you start asking them questions about their underlying core values, needs, and beliefs, they actually have a lot of the same shared values. They both want their families to be safe, they both want to thrive, they both want to feel free. But they have different positions based on the media they watch and the communities they’re involved in. And those positions are the methods by which they’re going to achieve those values. This is where the conflicts happen. If we could just get them out of those groups and have them understand how alike their values systems are, we could figure out better ways of reaching a common goal so that everyone feels taken care of. This has to happen on a very local, even individual level. It’s hard to do it on a massive level since media bias is too powerful.

Quotes:

“How do I change from a threat to a support? That’s what’s going to help calm someone down.”

“The only solution to this kind of thing is for these individuals to recognize that some of the outcomes of their behavior are not getting what they want. They have to realize at some point like something is wrong here. My relationships aren’t that great, something’s not working. And I gotta get some help.”

“I call myself sometimes like a couples counselor for workplaces, because that’s kind of what it is. And it can be extremely transformative. A lot of times we come in, and these people are in conflict for months, or maybe years, and they’re not talking about it, or they’re not talking directly about it… And a lot of times they have an identity around this conflict, it’s almost like, Who will I be if I’m not the person being victimized by that other individual? I don’t even know who I’m going to be then, you know. So that takes a little bit of coaching as well.”

“What does this particular culture or this organization value? Do we value long term relationships, high retention, high engagement, employee satisfaction, employees’ subjective well being? Do we value those things? If so, are we measuring them?… Because if everybody’s like, cutthroat, blunt, direct all that stuff, maybe we don’t care whether people are very happy. But if we do care, we should be measuring it. Okay, are people happy?… If not, then what do we need to change here? I guess each organization has its own kind of subculture and needs to just decide what their values are and what kind of culture they want to build.”

“Whenever we’re talking about conflict resolution, I generally think of it in conflict resolution as being in two buckets. And the first bucket has to come before the second. The first bucket is always care. And the second bucket is solution.”

“Sometimes it just takes care, sometimes it just takes listening, sometimes people just want to be listened to, want to feel heard. And then as soon as they feel heard, their defenses come down, they can breathe a little bit, and they’re way more able to have a conversation about a solution. But until they feel heard, until they feel respected, or at least like recognized, they’re not gonna be in a place to have a solution.”

“How do we both address the acute conflicts and start addressing over the long term our structural elements that are allowing these types of conflicts to emerge? And how do we start changing that cultural context to be more peace oriented, as opposed to conflict oriented?”

“People form conflict identities, they form identities around being victims, around being in conflict, or being in control. And if I’m no longer in control, if I’m no longer in conflict, if I’m no longer a victim of this person, or this group, it leaves a large gap in sort of the way I look at my self concept, the way I look at myself, the way I identify, and I have to fill that with something. That can be a painful process, figuring out, how do I fulfill that with something else, but when someone actually does… it’s so empowering, it’s just life changing. But they have to make that decision at some point.”

Mark Divine 0:05
Coming up on the Mark Divine Show,

Jeremy Pollack 0:07
How do we defuse the threat? How do I defuse the threat with the fewest amount of people getting injured? I have to try to figure out what is threatening this person. We need to figure out what’s going on for this person, what’s threatening them? And then how do I start to change from being the thing that’s being perceived as threatening them to something that’s being perceived as supporting them? How do I change from a threat to a support? That’s what’s going to help calm someone down.

Mark Divine 0:36
Hi, I’m Mark Divine. And this is the Mark Divine Show. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate and resilient leaders. My guests include folks from all walks of life – martial arts grandmasters, military leaders, high powered CEOs, and even conflict resolution experts, which is what we’re gonna be talking about today – interpersonal, intergroup, conflict, conflict resolution, and conflict psychology, what it takes to achieve peace and peace building in both professional, personal and social settings.

My expert today is Jeremy Pollack, PhD, social psychologist, leader in the field of conflict management or what he calls peacebuilding. He’s founder of the Pollak Peace-building Systems, a large workplace conflict resolution firm here in North America. He’s a master coach, Master Trainer, mediator. He’s an author, and he coaches and trains executives and employees at a variety levels and industries Fortune 500 to major nonprofits. His book is called Conflict Resolution Playbook. Jeremy has mediated conflicts between business partners, co executives, co workers at all levels, helping them find win-win resolutions for all.

Jeremy, nice to meet you. Thanks for joining me today.

Jeremy Pollack 1:44
Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I listened to several of your podcasts episodes. So excited to hang out with you.

Mark Divine 1:51
I’m stoked to talk to you. I mean, you kind of position yourself as a conflict resolution expert. But I love the flip side of that, as a peacebuilder. You know, I’m not sure if they’re entirely opposites. So it’d be fun to talk about that, like peacebuilding and conflict resolution are related, but maybe not exactly the same thing. But before we kind of dig into that, and talk about your life, and I know that we got a lot of interesting things in common – martial artist, right. Love to travel. I love that, too. I’ve been a lifetime martial artist. Well, we start there. Let’s talk about your, kind of your upbringing. You said you grew up in LA when I was talking to you prior. What were things like for you? What were your family slike? What were some of your influences early on in your life?

Jeremy Pollack 2:30
I grew up in a sort of a nice neighborhood, suburban neighborhood of Los Angeles had a kind of a large family of three siblings. I was the oldest and my two parents are still together. So good upbringing all together. My mom kind of led me into martial arts when I was about 10 or 11 years old. And that became a large part of my life, you know, throughout my childhood, and then throughout my life.

Mark Divine 2:51
Did you find hapkido then or was it one of those like, united martial arts?

Jeremy Pollack 2:56
So it was, I don’t even know if they were around yet. USSM or whatever they’re called. I started out in I think it was tang soo do. But with just like a teacher was doing a small thing in a community area or something like that. And then I got into Taekwondo and in a studio, and then eventually when I was about 13, I found hapkido and that’s where I stuck until I got my black belt, when I was about 20, or 21, I think.

Mark Divine 3:18
Martial arts for kids, especially if you stick it out to black belt, it’s such a powerful and positive kind of instrument, you know, to keep people on track and disciplined, and a positive peer group and a role model in terms of the mentor relationship with the teacher, I assume he’s good or she. I didn’t find martial arts until I was 21. We didn’t have anything in upstate New York, or Long Island. Back in the 80s, right. Yes. Nobody was doing it. That’s interesting. So what led you to psychology? What was your college experience like?

Jeremy Pollack 3:49
Yeah, I think martial arts had a big part of that, you know, so I was for a long time when I was doing martial arts. Then I eventually got into like, mixed martial arts and practical self defense, Krav Maga, that kind of thing. I got really interested in… some people go verbal self defense, Verbal Judo, de escalation techniques, that sort of thing. I wanted to figure out like, okay, so I kind of know how to defend myself, potentially, you know, physically, like how do I de escalate situations emotionally, mentally, I got really interested in that, and I started a coaching practice, personal development coaching. After I had been in coaching myself for several years, I started feeling like I could probably figure this out. And I started experimenting with that.

So I had a coaching practice at a Martial Arts Academy. And then I just thought, you know, I’m going to take the next step in terms of academics, and actually go back and start getting some more formal training. Then got a master’s in anthropology, I was really interested in evolutionary psychology, and the evolution of cooperation and conflict, and that’s where I studied Evolutionary Anthropology. And then I was interested in conflict specifically, and I wanted to learn some more practical techniques. So I got a master’s in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Right after that, I decided I want to take it to the next level and get my PhD in psychology and really focus on social psychology as it interacts with motivation, and performance psychology because I think a lot of that has to do with conflict. So my goal was, how do I become an expert in the psychology of peace and conflict to help people figure out how to resolve, manage, deescalate, transform situations without having to get physical, essentially. So for me, it’s like a nice, well rounded toolkit of, let’s always try never to go to the physical part. Let’s try to keep it at the interpersonal.

Mark Divine 5:21
Well actually, you can even go further and say, Let’s not go to the violent part, which does exactly have to be physical. It could be a lot of violence, perpetrated emotionally, psychologically through abusive behavior. I think that’s fascinating. Many people might be curious as to the link between learning how to fight and defend oneself. And then learning how to de escalate and or use language to defuse the situation. But I’m curious, what were some of your insights from your martial arts training, that kind of helped you bridge between, you know, the physical art, the practice art of fighting and defending to defusing conflict verbally and emotionally?

Jeremy Pollack 6:05
Yeah, it’s a good question. I’ve had this conversation a few times with people. It’s interesting. The first time I ever had this conversation was with a fellow who called himself a peace builder, but he kind of… he challenged me and basically said, you know, how dare… he was very defensive. He said, How dare you call yourself a peace builder when you’ve studied martial arts, and you’ve done this violent stuff, and, and you’ve studied Krav Maga, and that’s the tools used by the oppressors against my people and all that stuff. So it challenged me to really be able to try to figure out how to articulate the connection between martial arts and conflict resolution or peace building.

In my estimation, I think there’s a lot of ways you can go with this conversation. But in my estimation, martial arts, if you’re learning from a good teacher, like a lot of these Aikido teachers, it’s not about violence, you know, necessarily even physical self defense always, really what it’s about at the core, are some fundamental principles, one of them being how do you embody or establish for yourself a level of humble confidence, where you can really be humble and modest, but also feel confident and grounded and present in your, your stance or wherever you are.

And I feel like that is something that’s so translatable to conflict resolution, because when you’re doing peacebuilding work, people’s emotions will be high, people will get into it with each other, and you really, as a peacebuilder, one really has to be the one who holds the space, and you have to be humble, but you also have to be confident enough to hold the space so that people can feel safe to explore emotions, to be emotional, I’ve been in situations where people have been outbursts, crying, etc. And if I don’t feel confident in holding that space, and making sure that everybody feels safe there, the whole thing is going to go completely off the rails. For me, that’s the big translation.

Mark Divine 7:49
I 100% agree, I think that it’s worthwhile kind of digging into this a little bit more. My experience is very similar, in that it was my martial arts training that led me from thinly veiled arrogance, to humble confidence, and it took time and it’s so the martial arts really is a refinement of your character over a long period of time, through repeated failures, through repeated painful circumstances where you realize that you’re not as good as you thought you were, there’s always someone who’s got a better skill, better technique, you know, who’s more poised, on particular days, you know, more present more whatever. And yet, you keep showing up, and you keep getting humbled, and you keep refining, practicing. And integrated practice, which includes the body, doesn’t leave it behind. So body, mind, emotions, and spirit. It sounds harsh to say this, but to actually confidently know how to dissemble a human being in combat. And with no intention or desire to do so, of course, because the more competent I got, the less interested I got in that, right. And the less fearful I got. And so I started to understand the principle behind the warrior arts in that the, it is the warrior, the ultimate aim of the warrior is to avoid violence, and to deconstruct and deconflict. And to, you know, because the warrior understands the outcomes and the ramifications.

Jeremy Pollack 9:12
There’s a sense of like, people that don’t study or that don’t understand violence in an intimate way… It’s almost like they don’t respect the fist. And there’s a saying that’s like respect, the true warrior respects the fist, he knows the consequences, all the potential consequences of violence and so he or she tries to avoid it.

Mark Divine 9:30
Right, and the more competent you get, the more compelled you are to also protect others, I think, which is a natural outcome of a long term period of training, if you stick with it. Reminds me also of that kind of metaphor of the sheep and the sheep dogs and the wolves.

Jeremy Pollack 9:47
Yeah, I’ve been at Colonel Grossman’s seminar before.

Mark Divine 9:50
Yeah, me too. I met him back way back on SEAL Team Three when he was doing a tour for his first book. He’s a fascinating guy. At a practical level, what were some of the… you said using language to defuse. Like, so Aikido, you know, has moves that are probably not so different than hapkido in terms of like, you can defuse the energy by merging with it, you can sidestep it or redirect it, you can bypass it by being where the enemy isn’t, you know? So did you study those types of things to come up with some of your conflict resolution strategies?

Jeremy Pollack 10:23
I think they probably permeate it in some way, but not as directly as they like in terms of like sort of the clock principles of redirection and sort of that kind of thing in Aikido, and hapkido. So it’s, but there are some crossovers here, because what’s interesting is, so when we’re when we’re talking about conflict, especially like interpersonal or intergroup, conflict, what we’re typically talking about is not just like, hey, a challenge comes up that’s something easy to solve, we’ll solve it – really what we’re talking about is sort of protracted conflict, things that are going on for a while. And what’s happening in conflict. To me what synonymous with conflict is essentially threat. So when we’re in conflict, there is some perception that there’s a threat to my needs, my goals, my values. And so I think there’s some crossover with martial arts is like, how do we defuse the threat? That is the general philosophy now in a physical situation. How do I defuse the threat with the fewest amount of people getting injured? You know, I can do controlled force tactics, that kind of thing. Interpersonal or dialogue. How do I defuse the threat, I have to try to figure out what is threatening this person. And we can look at some basic psychological needs that people have and know people need to feel safe, they need to feel respected, they need to feel like they’re being accepted at an identity level, that sort of thing. So like, we need to figure out what’s going on for this person, what’s threatening them? And then how do I start to change from being the thing that’s being perceived as threatening them to something that’s being perceived as supporting them? How do I change from a threat to a support? That’s what’s gonna help calm someone down. People have to know that I’m listening to them, that I hear them, that I care about what they’re saying, that I’m considering what they’re saying. That kind of thing is like, I’m no longer a threat. I’m on your team. I’m here to help you. How do I support you? Like how do I change from threat to supporter? There’s some crossover there with martial arts, but it’s… maybe it’s less… more indirect.

Mark Divine 12:05
When you’re on a work force, it gets really tricky, because you have a lot of shadow elements that are at play.

Jeremy Pollack 12:11
Yeah, well, you’ve got some people with superiority complexes, some people with inferiority complexes or some people that are very sort of direct harsh speakers, they get to the point, they don’t really care about how it makes you feel. And then other people who are very passive and you know, so those two people communicating with each other are very triggering to each other because one feels like they’re being attacked, and the other one feels like they’re not being listened to. That’s a tough situation. And the only solution to this kind of thing is for these individuals to recognize that some of the outcomes of their behavior are not getting what they want. They have to realize at some point like something is wrong here. My relationships aren’t that great, something’s not working. And I gotta get some help. And then maybe that looks like coaching or therapy or training or something.

Mark Divine 12:59
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I love this approach you’re taking in that it’s one thing for me to go off and, maybe I do a 360 review and I get some feedback that’s kind of like holy crap, I’m having an impact. And so then I go to therapy or get a coach and I start working on it. But that doesn’t change the fact I’ve created conflict. And that conflict has a long tail, right in the organization, right? So I love the approach of actually having a mentor, coach, conflict resolution specialist, work with a couple just like a marriage, you know, therapist would work with a couple. And because now you’re dealing with the specific issues of the conflict in a particular context or setting, which I might not address, if I’m doing kind of my one off work. And if I’m doing one off work, and the other person is an equal part in the conflict, and they’re not doing the one off work, then, you know, that also is an incomplete solution.

Jeremy Pollack 16:40
And it’s almost always the case that both people are having some contribution to the conflict, even though both of them think that the other one is the only problem or something like that.

Mark Divine 16:49
So how common is it to have a conflict resolution specialist or coach within an organization? I can see how valuable it is. But it didn’t seem to me like it’s a very common thing. Maybe it’s becoming more prevalent.

Jeremy Pollack 17:02
Yeah, you know, I think it’s a growing industry. I think it’s really about educating people that this is out there. I mean, a lot of companies reach out to us, and they say, you know, we didn’t know this sort of thing existed, what is workplace peacebuilding? What does that mean? You know, so it’s really about getting out there and educating companies that this is something that is available that we do, what you’re talking about just now, traditionally, has been thought of as mediation. But really, what it’s called is transformative mediation and the way we call it our peacemaking program. And that’s basically it’s like, it’s kind of like couples counseling, mixed with individual coaching in a program. So we have two or three individuals not getting along, for instance, we come in and we do upfront coaching with each person to figure out what’s going on, what are some of their communication challenges, what are some of their, you know, fears, concerns, goals, etc. And then we get them into a room together, and we facilitate some dialogue, and some problem solving, and maybe some healing and reconciliation.

And then we do some coaching on the back end, too. So there’s, it’s a whole program, but it’s, it’s totally, I mean, I call myself sometimes like a couples counselor for workplaces, because that’s kind of what it is. And it can be extremely transformative. A lot of times we come in, and these people are in conflict for months, or maybe years, and they’re not talking about it, or they’re not talking directly about it. They’re being a little passive aggressive, or very passive aggressive, and maybe sometimes directly aggressive. And so they just don’t have the confidence or the competence to figure out how to get out of this thing. And a lot of times they have an identity around this conflict, it’s almost like, Who will I be if I’m not the person being victimized by that other individual? I don’t even know who I’m going to be then, you know. So that takes a little bit of coaching as well.

Mark Divine 18:37
For sure. And that’s why, you know, like I said earlier, this really is about, you know, emotional development and growth. And so this is one facilitated mechanism for growth, particularly in the United States, a lot of people haven’t developed, you know, what’s now being termed cultural intelligence or cultural agility. And so conflict can arise very quickly, when you might have an American and Chinese trying to work together in the same organization, you know.

Jeremy Pollack 19:02
Yeah, it’s not easy to change. Because like, for instance, we we’ve worked with a couple of companies that have high level executives, or even technical people from let’s say, Russia, or Eastern Europe, and they have a very different style of communicating a lot of them on average, it seems, anyway, it seems to us that there’s a very different communication style, they’re very direct, they’re blunt, it’s not emotional, they don’t want to talk about feelings, they just want to like let’s get the job done and go. And then people over here and you know, in the West or in America, are dealing with that, and they’re like, Well, I want to feel cared for, I want to feel listened to, there’s a relationship here that’s important. So there’s this difference between like a focus on relationship first versus a focus on tasks versus the communication styles that follow those and those often go into conflict. So it’s not easy for folks to kind of like come to the middle somewhere and okay, I’m going to start focusing a little bit more on task and not perceiving when they’re direct with me to that they’re just being rude. That’s just their style and doesn’t mean anything by it and, and have the other side do the same thing, like trying to re-perceive how the person is communicating with them. It’s not easy, but that’s some of the work.

Mark Divine 20:03
Yeah, I think it’s fascinating, a couple of questions around this. So, I’m thinking about resiliency. Now, resiliency is another thing that is kind of a buzzword these days that’s important for both organizations as well as individuals and leaders. And you know, you could look at that example of that Russian, you know, the oligarchic style of kind of… in your face, let’s get this done. Stop being so touchy feely. In one perspective that would be Wow, that’s a really resilient approach, because they’re not letting their emotions kind of get in, right. They’re not going to be easily hurt, right, they got quote, unquote, thick skins. But you can also flip that and say, you know, it’s actually an organization that is dealing with, you know, emotional awareness, emotional control, and social awareness and social control, you know, the Goldstein’s. You know, emotional intelligence factors, is going to be more resilient over the long term. Right, because you’re acknowledging, you know, all the different players and perspectives in the organization. As opposed to being just one way and my way is the highway.

Jeremy Pollack 21:01
I guess it’s a matter of like, what does this particular culture or this organization value? Do we value long term relationships, high retention, high engagement, employee satisfaction, employees subjective well being? Do we value those things? If so, are we measuring them, are we discovering whether people are… because if everybody’s like, cutthroat, blunt, direct all that stuff. Maybe we don’t care whether people are very happy. But if we do care, we should be measuring it. Okay, are people happy? Are they satisfied, etcetera? If not, then what do we need to change here? I guess each organization has its own kind of subculture and needs to just decide what their values are and what kind of culture they want to build.

Mark Divine 21:39
Right. That makes a lot of sense. But there are certain cultural aspects that are going to thrive in this age of acceleration and VUCA over other cultural, nuanced aspects, right. And I think resilience, and inclusiveness, certainly, and the ability to take broad perspectives and that cultural intelligence, those certainly seem like they will thrive over the more rigid types of cultures that might be more autocratic.

Jeremy Pollack 22:07
Are you still involved with the SEALS at all?

Mark Divine 22:10
Well, in training, and mentoring? Yes. Formally no, I retired in 2011. But I was down at the SEAL command just the other day. It is interesting to kind of see how their culture is evolving.

Jeremy Pollack 22:26
I was curious if their culture is transforming? Is there more of an emphasis on relationships, how people, I mean, obviously, relationships are always a huge part of being in a team, but I don’t know some of the more soft skills or anything like that, do you see a change there at all?

Mark Divine 22:40
Well, yes. And also, in spite of what it might look like from the outside, the SEALs, and special forces units, you know, because the risk is so high, and you’re willing to lay your life down as a warrior. So you’ve taken the ultimate kind of like, stepped into the Ultimate Warrior kind of code. There is a lot of emotional awareness and conflict resolution and communication in formal training that goes on, and even formal in the leadership hierarchy of schools that you go through, you tend to have highly evolved individuals who, you know, deal with their shit right away.

Having said that, there are a bunch of, you know, hardcore males. And so that wouldn’t work necessarily. If suddenly you injected, you know, 50% females into that organization, right, it wouldn’t work. And so I think this is the challenge that the SEALs and other special forces are going through, you have this kind of very unique culture that has a high degree of emotional intelligence within the context of a bunch of hardcore men working together in an extremely dangerous job. And now you have kind of this woke culture stuff being kind of imposed from above. Because that’s institutionally being driven in our culture, for better or for worse, it’d be fun to have a conversation about that. And you have a drive to open up special ops to women. SEALs haven’t had anyone succeed getting through training yet, but you know, we all recognize it’s probably just a matter of time. And so what’s that going to be like? So it’s kind of a yes, but, answer.

Jeremy Pollack 24:11
Yeah, and sometimes you see this, the idea of inclusivity is very important. It’s one of the core aspects that we focus on in a workplace of like creating an inclusive culture, meaning people are included and heard and considered when decisions are being made that are going to affect them, et cetera, and included on all levels, different perspectives, different histories, different experiences, etc. But I think sometimes it almost kind of goes, can go too far in certain areas like this, where it’s like, how do we include everybody even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, you know?

Mark Divine 24:43
I think you’re right, I think, you know, DEI has… it can swing from like, political spectrum into kind of like, is it good for business spectrum. I think is it good for business really depends upon if it’s good for your culture, and whether over time, you’re gonna see the returns on a beneficial impact to society right to culture. How do you measure all that? We still don’t know. Right?

But you know, it can also be dogmatic from a political perspective. The counter to that is, you know, extreme pushback against DEI, from the opposite political spectrum, and then you get kind of a battle. And so you see a lot of DEI initiatives, which are, on the extreme left, politically driven, being pushed back against, like the critical race theory stuff, being pushed back against, because it is being implemented as a carte blanche without real consideration, like an integral approach to like, how does this affect the individuals, the teams, you know, the sense of self of the team, the structures as well as the body of the organization? I think there needs to be a rebalancing. I’m not against diversity and equity inclusion. I’m one who thinks that actually, it makes a lot of sense. But it has to be implemented in a sensible way, as well. And not just as a carte blanche where you know, where it might cause an organization to stoop to the lowest common denominator, right, which you would see a degradation of output or capability in the SEAL teams, if you did kind of a blanket approach like that.

Jeremy Pollack 26:15
Yeah, well, and it’s like, we’re not focusing on merit, we’re focusing on fulfilling certain sort of social categories, right, we’re making a checkbox. I mean, this is a big topic in leadership training right now, of course. It’s disappointing to see there’s a large opportunity with sort of DEI initiatives, but there’s been such a lack of fulfilling that opportunity. And what I mean, is just what you said that in terms of measuring outcomes, measuring how well this is working, etc, like, so I’ve, for instance, I’ll I’m thinking of a certain company that I’ve consulted with, who started a DEI or anti racist sort of initiative. And the complaint to me from the CEO was, nobody seems engaged with this. It’s not really doing anything, like I’m trying to get people like interested, but we’re not and especially the people that are, you know, in our minority groups, they’re not even speaking up during our like training, and I said, Well, why did you start this? Did you do some sort of measurement or understanding as to like, there was a problem? And you wanted to do this to address the problem? So that’s my first question. What was the problem? And number two, why did you think the approach you’re taking now was the solution to that problem? Like, what did you base that choice on? And there’s no answer to this, he was like we didn’t measure. I don’t really know if there was a problem. I just thought this is what we’re supposed to do.

Mark Divine 27:39
And then that was the knee jerk reaction after the summer, rightfully so, everyone had to take a look at that. And so the response was just implement the DEI initiative now.

Jeremy Pollack 27:50
Yeah, yeah. It’s just a check a box. It’s not meaningful.

Mark Divine 27:53
I love that idea of kind of the intersection of meritocracy and inclusiveness. Because that’s tricky. But it’s doable. Everyone has to be bought into the meritocracy aspect in the organization. That’s why it doesn’t really work in bureaucratic organizations. You know, it can work and should work in most profit organizations. Not all for profit organizations on meritocracy either. Look at Amazon fulfillment centers, necessarily as a meritocracy. I mean, maybe, I’ve never worked there. Pretty interesting discussion.
The other thing that’s really came up for me is, you know, communication training, you know, and I think this is, this could fall into the distinction of horizontal development versus vertical development. And the horizontal development is like, I’m gonna go get new skills and vertical development is I’m gonna work on myself to become a better person.

Well, in the old days, like, I’ve been to Crucial Conversation training, you know, and it was a two day workshop. And I learned the model for how to use language to approach to resolve a conflict. And also, I think, it was Marshall Goldsmith nonviolent communication training, but, you know, just learning the different nuances between passive and passive aggressive and aggressive and complacent type of communication, and trying to see where I fall on this spectrum and improving my own skills doesn’t necessarily change who I am. Doesn’t get rid of the shadows. And you know, those elements that we talked about earlier, which show up as aggressive or complacent victim. What’s your take on that? And do you bring communication training into your work at all like that, or is it just part and parcel of the coaching?

Jeremy Pollack 29:22
We do a lot of training, communication training is conflict resolution. The core of that is communication. So how do we communicate in conflict to get back to places of peace? We certainly use elements that NBC has used, like, you know, three part four part assertion messages, that kind of thing. I listened to the episode a few, maybe last week or something about, you were talking to, I can’t remember her name, but you were talking about vertical versus horizontal development. And she kind of mentioned like, that’s also a binary right. I thought about that. And I think that’s right. I think that when you do learn horizontal skills, there is a potential to also go vertical with it. So like as you learn skills, you’re starting to develop things internally, you become aware of things. And I also think that there’s an opportunity to really deliberately do vertical training, of like, doing more deeper coaching work or psychotherapy or that kind of thing and like figuring things out yourself. So I think it’s super important.

Mark Divine 30:14
They can work together in a synergistic fashion. You don’t do vertical development to the exclusion of horizontals.

Jeremy Pollack 30:20
Yeah, I mean, I think they have to almost go together. It’s like if you only do one or the other, you’re not getting the full spectrum. If you’re interested in being a really effective leader or effective workplace culture advocate. You kind of have to do both in my opinion.

Mark Divine 30:39
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show, to hear a short message from one of our partners.

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You wrote a book, the Conflict Resolution Playbook. What’s the model? I mean, every good book like that has kind of a core model. And what’s the model?

Jeremy Pollack 34:41
Yeah, well, so that was meant to be a really practical skills book. So I present like a number of different scenarios, real life scenarios that I’ve dealt with. I give a little story about the scenario and then I kind of give what they did right, what they did wrong. And here’s some practical tips for if you ever get into this yourself, and there are kind of general things that I see a lot thematically, I see a lot of these types of conflicts, either at work or personal, etc. So I tried to give a clear outline of you know, step by step, here’s what you could do in this kind of situation, or here’s what you could think about and some action steps to do. So it has a sort of practical base.

Mark Divine 35:16
But do you have a general, or can you describe the general kind of process for diffusing conflict or peacebuilding?

Jeremy Pollack 35:24
There are a number of different models, depending on the situation. But what I’ll say is, whenever we’re talking about conflict resolution, I generally think of it in conflict resolution as being in two buckets. And the first bucket has to come before the second, the first bucket is always care. And the second bucket is solution. And you could think about this in different contexts, you can think care, when we talk about debate, if we want to have a good conversation, rather than just a pure argument, we have to first listen. And then we can state our position, we have to first show that we care about the others, we hear the other, we’re considering the other, before we get into position, defense, all that sort of thing. Otherwise, we just go straight into defense mode.

So in terms of just a general framework, anytime that someone is in conflict, if they’re interested in getting out of conflict, sometimes people aren’t interested in that. Sometimes they just want to kind of intimidate or be aggressive, or whatever, or avoid it, but if they actually want to resolve the conflict, the first thing always has to be care. How do I care for this individual? How do I listen to them, hear them, make them feel like I actually respect what they’re saying? And then I can get into trying to solve it or state my position. Or why I think that my position is the better way to go and that sort of thing.

Mark Divine
So listening, perspective-taking, framing, respecting the other individual. That seems like the care bucket would be the most important, because no solution will flow without that, right?

Jeremy Pollack
Correct. That’s why it always has to come one before two, if we jump straight to. Now, sometimes they’re like really easy little solutions, okay, but if they’re, they’re deeper, they’re protracted, they’re intrapersonal, they’re relational. Almost always, we have to go for care. Sometimes it just takes care, sometimes it just takes listening, sometimes people just want to be listened to, want to feel heard. And then as soon as they feel heard, their defenses come down, they can breathe a little bit, and they’re way more able to have a conversation about a solution. But until they feel heard, until they feel respected, or at least like recognized, they’re not gonna be in a place to have a solution.

Mark Divine 37:20
I’ve been involved in legal disputes that were mediated successfully. And, you know, the role of the mediator was crucial. Is that the same… is it the same kind of in business conflict where the role of you as a mediator, you know, to help bring perspective and to frame things better, is crucial?

Jeremy Pollack 37:40
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, number one, because people get stuck in these conflicts, they don’t know how to get themselves out. They don’t even know what they’re doing right or wrong. And they don’t know what the other person’s doing wrong. They just think this person is attacking me, and I’m the victim. And that’s what both of them typically think. And so we have to get them out of that mode. But yeah, that’s the mediator’s role is, in our work, it’s kind of beyond mediation into coaching, so they, the mediator is also a coach in our framework. Because we do coaching and dialogue facilitation.

It’s crucial number one, because it creates a sense of there’s a sort of independent, neutral external person that’s coming in to create a space where both of you can finally like, just say, what’s on your mind, without feeling like you’re going to be attacked or retaliated against or something, someone’s actually holding the space to do this in who’s a professional who’s confident in what they’re doing. And so that is cathartic in itself, just being able to talk to someone and even to each other in this feeling where, hey, it’s safe to do this. I’m not going to be retaliated against if I just say what’s going on for me. And the other part is, if a mediator can help reframe, like you said, a mediator hears something from one of the parties and says, Okay, let’s reframe that. Because the way that that was said was not super productive or constructive. let’s reframe it in this way. Is this what that sounds like? Is this what you mean by that? And that sort of interpretation can start help get the dialogue really moving towards a, you know, more of an optimistic end.

Mark Divine 39:03
That’s fascinating. You know, at the beginning of this, I wanted to draw the distinction between conflict resolution and peacebuilding. It seems to me they’re qualitatively different even though they’re linked. Here’s what I think. I look at conflict resolution as kind of a one off, I got a conflict. I’m gonna resolve it. And I’m gonna move on. But peacebuilding is more of a sustained long term, both individual, developmental as well as cultural, developmental thing. It seems like.

Jeremy Pollack 39:29
You hit the nail on the head. I mean, peacebuilding really is, I would say that it’s synonymous essentially, with conflict transformation. And the difference between conflict resolution and conflict transformation is exactly what you said; conflict resolution is about being able to solve an acute problem, whereas conflict transformation recognizes that there are presenting problems that could be resolved, but really, there’s a larger system wide structural or cultural situation that’s allowing these types of conflicts to emerge. So how do we both… so peacebuilding or conflict transformation is how do we both address the acute conflicts and start addressing over the long term our structural elements that are allowing these types of conflicts to emerge? And how do we start changing that cultural context to be more peace oriented, as opposed to conflict oriented?

Mark Divine 40:17
And that’s interesting, I mean, peace. That’s a high vibratory energy state. If we want to look at it from a metaphysical sense. So it’s not something that if someone’s lived in violence, or is thinking, has a negative thought process, it’s very difficult to get them to, to that level. Quickly, right? It could take a long time.

Jeremy Pollack 40:37
Yeah, well, I guess I think people form conflict identities, they form identities around being victims, around being in conflict, or being in control. Yeah. And if I’m no longer in control, if I’m no longer in conflict, if I’m no longer a victim of this person, or this group, it leaves a large gap in sort of the way I look at my self concept, the way I look at myself, the way I identify, and I have to fill that with something. That can be a painful process, figuring out, how do I fulfill that with something else, but when someone actually does, and they say, you know, I don’t want to be in this anymore, I don’t want to be a victim anymore. I don’t wanna be in conflict anymore. I want a different identity, a different dynamic in my life, and they replace it, it’s so empowering, it’s just life changing. But they have to make that decision. At some point.

Mark Divine 41:22
We need this type of work to be done at a cultural level. And I don’t know how you transition out of a specific organization to a cultural level, because I think one of the challenges that I see with kind of the Justice Warriors is their good intention, but they lead with aggressive conflictual tactics, which just, you know, hardens the stance of their opponents and then creates more conflict.

Jeremy Pollack 41:44
Correct. The crazy thing is, is if you take a couple of people, and you take them out of their groups, because groupthink is very powerful when people are in groups, they tend to get more aggressive and emotional… when you take them out of those situations. And you sit them down, let’s say an individual, on the far left and an individual on the far right, and you start asking them questions about their underlying core values, core needs, beliefs, etc, they have a lot of the same shared values. We both want our families to be safe, we both want to thrive, we both want to feel free, we both don’t want to feel controlled, everybody’s kind of got similar values. And then they just have these different positions based on the media they watch, the communities they’re involved in that kind of stuff, the positions are the methods by which we’re going to achieve those things. And those are where the conflicts happen. But if we could just get them out of those groups, and we sit them down and go wait, but we actually have a lot of shared goals and values here, we just need to figure out better ways of doing them so that everyone feels taken care of, rather than like this one side is gonna feel taken care of the other side is going to be just completely screwed. To me, it has to happen on a very local, even individual level, even maybe some smaller local level. It’s so hard to do it on a massive level. You know, the news is just too powerful. The media is too powerful in terms of their biases.

Mark Divine 42:58
Yeah, and the media doesn’t want peace.

Jeremy Pollack 43:02
No, no, no, they want conflict because that’s how they sell.

Mark Divine 43:05
I noticed on your bio on your website, pollack peacebuilding.com that you’re a blacksmith, or maybe that’s a hobby. What is that like?

Jeremy Pollack 43:14
Yeah, you know, I trained in blacksmithing. I haven’t actually done it in a while. It’s really tough. You have to do a lot and you have to keep up with it. With my instructor, I made some amazing looking knives just from like, pure steel. And it’s so cool to like, transform those things. But it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of equipment.

Mark Divine 43:33
It’s not like you have a setup in your garage where you go out and fire up.

Jeremy Pollack 43:37
I would love to, I would love to have that eventually, but… and the problem is too is like it’s so messy. It’s so messy. Oh, yeah. There’s bits of metal and dust and everything everywhere. So you kind of have to have a separate studio, you can’t even live near it. In my opinion.

Mark Divine 43:52
I’ve always been fascinated by what type of people would go like live in Williamsburg, Virginia, and take on the role of kind of like the ancient blacksmith, to do that every single day. Yeah, that’s cool.

Jeremy Pollack 44:06
Yeah, there’s some guy in your professional blacksmiths. That’s what they teach. They work privately for people custom commissioned stuff, and it’s cool. I mean, they’re into it and they’re good and they can do it fast.
Mark Divine 44:16
But that type of like Master craftsmanship is a dying art. And I think it’s cool you’re keeping it alive.

Jeremy Pollack 44:21
Yeah, yeah.

Mark Divine 44:22
That could be akin to a martial art. You know what I mean? Just to come, you know, using the wax on wax off and integration of physical, mental, you know, almost a spiritual quality to it. I imagine. I’ve never been a blacksmith. But anything you’re doing, like making a sword back in the Japanese samurai days. Like that was like a spiritual practice, just like a Zen ceremony. 1000s and 1000s of layers go onto these swords.

Jeremy Pollack 44:48
And it’s taught only through lineages from master to mentee over years.

Mark Divine 44:53
Yeah, apprentices. That’s fascinating. So what’s next for you? We’re going to wrap this up here but what, you know, what are you working on? And kind of what’s exciting in the future?

Jeremy Pollack 45:02
Yeah, so I mean, you know, we, I run my company, Pollack peacebuilding, which is a conflict intervention conflict management training firm, we just launched our Peaceful Leaders Academy. It’s a sort of a sub company. And that is a super flexible hybrid model of both training and coaching, that helps leaders develop into what we call peaceful leaders. So we’ve developed this model of leadership called peaceful leadership, and we’re doing some academic work to prove the model. We just started a nonprofit called Peaceful Leadership Institute, where all we’re doing is research and education around this this model of peaceful leadership, which talks about these three core pillars of socio cultural elements that need to be established in an organization to really create a sense of peace, and productivity in the organization, and then five competencies surrounding those three pillars. And so we’re training leaders in that. And we’re also training teams in some of the basic elements of peaceful leadership. So that’s something I’m really excited about, is the peaceful leadership.

Mark Divine 45:58
Exciting. Yeah, that’d be fun to follow up on. One of the outcomes that we seek to develop in our leadership program is compassion. Compassion and peace aren’t identical, but they do have some similarities, right? People who have cultivated compassion, both for themselves and others tend to lead with the hand and kind of be more peaceful. That has to do with…

Jeremy Pollack 46:18
Compassion is huge. I mean, especially having compassion for people you’re in conflict with, I mean, it’s really difficult.

Mark Divine 46:24
So where can folks find more? I mentioned your website, pollackpeacebuilding.com. And do you have a separate domain or something for the Peaceful Leader Academy? Or is that on your website?

Jeremy Pollack 46:34
Yeah, it’s peacefulleadersacademy.com.

Mark Divine 46:38
Awesome. Good stuff. Thank you for doing the work you’re doing, it’s really important. Getting in alignment with it, you know, more peace and compassion in the world. Right now it sort of looks like kind of a violent and conflictual place, at least from you know, from listening to news media, which I try not to, but still in your face.

Jeremy Pollack 46:58
Well, yeah, thanks for having me on I as much as I can, I love talking about peace and conflict and trying to help people figure out how to get to a place of peace.

Mark Divine 47:05
Well, hoo-yah, Jeremy, talk to you soon.

Jeremy Pollack
Thank you.

That was a fascinating conversation with Jeremy Pollack. If you’re interested in peace building conflict resolution communication skills, how to use verbology to de-escalate or defuse situations, then this is a great episode. We talked a lot about how Jeremy used the martial arts to really bridge the world between learning how to deal with conflict on the mat in life, to how to resolve conflict in work settings. We talked about how all conflict is predicated on a threat and how conflict resolution is really learning how to dissolve and diffuse that threat to creating psychological safety, inclusiveness and support.

This is a great episode, show notes and transcripts are on the Mark Divine.com site, you can find a video on our YouTube channel, and Mark Divine.com/youtube. You can find me on Twitter, at Mark Divine and on Instagram and Facebook at real Mark Divine. Always hook me up on my LinkedIn channel, which is easy to find.

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Shout out to my amazing team Geoff Haskell, Jason Sanderson, Jeff Torres and Melinda Hershey who help me produce the show and bring these incredible guests to you every week. The world is changing fast, it seems like conflict is the norm. So developing a holistic approach to leadership development to be more inclusive and compassionate and to learn how to peace build is incumbent upon us all so that we can be the change we’d like to see in the world. Thanks for being part of that solution. Thanks for supporting the Mark Divine Show and until next time, go be peaceful. Hoo-yah. Goodbye now.

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