When Will We Rebuild Our Barn?

Our Barn is in disrepair. Photo by David B. Savage. Near Falkland, British Columbia 2016.

Our Barn is in disrepair. Photo by David B. Savage. Near Falkland, British Columbia 2016.

Today, many focus solely on what's in it for them. This has led to significant decay in services, infrastructure, economy, environment, trust, respect for public institutions, and, most importantly, in relationships. Think about what's in it for us. A self-righteous manipulator or an inspirational innovator; your choice, your leadership, our world.

As we experience these days, months and years of outrage over Standing Rock, Trans Mountain, President Elect Donald Trump, carbon pricing, immigration, economic disparity, environmental degradation, and so much more, I offer a perspective from my 2016 book Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration. As a negotiator, collaborator, consultant and an advocate for creating shared value, I find that getting people out of the emotionally charged situation and having them share a reflection of a future vision or a past event most often brings them to shared values and better understanding.

When will we rebuild our barn? When we realize we are creating our shared future, developing our legacy, setting aside our power struggles, trusting one another and creating shared value with collaboration. Big challenge; yes. Impossible; never!

New panels, nails, and paint will not be enough. We must design a new foundation for our barn.

With our Collaborative Global Initiative, we can rebuild with a new foundation of inclusion, diversity, transparency, sustainability, trust, and process.

The Collaborative Global Initiative is an international network, of mediators, facilitators and systems design professionals that provide assessment, training, facilitation, mediation and process design services to help multiple stakeholders work together to achieve common goals. We focus on projects where organizations and individuals with differing interests require effective communication and learning across perspectives, cultures and sectors to help all parties to achieve sustainable, cost efficient solutions. We work with any scale and complexity of conflict.

Here is an excerpt from my 2016 book Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration. I hope will allow us to observe ourselves in more positive ways that invite our working together better. From the chapter, The Practice of Collaboration;

"All entities are 'special interest groups.' Companies, political parties, environmental organizations, news media, natives and communities all tend to narrow their perspective (i.e. biases) and energize their own prejudices to advance their personal interests. These interests may be capital projects ranging from thousands of dollars to billions of dollars. These interests may be to generate funds or votes. These interests may serve the organizations or collectives in many different ways. But each 'special interest' tends to be communicated in black and white, good and bad, right versus wrong."

What methods might be more productive and meaningful than the dualistic argument? A good start would be to cultivate a personal awareness and take action in all our relationships, work, and purchasing choices.

Throughout my career, I have sought to bring together diverse perspectives and expertise to identify and re-align people, processes, regulations and terms of engagement, so that the “good guys win” and the “bad guys” don’t get rewarded for misbehaving. Far too often, our political, legal and regulatory processes favor those that seek power over justice and the public interest. Too often, the organizations with the power run over those that don’t possess the same resources. Too often, special-interest groups run over the interests of the community. This is about what is right and how that is determined.

In 2000, while chairing the Calgary Chamber of Commerce Appropriate Dispute Resolution Committee, I worked with a group of about 20 volunteers who sought positive, respectful and productive ways to manage growing conflicts between industry, communities, aboriginals and environmentalists. We modeled Essential Collaboration and each represented a part of every one of these supposedly separate groups. This group put together the Conflict Solutions 2000 Conference that brought together 125 people to learn and develop better ways of relating and working together. However, we received scant media coverage.

That weekend, the media, instead, focused on a man named Webo Ludwig. Ludwig presented himself as the little guy versus Big Oil. For some, Webo and his group were speaking their truth. For others, Webo and his followers were directly and indirectly linked to several bombings and the murder of a young woman. Webo was serving the Mediots no matter what “side” you took.

In 2009, I coined a new term: MEDIOTS. Mediots are those in social media, traditional media, politics, and the world who subscribe to narrow, exclusive, one-dimensional thinking, who cast fear, separation, and misunderstanding in their pronouncements on current events and issues. Mediots are driven by and in turn drive our own reptilian brains into fast emotional judgements placing ignorance over intelligence.

Our conference Conflict Solutions 2000 was not news. We did not appeal to the mediots. Violence and hostility did. When we asked a Calgary-based TV journalist, why the media ignored 125 people who were working together to solve these challenges and instead filled their content with conflict, we were reminded that “If it bleeds, it leads.”

This conversation has been hijacked. There is a better path forward with a more complete perspective and new insights. Can you be a bridge to a better tomorrow? Can you lead without the bleeding? If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Today, if a person leads and there is no media or social media there, does it make a difference? If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around, why bother? Because you matter, and together we are a forest.

Today every change, every incursion, every proposal, every leader is faced with passionate opposition. The internet, education, and democratization provide billions of people with information, a perspective, a judgment and a community.

Whether the project is wind turbines on a ridge or massive strip mining doesn’t matter. People matter. People need to be heard. People need to listen.

Often today, we mistake passion for intelligence and commitment for ignorance. We act as if we live in a dualistic world of right and wrong, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains and winners and losers. The biggest loser is what we didn’t understand and what we failed to co-create.

We live in a world of one. When we act that way, powerful positive change occurs."

Join the movement to Unlock the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration and Break Through To Yes.



A Cultural Change Is Needed

By Doreen Liberto-Blanck

The United States and many parts of the world have developed an unfortunate culture of debating, and not listening or understanding the other side.  We only have to watch the events of the 2016 US Presidential election.  "I'm right and you are wrong!"  People shout at each other, and fists start flying.  It’s these extreme positions that start wars.    Whether it is religion, natural resources, or energy, advocacy is becoming more extreme.  We no longer dialogue.  Dialoguing includes interacting, personal sharing, listening and understanding the other side, and admitting there are gray areas. One does not need to change their mind to engage in dialogue; but rather listen and try to understand the position and concerns of other sides.   Debating on the other hand, involves stating a case and then refuting the other side's position.

At a community presentation on climate change, I mentioned whether people believe the climate is changing due to human activities, or due to natural patterns, it is undisputable that there are changes occurring to weather patterns and sea level rise.  One person took offence to my statement and said there is no doubt that humans are the cause of climate change.  At another event on the same topic, a man sternly told me that what is happening to the planet has happened many times and it is a natural pattern.

What is important?  Shouting the loudest, demanding you are right and the other side is wrong?  Is it important to work together to correct the problem?  Or, is it more important to spend time refuting the other side?  In the climate change discussion, neither side seems willing to disagree that climate patterns are changing, sea levels are rising and significant economic damage is occurring.

Our society has "stereotyped" positions and blames the other side when something goes wrong.  We've taken on a systemic "group-think" behavior; that is, we reach our own "consensus" without considering alternative viewpoints.

Let's put our egos aside and collaborate on solutions.  To do this, we need to commit to change the way we view problems; change our positions of "I'm right and you are wrong" to being open to the viewpoints of others.  A cultural change of corporations, advocacy groups, government, and yes, individuals, must occur.  We need to get away from debating and demanding to be "right", and work toward dialoguing and collaborating on solutions.  It isn't easy.  It can be time consuming.  We probably will never completely agree on all solutions.  But the future of the earth, humankind and the animal kingdom is in our hands.  If we continue to communicate combatively, the pendulum will only continue to swing radically back and forth.

From Conflict to Collaboration to Our Shared Future

By David B. Savage

So much of what we believe is right and common sense does not seem like right or common sense to others. So much of what we believe is right and common sense in our community and our natural world does not seem like right or common sense to others. So much of what we believe is right and common sense in our profession and our business does not seem like right or common sense to others. The stakes for ourselves, our communities, our organizations, our nation and our world seem to escalate. So much challenge, conflict, and change is happening now. We have never been here before. Elders are limited in their guidance to us. Where may we turn for wisdom?

"Together A Forest" is the prologue to my new book Break Through To Yes creates a metaphor for how we sustain one another and stand together. “Trees collaborate in nature, but have no knowledge of collaboration in the face of human destruction. Humans collaborate and can learn together to change what seems to be tragic, inevitable consequences.” Our forests, now more than ever, are at risk from ignorance, separation, haters, fire starters, and wall builders.

Will this decade mean the end of the world as we know it? Yes. Here’s why:

When I spoke at Pepperdine University, Santa Monica, California, in 2014, a Judge approached me and asked; “David, you are different. Are you an environmentalist or an oil man?” I am both. I am more. We are both. We are more.

When I spoke to outraged landowners near Provost, Alberta, that same year, I was told; “You are a spokesperson for wind farms, get out!”

When I negotiated in 2015 for those against a “mountain removal” proposal to strip mine for coal in Blairmore, Alberta, I was told; “You are a environmentalist and that will cost us jobs!” 

As I prepare to help create dialogue on critical conversations about energy and sustainability (renewables, nuclear and more), in April 2016, in San Luis Obispo, California, one leader tells me; “You have a background in oil and gas, you are not welcome.”

We see outrage, ignorance and “us” versus “them”, heroes and villains constantly being highlighted in conversations, politics, media and social media.

Do you commit to build walls? or

Do you commit to breaking them down?

While helping others come together, embrace conflict and work together is not easy, it is profound work.

In 2013, we founded CGI; “The Collaborative Global Initiative (CGI) serves organizations by stepping into challenging situations on important issues where we design processes to create respectful learning dialogue while the participants learn to resolve conflict and create shared value for planet, people and profit.” 

I am a proponent of creating shared value based on our shared values and our vision for our shared future. I am a proponent of intelligent, inclusive, respectful and creative dialogue. To my oil and gas friends, I am an outlier for change. I challenge them. I incite insurgency through collaboration. For my indigenous friends, I am the same. For my sustainability friends, I am the same. I stand for we.

My new book Break Through To Yes: Unlocking Possibility within a Culture of Collaboration is dedicated to;                                                           

To our grandmothers and grandfathers.
To our granddaughters and grandsons.
To all who believe leading for “we” is greater than leading for “me.”

We see the massive challenges facing our youth, our aboriginal peoples, entrepreneurs, our communities and our earth experience. There is a way to enlighten these conversations and challenges.

Consider that all the expertise and experience we each have may not be enough to effectively and successfully deal with the great challenges we face today as individuals, families, organizations, professions and nations. Consider the collective wisdom that is possible from a circle of listening, speaking, understanding and co-creating solutions.

This is an invitation to engage with people who care about subjects and questions that matter to you and your organization. Your circle or team will be most successful in solving significant challenges when you bring in others whose opinions and experiences are very different from yours. We can no longer afford “groupthink” or “yes men.” The stakes are high. We must invite in the First Nations, the environmentalists, the Americans, the Asians, the youth, the wise women and all.

We must embrace conflict. We will create a healthy, inclusive and sustainable future together.

Share your vision and let’s work together using my 10 Essential Steps to Collaboration to Make It So.

This includes excerpts from Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration. Available now at all major and many independent bookstores.     

Prologue: Together a Forest Part One: Why I Believe in the Urgency of Collaboration Part Two: The Discipline of Collaboration Part Three: The 10 Essential Steps to Collaboration Part Four: Break Through Wisdom from My 100 Advisers

Prologue: Together a Forest

Part One: Why I Believe in the Urgency of Collaboration

Part Two: The Discipline of Collaboration

Part Three: The 10 Essential Steps to Collaboration

Part Four: Break Through

Wisdom from My 100 Advisers

Paris and Beyond

by Doreen Liberto-Blanck


From November 30 to December 12, 2015, leaders from 198 countries and NGO observers participated in the United Nations Climate Change Summit COP21 (Conference of the Parties) in Paris. I was fortunate to be part of the Mediators Beyond Borders (MBB) Climate Change Team and attended the COP21. The goal of the COP21 was to adopt an International Agreement to address climate change.


Carbon dioxide and other pollutants collect in the atmosphere and cause the planet to warm up.  Coal-burning power plants, automobiles, wood fireplaces are some of the sources that contribute to a change in weather patterns, or climate change. The changing weather patterns are causing extreme weather. 2015 is the hottest year in recorded history. Heavy rainfall caused the Mississippi River to overflow and contribute to flooding. A mega-typhoon called Typhoon Halyan impacted the Philippines in 2013, killing at least 6,300 people. Typhoon Halyan is one of the strongest tropical cyclones recorded. In 2014, there was major flooding in the southeastern Canadian Prairies. Municipalities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency.  Climate change has a significant impact on the economy. For example, because the British Columbia climate is milder, mountain pine beetle populations have significantly increased, and more trees die. The reduction in trees has reduced British Columbia's timer supply and many logging companies are having a difficult time surviving. 

In 1979, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva. In 1987, scientists discovered an ozone hole in the stratosphere, and international agenda setting transformed climate change from scientific issues to a policy issues. In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the existence of global warming. The IPCC report on climate change was used by the United Nations, to create the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first COP (COP1) was held in Berlin in 1995, two-years before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol quantified greenhouse gas reduction commitments of developed nations from 2008-2012.  Climate change discussions now include two components:  adaptation and mitigation. 
Adaptation means: considering the current and anticipated effects of climate change and taking action to minimize or prevent the damage which would occur from global warming. An example could be utilizing alternative water management strategies, such as water storage; conservation or reuse to augment reduced conventional water supplies due to droughts. 
Mitigation means: identifying the efforts needed to reduce, or prevent, emission of greenhouse gases. One example of this discussed at COP21 was replacing wood and charcoal burning stoves in developing countries with more energy efficient stoves, utilizing alternative fuel sources.


Prior to the Paris summit, negotiations were conducted around the world in an attempt to prepare an outline of the draft agreement. The October 2015 Bonn meeting produced informal notes which outlined the draft agreement to be considered at COP21. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which outlined how countries would reduce greenhouse gases, illustrated how progress could be made to reduce global warming. A delegate from the hosting country becomes the President of the COP and presides over negotiations. Since the climate change negotiations were held in France, former French Prime Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius chaired the COP21. 

COP21 gathered the largest number of world leaders together to negotiate on climate change. During the first week of COP21, world leaders such as U.S. President Obama, French President Mitterrand, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, German Chancellor Merkel, Russian President Putin, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and China's General Secretary Xi Jinping, participated in key meetings that directed the two-week summit toward an approved agreement. The Guardian newspaper reported that Chancellor Merkel privately secured President Putin's pledge Russia would not present obstacles in formulating an agreement. President Obama had a series of meetings with General Secretary Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi. COP21 President Fabius had face-to-face meetings with delegates, including Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Chief.

The conference center had sleeping facilities so exhausted negotiators could rest during the marathon negotiation sessions. During the first week of COP21, negotiators attempted to hammer out a draft agreement for review and comment during the second week. 

A series of "confessional" talks were organized where delegates could speak in confidence to find common ground. Small groups of delegates called "informal informal" met to hammer out disputed text. However, not much progress was made during these negotiation sessions.

During the week of December 7, there was speculation by many that an international climate change agreement was not possible due to the significant outstanding issues. Undeveloped countries and low-lying island nations supported limiting the pre-industrial temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius rather than 2 degree Celsius. Without significant intervention, many low-lying island nations, such as the Maldives, will be submerged by the end of this century.   

To move the negotiations forward, COP21 President Fabius decided to use a Zulu negotiation technique called "indaba." This technique can make it easier to find common ground and enact a fair agreement. Parties are asked to speak personally, give their opinions, not stress positions and state the bottom line. With all stakeholders understanding each other's bottom line, common ground can be identified and creative solutions developed. The indaba negotiation technique worked and a landmark International Climate Change Agreement was adopted.

My next blog will discuss the indaba negotiation technique and identify how it can be used as part of the collaborative process.

The Three Rules of Conflict

by Duncan Autrey (This post originally appeared in Duncan Autrey's Fractal Friends Blog.)

While working on a series of border conflicts in Ecuador I came up with the "three rules of conflict and conflict resolution." Yes, I know that conflict is too complex to be reduced to three rules. Nonetheless, these keep coming up, so I thought I'd share (explanations to follow):

1. The conflict is never about what the conflict is about. 

2. Whoever is not involved in the resolution of a conflict will find a way to involve themselves on their own terms.

3. The process of managing a conflict and the outcome are the same.  



Okay, what am I talking about?

1. Conflicts tend to be about an issue, defined by the different positions of the conflicting parties. This is an objective understanding of conflict, and it is tempting to try to resolve things at this level through logic, negotiation and legal precedence. This is the level of conflict at which the legal system operates. Actually, this it the level that most people try to operate. The catch is that this approach rarely leads to a satisfactory solution. Usually it leads to someone having an "irrational" response, another feeling resentful about the outcome or a total collapse of the process and dissolution of the relationships. This is, because the conflict is never about what the conflict is about.  

By focusing on the objective issues we miss the fact that conflict is an emotional experience. The fact that conflict can be a source of great intensity is a reflection of how it touches deep chords in our hearts. This means that discovering the underlying source of a conflict requires great vulnerability. In Mediating Dangerously Kenneth Cloke says, "Every honest communication poses a risk that something will challenge or change us." (p. 4) As we look at the sources of conflict we can't help but encounter what is most intimate in ourselves and in one another. If we ignore the tender and wounded subjective aspects of conflict by focusing on the objective positions and issues we will never be able to find peace or resolution. If we are able to face these vulnerable and profound places with safety and respect we may be able find connection and intimacy like we have never known. 

2. Given that conflict arises from our deepest and most intimate selves, it is not something that we can easily let go of. This means that we can't resolve a conflict by getting rid of or ignoring the people that we are in conflict with. These are common strategies with many variations and they never work, at least not in the long run. Whoever is not involved in the resolution of a conflict will find a way to involve themselves on their own terms. The reason is that once a person, community or culture is living the deep emotional wound that arose from a conflict situation, they can't let it go and move on. The only way to resolve it is by bringing them close, addressing the underlying needs and finding ways to heal the aspects of the relationship/system that spawned the conflict in the first place. 

Sometimes it doesn't seem convenient, comfortable or even possible to engage with the folk we are in conflict with, so it is tempting to opt for oppression, suppression, rejection or neglect to create a temporary sort of "peace." But this can only be temporary. When an individual or a group feels like their needs have not been acknowledged they will find a new way to express their interests, usually in a way that is more disruptive. If ignored again, the common strategy is to continue escalating. One quickly (or slowly) finds themselves is a conflict system that feeds on itself until someone in the conflict finds the courage or maturity to break the cycle, which becomes harder and harder. In short, the costs of engaging directly early on is far easier than trying to avoid or get rid of the problem.

3. So, how do we engage with people in conflict? Well, we have engage with them in the same way that we want to be with them out of conflict. This is because the process of managing a conflict and the outcome are the same. The moment we decide to engage directly with a conflict and transform the root causes, the solution is already being formed. If the process is inclusive from the beginning, the outcome will be inclusive. If the process is rational and evidence-based from the beginning, the outcome will be rational and evidence-based. If the process is honors diversity from the beginning, the outcome will be one that honors diversity. If the process is focuses on sustainability from the beginning, the outcome will be sustainable. Whatmore, if the process is exclusive of certain groups from the beginning, the outcome will be exclusive of certain groups. If the process is violent from the beginning, the outcome will be violent. This pattern is true for all variations. 

So, we need to consider this as we design our processes. There is an opportunity here for us to dream about the future we want, beyond our current conflicts. The way we do things now sets the stage for what comes next. How do we want our life and relationships to be in the future?

Furthermore, given that conflict is an inevitable side effect of diversity, if we are able to improve the outcomes of our current conflicts by facing them with integrity now, we will have a much better base for the conflicts of the future. We can always be more inclusive of our inner worlds and of each other. In other words, we can keep getting better at this.