Blog 1A. Recognizing a Conflict

Frustrated ManThe CEO called an emergency meeting of the executive team. “The CFO just showed me our new data. We’re still increasing productivity and profits, but the curve has slowed down a bit.”

“Why don’t we wait a while longer and see?” said someone. “Maybe in a few more days or a week things will be back on track.”

“I don’t know”, said someone else. “If it gets worse instead of better, we could get in real trouble.”

“Yeh”, said a third. “On LinkedIn, I saw this profile of a guy who’s been a psychiatrist. He says pain like we’re having is likely from an internal conflict. He can come and explore it, get back to us at the end of a day, and give us a plan.”

“I’ve seen it too”, said another. “He’s also been doing this for 40 years and has a long track record. He’ll stay for as long as we need him, but then he’ll leave so he’s not a permanent item on our budget.”

“You’re right”, said the third. “And there’s another thing. If he finds something he’s not comfortable handling, he’ll recommend someone else he trusts, and he won’t charge us for his day’s work.”

“There’s more”, said the other. “If we like what he’s done, and we decide we’d like to handle internal conflicts ourselves in the future, he’ll train us to do it.”

“OK”, said the CEO. “I’ll see if he can come in later today or tomorrow to talk.”


Illustrations in my blogs are either my own drawings or courtesy of 

Contact me at 650-762-6755 or for more information or to start a conversation.

Pieter Kark, MD, San Mateo, CA 94401-2238


Blog 3B. You Can Resolve Conflicts in Your Company



This portion of the blog continues where the last portion, Blog 3A, left off.

Note that the pictures in this and other blog posts, where not drawn by me, are from

  1. Conflicts from a split-up.

Split-ups cause conflict the instant the CEO announces one. Everyone in the company worries. What will the new companies be? Who will lead each? Who will stay? Who will be fired? The worries block creativity and productivity. Fear makes our brain go into “fight or flight” responses instead.

It helps to have a series of meetings like those for mergers.

  1. People who no longer contribute to the company.

Some have burned out. They may need to rest; a change of task or need help dealing with burnout.

Some are upset by believing their advice is not valued or someone else stopped respecting them.

Some miss a colleague who has left.

Some have a problem at home that takes all their attention.

To handle these problems, explore the root causes with the person.

The most serious is a person who resents the company’s goals and now has a hidden agenda. Many companies fail because one person has a hidden agenda.

I’ve used compassion and empathy to examine such a person’s agenda and feel their fear. There is something they believe they can’t deal with.

Then, I’ve facilitated open discussion between the executive team, the person with the agenda, and anyone else who was directly involved on either side. Now the agenda isn’t hidden. Open discussion will strengthen the company.

Sometimes the person will realign with the company’s goals. People with criminal tendencies, with a basic disruptive attitude, or whose fear comes from an illness usually need to retire or be fired.

  1. Executives and managers who follow the adage, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

This problem is due to the function and organization of our brains. A manager may respond to a minor issue in a way that “shuts down” subordinates’ brains. It’s how the subordinate’s feel the manager’s response, not how the manager views it. The subordinates go into fight-or-flight mode. This can be handled but it takes a long time and a lot of work. There are short-cuts and there are ways to prevent the problem.

  1. A cultural gap in your corporation.

Cultural gaps are expensive to fix. It takes a year or two. Done well, a poorly performing company becomes highly effective and productive.

I’m attached to They analyze the cultural gap with three tools, one for the whole corporation, another for silos, and a third for workgroups. After that, experts from AchieveCorp collaborate with the the company giving expertise about changing culture while company provides expertise about its work, clients, and vendors.

Contact me at 650-762-6755 or for more information or to start a conversation.

Pieter Kark, MD, San Mateo, CA 94401-2238

Blog 3A. You Can Resolve Conflicts in Your Company 


How do you cope with a conflict in your company?

What ‘s needed? Explore details. Keep an open mind.

The pattern of the conflict suggests the approach that is likely to succeed.

Common patterns

  • Clashes and fixed viewpoints in board meetings
  • A technical expert promoted to management but clueless about the emotional problems of their new subordinates.
  • Polarized arguments in executive committees.
  • Teams that can’t move forward.
  • Mergers and split-ups.
  • People who stop contributing.
  • Managers blocking creativity.
  • Cultural gaps.

Do you staff feel autonomous or under a manager’s thumb? What kinds of personalities contribute to the conflict? Will they change? Can you inspire them to work together?

  1. Problems in board block productivity. You need to lubricate, to boost everyone’s creative abilities.

You can sit quietly using tools of consciousness. You can scribe for the meeting so people see the discussion on large paper. That evening, the notes need to become minutes the Chair approves and everyone receives.

  1. Executive committees often get into a conflict that gets worse the more the committee debates. Each side’s position gets fixed until the committee is polarized and no one wants to give in.

Because everyone is in the same company, you can find the valuable but forgotten key they agree on.

Explore the views of each side during a meeting.

Would one side ever do what the other side does? After you feel the underlying key, bring it out. Then suggest a solution. When each side understands the other side, everyone will move forward for the good of the company.

  1. Teams that are stuck.

It may be a new team. It may be a team that has lost focus. A facilitator from outside should explore. With everyone’s trust, the facilitator asks, “What’s important about all this?”

The facilitator lists answers as given so everyone sees them.

The facilitator posts the list so it’s visible and makes a new list. “What is important about item one on the first list?”

This process continues until “What is important?” has been asked for every item on the first list.

The team feels eager to give high-performance. They feel they’ve inspired themselves.

  1. Learning to deal with emotions

A new manager, promoted because technical expertise, suddenly must help subordinates come with emotional issues at work or at home.

There are college courses, workshops, or learning by doing. I recommend direct coaching by a coach whose chemistry fits with the manager (or executive). It helps if the coaches can use the mistakes they made in dealing with emotions as examples. The two probably need to meet at least twice a week. The new executive or manager will need to learn to be frank and detailed with the coach, especially about difficulties and failures.

  1. Conflicts after a merger.

We are comfortable with the beliefs we know. A merger means we need new beliefs. A culture is a set of beliefs and the new company has a different culture because there are new people.

There are conflicts from the top to the bottom of the new company. Many conflicts are within people themselves from stretching into new beliefs. They need to be talked through.

Companies can pay for top people to talk with a counsellor or mentor. Since everyone must do it, use open meetings for the rest of the staff.

A facilitator chairs a meeting and lets everyone vent fears, frustrations, and suggestions. It’s wise for senior managers and executives to be be there but silent. (See Patrick Lencioni’s Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars).

Resolve conflicts between people in the merger quickly! What are the details: the cultural differences, the old beliefs, the new culture and structure, the personalities in conflict? Coach or inspired them to change. Experiment. Use an approach from a detached expert for three to six months. Then let everyone decide.


The second installment of this blog will give additional examples.

Contact me at 650-762-6755 or for more information or to start a discussion.

                             Pieter Kark, MD, San Mateo, CA 94401-2238

Changing a State Law about Death and Dying

Until 2000, New York State’s laws about dying dated from the 1950s. The old laws reflected medicine and dying in the era before intensive care units. People died in a few days from an acute illness or the acute phase of a chronic one. Ethics and the law required that dying people be given hydration and nutrition. If dying people couldn’t take it by mouth, they needed to get it “artificially” by tube or vein.

But by the mid-1990s, this approach increased suffering of patients, of their families, and of their caregivers. Now patients frequently died slowly on a hospital ward or in an ICU. Artificial hydration and nutrition caused horrendous problems. ICU nurses and staff suffered and rebelled. If the patient could communicate what care s/he wanted and didn’t want, doctors would comply. If the patient could not communicate, there was a dilemma.

The Bioethics Committee of the New York State Medical Society debated the outdated laws in 1999. The 20 to 30 of us on the Committee met for six to eight hours a day in a large second floor conference room of the Society’s headquarters. The debate took several full-day meetings. The more it went on, the more acrimonious it became.  The more it went on, the more fixed each side’s position became.

The next year, 2000, the NY state government wanted the medical society’s guidance: should they update the law?  The Medical Society charged our committee to decide. A colleague of mine and I remembered the debate the year before. My colleague is a compassionate, humane physician, retired from academics but active in palliative care, end-of-life care and practical applications of medical ethics.

We double-checked. Yes, two-thirds of the committee, largely physicians and surgeons in academics, legal medicine, or institutes for studies of medical ethics, still did what they and the patient’s surrogate thought best, despite the existing law.

The other third of the committee were were conservative. Their leader in the arguments was the respected orthodox Jew who founded the Bioethics Committee decades before and continued to chair it. He practiced in an academic hospital, applying his orthodox Jewish ethics to medical situations. He was by nature a flexible debater. However, in 2000, illness turned him authoritarian, dogmatic, and rigid.

Other orthodox physicians on the committee sided with him. So did doctors and medical ethicists appointed to the committee by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York City.

The conservative group said they followed the law strictly. They believed the approach of  the other two-thirds was wrong, and could not possibly be enshrined in law.

My colleague and I asked the conservative group,

“OK, was there ever a time when a patient suffered so much you did what the others do?”

The leader pondered, hesitated, and finally answered, “Yes.”

“Could you give us examples?” we asked.

On one occasion, he cared for a dying man who could no longer speak or write, who had no surrogate, and who was being given food and hydration through a nasogastric tube. The man kept pulling the tube out and fiercely fought every attempt to put it back.

On another occasion, a dying woman was given liquid and dissolved food in a baby bottle. She repeatedly pulled the bottle from her mouth, threw it across the room and pinched her mouth closed to fight every attempt put the bottle back.

These fights lasted a few days with each patient. In each case, the orthodox physician decided that the patient didn’t want the “support.” He ordered the artificial hydration and nutrition stopped and allowed each patient to die peacefully.

“But there’s no way to turn a specific case into law. There’s no way to have the law sanction a change,” he declared.

My colleague and I could feel an underlying alignment in the Committee. I used tools of consciousness: neutral attention, empathy without being drawn into another’s emotions, supporting everyone’s creativity.

“So would everyone like to find a way out of this impasse? Would you all like to help the State government one way or the other?” I asked.

“Yes, if there’s a way to do it,” both sides said; “It’s our duty to respond to the state’s request.”

“What if we compromise?” I asked. “I’ll tell the state that most of the committee withholds artificial feeding and nutrition despite the current law. The minority only does so in specific cases, but the minority doesn’t believe this can ever be enshrined in law.”

Within an hour, everyone agreed. I testified to the state assembly and to the Governor’s office. The law was changed. Doctors whose dying patients cannot communicate can now base decisions on discussions with a surrogate and on the patient’s clear comfort and needs.



Recognizing an Internal Conflict in Your Company


What indicates an internal conflict?

Your company is no longer is productive. Its upward trajectory may have slowed. It may actually be flat or declining. There may be no other signs. Affairs in your company may appear fine. A hint of dissent or doubt in the general staff should increase your suspicions. Doubt or dissent among your managers and executives is a grave sign.

Sometimes the nature of the conflict is obvious. More often an insider – you – can only see one or two signs. My task is to explore what is happening or to teach you to explore it. We can resolve it once we put our finger on it.

Details of culture and personalities determine the nature of a conflict. They also determine the best resolution. Because details are unique to each company and also unique to the time the conflict takes place, so a series of blogs like this can only address common patterns and general rules of thumb.

A conflict with complex causes requires broader and deeper responses. It needs early interactions with the emotions and humanity of the people involved.

If the fall in productivity is due to cultural gaps, your company may need a team of consultants. They will explore the gaps by looking at several levels of organization in your company. They will need partner with your key executives, managers, and team leaders over one or two years to to correct your company’s culture. I will discuss this in a later blog.

Please contact me at 650-762-6755 or to ask questions, get more information, or start a conversation.

Pieter Kark, MD. San Mateo, CA 94401-2238