I Have Issues – All Leaders Do: the Story of Conflict Navigator

Bruce – the original conflict navigator, bought Joan this hat…and she loves it: conflict isn’t always angry!

No one likes opposition and resistance and while some seem to relish drama, we all can relate to the universal fight, flight or freeze reactions. Who hasn’t snapped or had a moment that had us behave like a cornered animal?

These days the snapping is at every level: toxic politics, environmental arguing, harassment-filled boardrooms and caustic cultures in the workplaces surrounding us. Even though there should be more or better options for ending the friction, here is another domain where conflict might surprise you:  conflict experts and scholars don’t agree on what a conflict is.


They disagree and fail to collaborate given differences on how and why it is triggered, let alone what to do about it. 

Why Conflict Resolution Might NOT be What You Really Want

We realize there is a better way: we all seem to know this…conflicts are all around us – some like to avoid it, some seem to appreciate the energy it stirs up, some know it’s healthy, while others consider it a waste of time – and we all have our own style: face it, we’re different, and peace can be short-lived, but civility, safety, progress and sanity should be a given for everyone.

We set out with a mission: to reduce the cost, time, stress and frustration of dealing with the resistant, the opposition, the disrespectful, the disengaged and better handle communication, complaints and conflict – BEFORE they escalate.

There is a way.

Amazingly, after 25+ years of research, we’ve learned it ISN’T that hard to see ways to make it easier. The trick is to deescalate and see the map already there in conflict – let go of the need to re-solve it: rather re-MAP it, so peace and change is powerful, natural, fast and works, in lasting ways…

Here’s our story.

Why Not Better Insight and Options in Conflict? Get to know Conflict Navigator and Conflict First Aid™ Program founders Bruce and Joan McLeod

Bruce and Joan McLeod, married in 2005.In 1999, Bruce had been Executive Director of Operation Go Home (OGH), a social justice and support agency that had repatriated thousands of street youth back to their home communities for 10 years. His work had been so successful in dealing with challenges, he’d begun consulting with cities to help similarly challenged adults. But the resistance to even these amazing programs was baffling, frustrating and costly.

In September of 2000, Bruce undertook studies to understand why.  There, he met and joined others beginning a similar journey to understand. Joan had found her way there too.

Joan had been a Coast Guard officer, project leader and business manager, often observant and already learning the get through the challenges of sexist workplaces who really thought women didn’t belong. Even so – or because of this – she’d moved through positions of authority, earning a place on executive level projects and taking on nation-wide controversies and, high-friction change. She took on roles in human resources, legal services, corporate administration and on boards and program support teams.  It was frustrating, but good for better understanding why good people and strong needs found opposition and resistance at every turn: what was needed to be heard? Mapping complex systems of resistance and to mark passages with support for safe navigation meant dealing with diverse groups and eventually, Joan’s   success led to mentoring, coaching and training design work.

Even so, she still wanted to know: why were agreed-to and needed changes still frustrating and futile? Why were they so difficult – and often not implemented at all? The recommendations from gurus and scholars on change made sense, so why didn’t they stick? Why were good things quickly “flavours of the day” – they could be done simply and easily but led to costly and confounding frustration? Even with superb training, more than enough and free-flowing resources and superb support, why did good change fall flat? 

Both wanted insight and faster and easier to answers.

Why good people, great decisions and needed change projects fail

Bruce and Joan’s world’s merged: and their research together was born. Both  graduated as one of the first awarded a degree in Conflict Analysis and Management. Together they formed 10k Consulting sharing what they’d learned in workshops and as coaches, mediators and speakers. Little did they know that they were asking – and researching – the wrong question, even though they were going in the right direction. LOL, their logo at the time said it all!

As scholar-practitioners what they were learning forced them to apply research with clients, taking action together: they weren’t able to look away from what didn’t work. The data showed: most models worked sometimes, but were wrong.

Their question shifted: “if we can determine how resistance or escalation starts and ends, can we know what will help stop it, limit it from getting worse, or solve unhealthy conflict?”

How was it that problem, disruptive and disrespectful people and bullies are not disciplined or challenged given abusive and inappropriate behaviours?

Both were wowed when the research proved even a small amount of engaged conflict analysis and mapping allowed even the angry and authentically disinterested to gain insight. They observed how it would – every time – dramatically and permanently shift the direction of even the most resistant people and problems.

       The question was no longer why, what or how, it was WHERE. 

They also learned that even a short collaborative, facilitated talk or brief training session – timed effectively – could elegantly shift the direction of conflict. Conversation that was dispute filled elevated to elegant raising of concerns, information sharing and option building – the core of and hazards that underpinned problems surfaced. Assertive and neutral performance feedback would shift from hurtful to helpful – shifting problem people so even the uncivil and toxic contributed, moving toward answers and settling them into workable common ground. Joan began to map not only individual change, but systemic patterns and gaps, learning they could turn things around and raise the level and quality of solutions FAST. 

What was behind the barriers and resistance when issues are not heard or solved where great resources are available?

Bruce naturally found himself full-time in research, finding and creating mapping tools, using them with those in conflict to hone the most effective, quick and easy to learn ones. He soon, with them, frustrated, realizing how infrequently they were available to those who needed them. He often pointed out that in his work, there was rarely a support for most clients when they needed it, and even though there was 911 and common community knowledge how to access and apply the resource for physical dangers and fear, where was the support for handling conflicts that often led to equally damaging health costs?

The Costs of the Fix and a Better Conflict Solving Question

Joan continued her work leading projects, coaching teams but sharing insights differently and challenging executives and leaders to even while she continued her research: she had too many “fly on the wall” experiences to observe conflicted teams and organizations to count, sometimes facilitating but often shadowing, observing and studying attempts to restore workplace, team and leadership complaints, conflict and concern.

Too often, even applying “state of the art” conflict management resources, change protocols and caring support led to change and restoration projects struggling. Where the work to make change succeeded, workplace and team relationships too often were left strained, in silos and disengaged: what was still wrong?

What was clear was there was a hunger to help. In nearly everyone. If that was the case, how was it that people weren’t trained, taught and equipped for more effective conflict management and mapping everywhere?

Why did valid, alarming and costly problems get through open doors but still seem to fall on ‘deaf ears’?

Both Bruce and Joan were determined to help.

They honed the tools and research to better understand barriers in speaking   truth to power. Bruce developed tools to easily ‘snapshot’ complaints, mapping them so anyone could easily communicate in the midst of even the most toxic differences. Joan learned simple and powerful ways that systems were themselves barriers to mediating change – and saw that when freed of the constraints of conflict, the discussion of solutions elevated easily and instantly.

They learned even the most “robust” complaint systems were struggling with low level options, leave high cost gaps, bullying and abuse and noted the struggle to solve clear, troubling “red flag” concerns and complaints. It was clear: there were powerful resistance factors common to every conflict – even though the context for them was entirely unique. No wonder good things and good people were often “the problem”!

Mapping became the answer when their research proved any factor related to power (“goodness”, “authority”, “wealth”) was often meaningless and resistance or opposition had little relationship with anger. Anger or willingness to engage just was a power resource – not a problem or conflict in every case.

So the right question was found – conflict insights weren’t about ‘why’ or ‘what’ or even ‘who’. Solutions had everything to do with answering, ‘where’ was the conflict.

The Conflict Navigator Conflict Mapping “Vault”

After noting common factors, both Bruce and Joan saw their research had identified common and powerful patterns: once mapped, communication and conflict solving could easily address natural barriers, opposition and resistance. The colourful Agreement Navigator™ was born to help anyone recognize positions, engage with clarity, adapt what they knew and learn the system to know where to go next.

Joan’s system

On achieving their Masters in 2002, Conflict Navigator™ had been born, but the learning was not yet over – what was the most powerful research still in the Conflict Navigator vault?

The Conflict (Stone) Mapping™ Story

It was clear to the Conflict Navigator team (and colleague professionals in all kinds of conflict resolution) that mastery alone (understanding or skill) still doesn’t mean that conflict-solving problems were fixed: the experts themselves hadn’t agreed on the definition of the term!

But the answer was there: anyone positioned as ‘help’ always proved as NOT helpful and not ‘neutral’ when in the middle of the issues, concerns or conflict – and neutrality wasn’t the answer even though it was the powerful and helpful basis for mediation and effective decision-facilitation skills.

What if there was a way – like using a car’s GPS or Google or your own ‘the answer is ‘there’ navigator – so anyone could far better know and STAY helpful, even in a leadership OR neutral place? What if they could see the power problems to better focus on positions, hazards and turning points along the way?

The focus of the answer was equipping those involved with insight to answer what was a constantly moving target: “where is the conflict?”

With more research and application, Conflict Navigator™ proved conflict mapping analysis methods could beat or augment any model, method, technique or template for problem solving out there. It was used to help and teach leaders, teams and professionals in nearly every walk of life to see how to do it and what was going wrong;  Stone Mapping™ and Option Mapping™ became tools that made conflict analysis and navigation possible by and for anyone.

Today, new tools and better support for improving conflict management systems are being designed based on Conflict Navigator’s tools and support.

They help those in conflict who need to communicate and speak truth to helpful or unhelpful power, clear impasses and break through embedded, chronic dysfunction.

Conflict Navigator is here to help coach, train or consult with with those who can’t or won’t communicate with you.

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