Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation.

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Articles and Video:

The Last Question (04/04/22)
I do a lot of interviewing, whether that’s at the beginning of a coaching relationship or during the interview process of a team project to collect background information, concerns, and opinions. Here is my interview protocol.

Organizational or Interpersonal Conflict? (03/24/22)
Leadership may need to become more attentive to the undercurrents of what’s going on and address them before the situation explodes.

Rebuilding Teams (02/11/22)
Teamwork is basically doing what’s best for reaching the team’s goals—the team’s success is greater than any individual’s success.

Suggestions for Team Leaders (11/04/19)
Whether you’ve just received your first team leadership assignment or have been doing this for a while, it can be helpful to remind yourself – or become aware of – some guidelines for team leaders that can make your job easier.

The Anchoring Effect (10/10/19)
The anchoring effect is a form of bias in favor of the first piece of information we hear during a negotiation, often the other person’s goal.

Trust At Work (09/30/19)
Brush up on your workplace conflict resolution skills--and build up some trust in your employees.

Talking About Conflict (09/20/19)
Why would team members want to discuss a sensitive member with someone they don't know?

Two Things About Negotiating (04/26/19)
Have you ever heard yourself say (or think) something like,“Wait. No. Actually I didn’t mean it that way. I was just throwing ideas out. I . . .” Oops.

Name Your Anger (04/22/19)
Disagreements often start when someone doesn’t want to discuss something or take a necessary action, and someone else accuses that person of avoiding.

Name Your Anger (03/22/19)
Disagreements often start when someone doesn’t want to discuss something or take a necessary action, and someone else accuses that person of avoiding.

Confused Conversations (02/22/19)
Sometimes when we’re faced with a difficult conversation we over-think it and try to anticipate every single objection that can be raised, or every difficult response we have to make, or every completely unanticipated tangent that “complexifies” the whole conversation.

Strategy v Policy (02/15/19)
For quite a while a staff member had requested more work on “policy,” anticipating that working on policy would provide greater qualifications for a promotion.

Juries of Their Peers (02/02/18)
When I was in fourth grade, a few millennia ago, our teacher established a system so we could settle a lot of our own disputes.

Disagreeing (09/22/17)
“Recognize the strengths of the other guy’s argument and the weaknesses of your own. Keep an open mind while listening.” - by Jake Sullivan.

Soft Skills Are Back in Style (08/08/17)
In this digital world, the so-called “soft skills” are suddenly getting a lot of attention and being recognized as a key element of organizational development and improved performance.

Let It Go? You're Kidding! (07/14/17)
One of the most conflict-ridden situations is that moment when our emotions take over our ability to respond thoughtfully, especially to a disagreement with a colleague.

DIS-agree and Commit (04/28/17)
Sounds contradictory, I admit, but it’s an interesting concept and raises an interesting question: Do we always have to agree before taking action?

The Third Side (04/03/17)
Sometimes “new” information on conflict resolution sounds like what we already know, but an existing idea can be reframed and sound new all over again.

Such Interesting Language! (01/27/17)
The current linguistic environment is instructive, scary, and actually great fun.

And Then There's Wells Fargo (12/09/16)
Internal conflict resolution systems save huge amounts of money for their organizations.

Listening Matters (11/28/16)
Since the election I’ve been hearing the same analysts that talked about the tone and style of the debates now talking a lot about listening and how so many people failed to listen carefully to others and understand their concerns.

Cross Disciplinary Approach to Conflict Resolution (10/28/16)
Not only can the skills of mediation be applied to many different situations, but mediation can be influenced by other areas of study as well.

Managers Want Conflict Resolution Training (10/21/16)
A recent article in Forbes (10/1/16) includes some really dismaying statistics about management communication and training. Here are three.

So Much Anger to Manage! Part 2 (08/26/16)
“Anger management works – if you’re not angry.”

So Much Anger to Manage! (08/19/16)
Everybody seems to be angry lately, and a lot of people are writing about it.

Do Organizations Bully? (07/29/16)
I received an interesting update from Civility Partners last week on bullying, citing research showing that “education, government and healthcare are three industries where bullying seems to really thrive.”

Orlando and Radicalization (06/27/16)
As a former member of the IRA, and one who admits to violence, Sean O'Callaghan has clearer insights into this concept than a lot of commentators and psychologists who have not gone through this process and, more importantly, rejected it. His comments, made after the violence in France, are equally applicable to Orlando.

4 Reasons to Call a Neutral Third Party (06/06/16)
Even though it is vital to know conflict resolution skills yourself, it’s also vital to know when to call a third party for help.

Don't Take That Tone . . . (05/27/16)
An endgame is the strategy you plan for how you will play your last hand or your remaining chess pieces or the end of the race to ensure the outcome you want. Sometimes those strategies work and sometimes they don’t, but it’s the plan we put into place to get a desired result, and then we hope it works.

PEARLS for Conversation (03/18/16)
A key tenet of Communications 101 is that every communication has two messages: task and relationship.

Discussion and Dialogue (03/11/16)
It seems there might be some confusion about the differences between discussion and dialogue, and between mediation and facilitation, so let’s try to clarify the different goals of each process, because they each require different skills and tactics.

Reframing "Confronting" (02/26/16)
Last week I wrote about how words can become redefined, or new words developed to address new situations or the need for new terms. The example I used was “otherize,” the act of defining someone as not a member of our own group and therefore, open to suspicion and perhaps to unjust treatment.

Instructing Without Instructions (02/18/16)
How do you tell someone (not) to do something when you have no authority over that person? This is a case where your powers of persuasion will be tested. Here’s the plan we developed.

Reframing "Confronting" (01/22/16)
The focus of the article is about the nuances of language, the ability to discriminate among situations, and applying the absolutely right approach.

Serendipity (01/15/16)
It was pure serendipity that a small group of people came together and became one of the most effective teams I’ve had the privilege of working with – the members of my board of directors on the Foundation I chair.

Just Listen (12/11/15)
Actually, there’s no “just” about it. Listening is often the hardest thing to do, if you really want to do it right.

Juries of Their Peers (06/01/15)
When I was in fourth grade, a few millennia ago, our teacher established a system so we could settle a lot of our own disputes. General mischief-maker, Walter, was elected judge, a decision that completely confounded our teacher, and the class was the jury.

Juries of Their Peers (04/10/15)
When I was in fourth grade, a few millennia ago, our teacher established a system so we could settle a lot of our own disputes. General mischief-maker, Walter, was elected judge, a decision that completely confounded our teacher, and the class was the jury. We explained our choice of Walter as judge by saying that judges always behave well, and if Walter were judge, he would have to behave better than usual. It was completely logical to us, but I’ll bet the teacher would never have seen that possibility and would have continued to discipline Walter rather than offer opportunity.

Truly Constructive Conflict (01/30/15)
A friend and I were talking about how different people work and how their different ways of focusing on a problem can lead to new problems even as they all work toward the same goal. It was an interesting insight, and I wanted to use it as a way of understanding how conflict in groups or teams can be generated without people even realizing the source.

Whose Job is the Conflict? (11/14/14)
I am a big proponent of taking responsibility for resolving a conflict that somehow includes or affects you, especially if you started the dispute, and this article offers skills for doing this.

Gender and Decision-Making (10/24/14)
Men and women are pretty much equally good decision-makers when under low stress levels, but “When stressed, men are more prone to taking risky bets with little payoff.”

Great Workplaces (09/19/14)
Fortune magazine publishes an annual list of great places to work, and this year, as in many others, Goldman Sachs took first prize. Many people are surprised by that considering the hours and workload, but there are other elements to consider besides hours.

Winks, Nods, and Corporate Culture (06/13/14)
Have you ever walked out of a meeting with an agenda for future action that you knew no one would follow though on? Apparently they did just that at GM.

Leadership is Defined as a Relationship, Not a Person (05/09/14)
I have always maintained that, if people weren’t so afraid of the process of disagreeing, they would have much better outcomes and more creative solutions to problems. Now, Mark Gerzon in Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, provides sound arguments for why leaders need conflict and how to use it to their advantage to build relationships and organizations. This book is well worth your time.

Leadership is Defined as a Relationship, Not a Person (04/18/14)
ediation has become so closely associated with the legal system recently that its value in all areas of discussion and leadership has been overwhelmed. Gerzon points out the value of the approach in public areas of concern, education, business and international relations. Now, if we could only get people to learn how to use it.

Conflict from Workplace Behaviors (02/14/14)
Years ago a wonderful little book appeared called Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was mostly about basic consideration for others such as taking turns, sharing, and not wrecking other people’s possessions.

Do You Really Want This Job? (01/17/14)
More people need to know that mediation exists and how to access it, because most of these documents include a mandatory arbitration agreement that precludes your right to your “day in court” if a dispute arises. In general, these agreements are not to your advantage.

Leadership: Visionary. Charismatic. Dull? (12/13/13)
Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay, wants to be the governor of California, what is sometimes referred to as the “state CEO.” (LAT, 2/16/09, p. C1) She and her supporters argue that her corporate experience makes her an ideal candidate for “state CEO.” The question is not, “Is Whitman qualified to be a CEO?” but “Is she qualified to be successful in a political environment rather than a business environment?”

Adaptive Leadership and Conflict (11/15/13)
In Getting to Yes Fisher and Ury say the first rule of conflict resolution is to separate the people from the problem. What if Fisher and Ury were wrong and the problem really is the people?

A Tale of Three CEOs (08/29/13)
We know a lot about managing down, about supervising people who report to us and leading a team. We know we have to make our goals and standards clear, we have to oversee the work without becoming micromanagers, and we have to manage in a variety of styles that best suit the needs of staff members. For those who like lots of structure, we provide that structure at the beginning of the project and save time later by avoiding the mistakes and false starts because we missed a detail that took a staff member down an expensively wrong path.

Reinvention (08/23/13)
Some of the newer material on management or conflict resolution seems repetitive to me, and I started thinking about what it lacked. Coming up with a new seven-point system that restates the old seven-point system might be a new way of saying something old, but it seems insufficient.

Three Conflict Resolution Principles (07/12/13)
The questions are not meant to undermine Barnes’s approach; I think it’s great shorthand for several major principles. My thoughts go in the direction of whether individual goals should always be subordinate to the organizational goal, or whether, at least sometimes, paying attention to the individual’s goals will build a relationship that is equally important to reaching the primary goal.

Think "And," Not "Or" (06/14/13)
A new series of ads shows a happy couple shopping for a new car. The dealer takes pride in telling them that the car has “this AND that” feature, and they agree that AND is soooo much better then OR. This is something mediators also need to remember.

Great Mediation in Progress (02/15/13)
Maria Simpson gives advice for mediators on how to arrange a great mediation session. She discusses practical tips to make sure that every mediation session is spent wisely.

Conflict Resolution: It's Your Job (02/01/13)
A few years ago, an article reported that the one thing employees most wanted in the new year was for managers to resolve disputes between staff members more quickly. Seems as if they still do. The articles keep coming.

The Four A's (12/14/12)
Ask a curious, not a challenging, question. Ask for information so that more options for resolution can be created than what seem to be on the table at the moment. A challenging question is often used as an accusation (ISN’T IT TRUE THAT . . . !!!) and that will push people away from the discussion and into impasse.

Changing Bad Organizational Habits (09/14/12)
Organizations have good and bad habits. This article discusses how to easily support the beneficial habits and address the negative habits.

Reframing 101 (07/16/12)
When people reframe, they often change the words, but keep the original motivation of a statement. This article helps people to keep the important information in a sentence, but to take out some of the harmful emotion that went along with the original statement.

Two Deadly Biases (06/25/12)
People like order and certainty, so they create an explanation that supports that order and then reinforces it. Maria Simpson points out that the problem with creating this order is that mediators can lump participants into roles that create assumptions and biases.

Addressing the Emotions of Conflict (06/04/12)
When we become aware of a disagreement and realize we are part of it, our first response is emotional. Whether at work or in a family situation or a legal proceeding, the hurt we feel, the hurt that is felt first through the same part of the brain that feels physical pain, can become the barrier to a satisfactory resolution. Without addressing the hurt, we might have an agreement on actions but not a resolution of the underlying pain or sense of injustice we feel.

Online or Onsite? Teaching Mediation and Conflict Resolution (05/23/11)
How can you teach something with no real-time, face-to-face interaction when what you are teaching takes place mostly face-to-face and in real time?

Organizational Celebrations Are Insights Into Organizational Culture (10/18/10)
If you are working with an organization, especially on an employment dispute, understanding the organization’s culture will provide important insight into what generated a dispute. How can you affordably gain insight into the values that are important to the organization? Take a look at what is celebrated in the events the organization sponsors.

Organizational Culture: The Context For Employment Disputes (09/13/10)
Employment disputes often start with someone saying something like, “It just turned out not to be a good fit.” Or maybe, “I don’t understand how such a good hire turned into such a bit fit, but it did.” The question is, What is the employee supposed to fit into?

Good Leaders Are Good Mediators (02/22/10)
If you work on organizational or employment conflict, you will be very pleased to know that the latest trend in ideas about leadership focuses on the need for excellent conflict resolution skills. This trend is good news not just for mediators, but for all those who work in organizations where the lack of conflict resolution skills was often seen as a sign of strength.

Recognizing Ineffective Team Patterns (01/12/10)
Sometimes teams are stuck in ineffective communications patterns that aren’t even recognized although they may be having significant impact on the team’s success. These patterns can be focused on such issues as relationships, processes, behaviors, or resources. Even if you are sure your team is working well, it might be useful to step back and take a look at the patterns of communications on these issues and see if any can be improved.