Using Systems Thinking to Resolve Conflict

In this episode we talk with conflict resolution expert Jason Dykstra about the complexity of conflict: why we're afraid of change, how to shift from a mindset of scarcity to abundance, and how understanding complexity in relationships can help us evolve ourselves and our world.

Jason Dykstra is a conflict resolution specialist, international speaker, husband, and father of two. He works with organizations and churches in Canada and the USA assisting them through sticky situations and improving company culture. Jason uses his knowledge of complex systems to help people and organizations find creative solutions to conflict and become “comfortably uncomfortable with approaching the unknown.” Jason believes that personal growth affects the growth and evolution of an organization, and that no matter where you are in a system, if you make even small changes it will automatically cause others to change as well. 

Here are some additional insights from Angie's conversation with Jason: (Show notes are below the fold.)

HumanCurrent: Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in complexity?
Jason:  I’m a Conflict Management Specialist who works with organizations, churches and families to assist them in moving from conflict situations to creative solutions.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in people.  Why do we do the things we do? How do relationships work? Why do they not? How do we connect with others? How do we connect with ourselves? I find humans fascinating because they are so creative and destructive at the same time.  

HC: How do you use the study of complexity in your work?
Jason:  Like I mentioned, I work with people, so I’m surrounded by complexity! Essentially I help people become comfortably uncomfortable with approaching the unknown.  In our conversations, we can never truly know how they are going to go until we’re in the middle of them. Additionally, I work in larger systems where a slight change within the system can impact all those involved in the system. I think we primarily approach complexity with a “just fix it” mentality which can often result in more systemic issues, especially if it is a complex problem.  Ronald Heifetz talks quite a bit about this and calls this tendency technical solutions. Technical solutions can work really well if the problem is technical as well (i.e. easily defined problem and solution - expertise).  However, when we’re dealing with complexity, we need to embrace adaptative change which essentially means we need to learn more, ask more questions, and work together to solve the problem.  

E.g. - My son breaks his leg, goes to a hospital and they reset the bones and put a cast on it (technical). However, we won’t be able to fix the issues of our healthcare system the same way because there is no defined solution, it’s going to take learning and collaboration from all levels of employees to start addressing those issues.  

HC: How would you describe complexity in layman's terms?
Jason: Basically, addressing the unknown!  Depending on the context would depend on the language that I would use.  For example, by mapping out a system that a client is involved might assist a person in understanding the various moving parts that their decision/action/inaction contributes to the rest of the system.  Or simply asking questions to a person about how their actions affect the people around them (so that they can see the complexity of the situation and the ripple effect).  

HC: What benefits do you reap and/or see from being a systems thinker?
Jason: I think a huge benefit is that you can step back and see the bigger picture.  Being able to see all the moving parts and how they interact with one another allows you to have a better idea of the least intrusive way to assist a company and its leadership.

HC: If one of our listeners feels like they want to be more of a systems thinker or bring more complexity awareness into their life, what advice or actionable steps would you give them?
ason: Step back and get curious. Often I think our initial reaction to anything is one of judgement. We judge what others have said, what folks have done, what our thoughts are and what we are seeing. One thing that I have seen over and over again is that when we shift from judgement to curiosity the entire world opens up. Also, often we get too close to a situation that we can’t see the forest through the trees.   

Notes from the Show:

Carol dweck - "Mindsets" book on fixed vs growth mentality. We can tie this back to doug's work. Growth mindset - I may have a certain capacity at this point, but as I move forward I can continue to grow.



Kintsugi - the Japanese art of mending the cracks of broken pottery with gilded lacquer. Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than a flaw. Complex adaptive systems are like kintsugi in that they are history-dependent, which means that changes and even the “flaws” become part of the system. This is very similar to the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which embraces change, impermanence and imperfection as part of the beauty of universal perfection.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning - “Between every stimulus and response is a gap,” and in the gap we have the option of reacting with judgment or responding with curiosity.

Intent, Action, & Effect communication model - You can find this and the “Flip-It” exercise on Jason’s blog at

Jason’s book recommendation:  Difficult Conversations book by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen - talks about what happens when we witness the same thing and walk away with very different experiences.

The HumanCurrent podcast is hosted by Angie Cross & Stacy Hale. Subscribe in iTunes or listen at