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‘Win at Work!’ reflects conflict resolution guru’s lifelong quest for peace

Diane Katz

The key to changing an organization or workplace is not to ascribe blame, says Diane Katz, organizational psychologist and author of the newly published “Win at Work! The Everybody Wins Approach to Conflict Resolution.”

Katz founded her consulting company, The Working Circle, in 1995, the same year she moved to Tucson. Her career has taken her from drug counseling in New York City public schools to heading human resources in the corporate world. Katz presents workshops on organizational development, conflict resolution and teambuilding, and has spoken to many national professional groups about creating a more compassionate and effective work environment.

Her career derives from a childhood growing up in New York City. “I used to doodle the word ‘peace’ all the time,” says Katz. “I came from a family with a lot of fighting, so I wanted peace in my family, in my heart and in the world.” Another important influence in Katz’s professional trajectory was the loss of most of her great-aunts and uncles in the Holocaust. “It was very apparent to me as a tiny child that being Jewish had certain risks and great responsibilities,” she says.

“Whenever I saw prejudice in Jews I felt we should know better. Because my people were nearly annihilated,” says Katz, “I thought it was important to be an exceptional citizen.”

She began her quest with an undergraduate degree in psychology from Hunter College, followed by a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University in 1981, and a Ph.D. in psychology from the Union Institute in 1996. Integrating eastern and western studies of conflict resolution, tenets of Buddhism, Judaism’s Kabbalah Tree of Life and the Native American medicine wheel led Katz to her own communication model, The Working Circle.

“I’ve wanted to write a book about the process I developed in my doctoral dissertation,” she says. “Win at Work!” took 13 years from finding her own non-academic voice, to finding an agent, to publication. The book explains how the process of dealing with conflict requires a balancing of masculine and feminine solutions: Men want to get things done, notes Katz, and they have a more linear approach in a plan that has a beginning and end, while the feminine solution is “more conciliatory, more withdrawing as opposed to attacking.”

“Businesses often reinforce destructive conflict,” says Katz, adding that “it’s time to recognize that the “masculine, linear model of decision-making and resolving issues can no longer work [alone].”

At her workshops, Working Circle participants discuss questions such as “What’s negotiable?”, “What’s non-negotiable?”, “What’s the game plan?” and “What have you learned from the past?” And taking a Buddhist approach, Katz’s goal is that no matter how angry people are with others, they still can learn to have compassion.

When Katz is hired by an organization, prior to its first Working Circle session, she conducts a confidential assessment of work-place problems and writes a report that she discusses with participants.

At a University of Arizona department where two factions of professors “were at war with each other,” Katz recalls the atmosphere at the start of a half-day retreat: “There was a great deal of mistrust of each other and this Diane Katz.” She helped participants rephrase angry comments; “the ground rule was no finger-pointing.”

In addition to the UA, her clients have included the U.S. Border Patrol, a community of nuns, Ray­theon Missile Systems, the YWCA of Southern Arizona, cowboys and scientists. “I’ll work with anybody who’s open-minded,” says Katz, who previously was a drug counselor in New York City schools from 1970 to 1980. Her last corporate position was as vice president for human resources at Alexander & Alexander, where she was responsible for more than 7,000 employees.

“Win at Work,” through real life stories, describes eight crossroads that many professionals experience during their careers. Chapter titles offer options to consider, such as “Ask Your Manager for the Raise You Deserve or Be Happy You Have a Job?” “Speak Up About What’s Happening or Remain Silent?” and “Stand Up to the Bully or Don’t Make Waves?”

Examining what companies or organizations have learned from the past is an important part of her work, says Katz. “I haven’t heard anybody say what we’ve learned from this current economic [downturn], just who screwed up.” Historically, every time people take a step forward we also take a step back, she says. In addition, “too many elected leaders and corporate heads are interested in short-term results rather than the greater good,” says Katz. “We’ve all become narrowly focused. Greed has become the American disease.”

In today’s world, there’s considerable fear of change and perceived threats, as well as people feeling powerless and that they are not being heard, says Katz. “The world as we know it is ending. Human beings have a choice of how to react. When we’re afraid we clutch what we have. Leadership must set the tone.” This current economic situation can offer the opportunity for “incredible initiative, creativity, and cooperation,” she says.

Katz is about to take a big step in her own life in August when she attends the Organizational Development World Summit in Budapest. She’ll be going for the first time to Hungary, where her family members died during the Holocaust. “I’m going back to my roots to present my passion and life’s work,” says Katz. “I’ll be coming full circle.”

Diane Katz will appear on “Arizona Illustrated” (PBS) on Thursday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m. Her book launch party will take place on Thursday, June 17 from 4-6 p.m. at the Madaras Gallery at Campbell and Sunrise. Katz will speak and sign copies of “Win at Work!” on Friday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at Antigone Books. For more information, go online to