Drawing on advice from the world’s leading experts on conflict and communication—from relationship scientists to hostage negotiators to diplomats—Ian Leslie, a columnist for the New Statesman, shows us how to transform the heat of conflict, disagreement and argument into the light of insight, creativity and connection, in a book with vital lessons for the home, workplace, and public arena.
For most people, conflict triggers a fight or flight response. Disagreeing productively is a hard skill for which neither evolution or society has equipped us. It’s a skill we urgently need to acquire; otherwise, our increasingly vociferous disagreements are destined to tear us apart. Productive disagreement is a way of thinking, perhaps the best one we have. It makes us smarter and more creative, and it can even bring us closer together. It’s critical to the success of any shared enterprise, from a marriage, to a business, to a democracy. Isn’t it time we gave more thought to how to do it well?
In an increasingly polarized world, our only chance for coming together and moving forward is to learn from those who have mastered the art and science of disagreement. In this book, we’ll learn from experts who are highly skilled at getting the most out of highly charged encounters: interrogators, cops, divorce mediators, therapists, diplomats, psychologists. These professionals know how to get something valuable – information, insight, ideas—from the toughest, most antagonistic conversations. They are brilliant communicators: masters at shaping the conversation beneath the conversation. They know how to turn the heat of conflict into the light of creativity, connection, and insight.
In this much-need book, Ian Leslie explores what happens to us when we argue, why disagreement makes us stressed, and why we get angry. He explains why we urgently need to transform the way we think about conflict and how having better disagreements can make us more successful. By drawing together the lessons he learns from different experts, he proposes a series of clear principles that we can all use to make our most difficult dialogues more productive—and our increasingly acrimonious world a better place.
Journalist Leslie (Born Liars: Why We Can't Live Without Deceit) sheds light on disagreement in this encouraging take on the reasons communication tends to break down in conflict. Arguments often go poorly, Leslie writes, due to the high emotions at play: conflict is "nearly always entangled with how we feel about each other." He studies professionals who manage "high-stakes adversarial conversations," such as therapists and hostage negotiators, and examines the way power and status impact emotional response: an attack, for instance, is a way of "asserting status." He also surveys how cultural differences can impact disagreements, drawing on the standoff between the FBI and the religious Branch Davidians in 1993: the FBI could not "see its own culture" in contrast to the Davidians, who believed their leader was chosen by God; this "failure of imagination" meant they could not negotiate effectively. On the advice front, Leslie teaches readers how to spot artificial rage inflation on social media and establish a relationship of trust in which disagreements can be fruitful, and makes a case for civility as a mean to grease the wheels of a conversation. Leslie succeeds in framing disagreements as a source of creativity with the potential to deepen interpersonal understanding. The result is a thoughtful, thought-provoking guide to getting along even when doing so might seem impossible.