"High Conflict" by Amanda Ripley

Review by Borodutch

I've read a surprising amount of books about conflict in the recent months. However, "High Conflict" — even though it uses similar case studies — stood out to me due to the straightforward conflict resolution scheme. First, the author explains that conflict can be good — but sometimes it enters a high conflict state where there is no curiosity about the other side, and the only goal is victory. Unfortunately, in such cases, there are almost always no winners.

Whenever you find yourself in high conflict, I suggest simply leaving the scene. Contrary to my advice, Amanda proposes:

  1. Researching the other side's understory. It is always more complicated than we think. Why do people think differently? What are their motivations?
  2. Getting rid of false dichotomies — it's rarely "us against them." The story is always more complicated than that.
  3. Removing "fire starters" and "conflict entrepreneurs" from the scene. These are people who thrive on conflict and nurture it.
  4. Whenever you feel like you're falling into high conflict and escalating it — take a break both physically and mentally. Walk away for a bit to ease your mind and emotions.
  5. No story is simple. Whenever you start talking, complicate the narrative from the very beginning. Any debates or speaking should start with expressing the intricate details of both sides of the conflict. This prevents false dichotomies for some reason (brains are weird).
  6. Use looping (hehe, nonviolent communication again) — this is when you sum up what the other side said and then ask them if you got it correctly.

This applies to virtually any "heated" discussion — whether a dinner talk or a political debate. High conflict has no winners, and we should always try to find win-win situations. Compromises are optional: the world is way more complicated than we think — and everyone can win almost always.

I don't have any reluctant feelings against recommending "High Conflict" as a read for a few evenings. However, nothing in the book was too eye-opening for me. This could be partially due to my already vast knowledge of conflict resolution strategies and nonviolent communication. Read it if you feel like it! You certainly won't regret the time spent.