Disagreeing Better: Books About Being “Conflicted”

Two new books about disagreeing better and/or how to engage in conflict more effectively are presented below.

I. Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes by Ian Leslie (February, 2021)

Disagreeing at its best uses skills we need to acquire. Per the publisher, “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.”

Conflict is a regular part of life in various arenas. Avoiding it solves nothing; engaging in it also often solves nothing—and makes things worse when it doesn’t go well.

Why is conflict so hard? As Publishers Weekly states in its book review, “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’.”

Leslie expands on this in a brief book introduction on his website:

There’s really no reason we should be good at productive disagreement. We don’t get trained in it or taught it. We find it stressful and unpleasant, because it triggers ancient fight-or-flight responses. For most of human history, we haven’t needed to be good at it, because tradition and culture have resolved or suppressed so many potentially contentious questions. But now we’re in a world where everything is open to question – and we have these devices in our hands that mean we get into arguments with strangers any time we want. It’s quite the combo.

Among the people he interviewed are therapists, divorce mediators, hostage negotiators, and interrogators, as well as those more inclined toward academia and philosophy.

In CONFLICTED I bring all of these fascinating insights together, along with my own observations and reflections, and distill the learnings into ten rules of productive argument. Along the way I tell plenty of stories, including stories about the invention of the aeroplane, the Waco siege, Nelson Mandela and his enemies, and The Beatles.

II. High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley (April 6, 2021)

Here there’s a distinction made between healthy conflict and high conflict, the latter defined as “what happens when discord distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them. In this state, the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. The brain behaves differently. We feel increasingly certain of our own superiority and, at the same time, more and more mystified by the other side” (publisher’s blurb).

Kirkus Reviews notes that high conflict is the “kind that leads practitioners to label their foes as evil rather than merely opposed, that causes us to think differently—and not for the better.”

Author Jonathan Haidt, reviewing High Conflict: “This is one of the most important books that will be published in 2021. The COVID vaccine will soon free humanity from a biological pandemic, and this book, if widely read, could free humanity from an equally deadly scourge— high conflict.”

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