5 Books on Conflict Resolution

5 Books on Conflict Resolution

I grew up in a house that didn’t have conflict. I suspect I’m not much different from many people. There, simply, was no conflict. No arguments, no fights, and certainly no negotiation. 

As I’ve moved into the Corporate sector (and became a father), I realized that I very much lacked in this department. And so for the last year, I’ve dedicated my time to learn more about myself and conflict through some experts in the field. Here’s a list of what I’ve read and why they’ve helped me.

1. Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

Feedback is hard to take for me, especially if it’s negative. This book helped me explore why that is and what I can do about it. 

Gems:

  • Understanding “Identity” triggers allow for a clearer understanding of the information. Distorting feedback can happen, and that will make for layers of conversations – some of which aren’t happening. 
  • We all have “Blind Spots,” and we need to leverage “Honest Mirrors” to help see them. When we use others to help us understand our Blind Spots – it’s critical that we do it to learn and not to contradict.

2. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

This book’s premise is that the key to getting to a good “coaching conversation” as a leader is by asking the right questions to open a solid dialogue and then listening. Really listening. 

Gems:

  • “Tame the Advice monster” – don’t give advice when you have an opportunity to learn more
  • “Ask just one question at a time.” This seems so simple but this allows the conversation to flow in a focused direction.

3. Changing the Conversation by Dana Caspersen

This book simplifies Conflict Resolution into 17 principles and anti-principles. Each chapter addresses a different principle in a way that can be easily translated and personalized. Some of the “anti-principles” hit home when I read this as habits I’d developed over time that needed to be unlearned.

Gems:

  •  “Acknowledge emotions” is so simple to say but has been invaluable to me. This advice creates space to have conflict in a conversation with human feelings but doesn’t allow them to dictate the content or the conversation.
  • “Figure out what’s happening, not whose fault it is.” If you see the situation as conflict and not the person, it is so much easier to understand. 

For more on Dana Caspersen’s book, read this.

4. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Do you think that a Former FBI hostage negotiator has something to say about conflict? This book has so many great stories and lessons that translate to everyday situations.

Gems:

  • Aim for “That’s right!” rather than “You’re right!” When you are having a discussion – make the situation the challenge NOT the person. Trying to convince someone that you are right accomplishes nothing. 
  • Use “Calibrated Questions” which help educate and move the conversation along rather than end the dialog. “How” and “What” questions with a notion of understanding educate and build a report between the question asker and answerer. 

5. Difficult Conversations by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone

This book is about how to address the hard to talk about. Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone have clearly learned a few things at the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book is full of practical advice on how to tackle “Difficult Conversations”.

Gems:

  • Understand the “Contribution system” to understand the landscape of the conflict. When you are not looking for blame, you are more apt to see how you (or I) are contributing to the problem.
  • Use the “Third Story” to help re-interpret and playback the conflict. The “Third Story” is neither my interpretation of events or someone else’s; it is simply a playback of the space between us.

The books listed above give you a solid foundation, but the key to improvement in this area is practice. I am fortunate enough to have worked directly with Dana Caspersen, the author of Changing the Conversation, on this but every day presents a new opportunity to improve.T

Let me know if you have any additional recommendations or thoughts. I’d love to hear them. 

References and Resources

This article has a great summary of the key principles from the book “Getting to Yes” from the Harvard Negotiation Project. 

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