cover image Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes

Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes

Ian Leslie. Harper Business, $29.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-287856-4

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. Agent: Toby Mundy, TMA. (Feb.)