Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review: Conflict Communications, by Rory Miller.

Conflict Communication –A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication, by Rory Miller. Copyright 2015. YMAA Publication Center, Inc. Wolfsboro, NH. 167 pp.

I consider this one of the most important books, I’ve read in a long time, and I read a lot.

          It was that good. The book discusses communication, human behavior and thought patterns, and how to best communicate to achieve results and reduce and prevent conflict. Conflict, in this context, is defined as not just physical violence, but any sort of friction or interpersonal problem that can develop between two or more people. Much time is spent on the way differing communication styles can cause conflict, and how to avoid such problems and reduce their effects when conflict arises.

           Rory Miller is a martial artist and self-defense expert, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sixteen years experience as a corrections officer. His materials are quite impressive for their insight into human behavior, violence related behaviors, and ways to respond to them. Of course, the best way, if possible, to respond to a threat of violence is to avoid it, and sometimes the best tool for avoiding violence or reducing a threat is communication.

          This book came about when Marc MacYoung, another notable self defense author with a strong interest in communication, patterns of violence, and violence prevention and reduction, was teaching a de-escalation course and using many materials that came from Miller. Soon the two agreed to work together to create a program on communication and violence de-escalation. The result is this book.

           The authors work on the premise that the human brain has three parts, and they each function differently resulting in a different style of reaction to perceived threats and different styles of behavior.

             They describe these as “the human brain,” “the monkey brain,” and “the lizard brain.” Although I question if the science is as cut and dried as the book sometimes seems to imply it is, the concepts are quite useful (the author’s primary focus is application)

             The human brain is the rational part that responds to communications and threats in a logical way without strong emotion.

              The monkey brain is the part that responds to social pressures and works to keep the individual part of a group. This is said to be because primates survive best as part of a group. Although this part does respond to communication attempts it often responds in a very emotional way, distorting facts and priorities in order to follow a social agenda.

               The lizard brain is the part that responds at a reflexive, physical level without conscious thought. When this part takes over communication is difficult to impossible.

                Just a few random excerpts and communication strategies chosen almost at random to give a feel for the book.

                On page 49, the author talks of the way the word “you” is often used in confrontational situations and advises avoiding it when possible. For instance, he suggests replacing “what are you doing?” with “what’s going on?” The author speaks of the importance of recognizing scripts and not getting sucked into pre-programmed, unconscious patterns of behavior. In fact this is undoubtedly one of the often repeated lessons of the work. Part of the key to doing this is to remain conscious of one’s behavior, monitoring responses, and not taking things too personally. Another lesson from the book is the way people and scripts often employ “hooks.”

               The author describes a hook as “an excuse to act out or a rationalization that will allow them to excuse their reactions later.” For instance, while it is not acceptable for a large man to beat a smaller person, in some situations if they can claim even a flimsy justification –i.e. “she didn’t know her place” or “he was trying to act smarter than me”—it can in some circles, or at least to the person doing the beating, appear justified. Again the author emphasizes the importance of recognizing scripts and not getting sucked in and playing them.

               One of the most valuable lessons from the book are the parts where the author discusses how to achieve or improve the chances of achieving one’s goals within an organization (or other hierarchical social structure). Part of this, he states, is to strive for the receiver of the message to focus on content rather than the possibility that the speaker is threatening the hierarchy or power structure. He offers a few phrases that show the speaker “knows his (or her) place” and thus is not threatening the group when making suggestions. For instance, he says that if one begins with something like “I know I’m just a ________, but I had this idea, and I don’t know much about it, but I wondered what you thought. How does ___________ sound to you?” Another possibility is saying something like “I know I should have followed the chain of command, but I figured you were the only one who wouldn’t laugh at me if I was wrong.”

                In conclusion, this is a fine book with much to offer to not just people with an interest in violence but people everywhere.