[Opinion] The Listicle is Simple and Seductive

Three points need to be emphasized at the beginning of any training, workshop, or seminar.

Your way of thinking about conflict, communication, and persuasion must shift before anything else can happen.

Your way of consuming information, your attention span, and your level of caring about the content you are about to hear, must shift before any deep learning can happen.

Your way of listening to the delivered content must shift from passive to active, for without that shift, nothing else can happen.

The desire, of course, from some of the participants is for these three things to happen. And these points being made out loud makes those participants relieved.

But there are other desires in the room.

The desire to get the tools, get the skills, get the listicle version of the information, and then to leave.

The desire to get the lecture, get the knowledge, but to not engage in any deeper change. After all, such change is challenging, and if there’s no support in the environment from which you came for change that needs to happen, well then it’s easier to ignore the calls to change.

The desire to not care. This is reflected in the phrases, the questions, the statements, and the observations that spring forth from the participants. Typically framed by some participants as “I hope that you can keep me awake,” or “You kept me awake more than any other facilitator I’ve ever sat through.”

The desire for the listicle version, the shorthand, the summary, the 30-second point, is seductive. But ultimately, changing the philosophy about how we think, matters more than applying shortcut tactics to achieve an outcome we might not enjoy.

[Advice] The Fundamentals

When analyzing a problem to move forward towards a solution, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the fundamentals of the problem.

We place a lot of importance in understanding, revisiting, and honoring the fundamentals of a problem, because they come, not from conceived wisdom, or even perceived wisdom, but from received wisdom.

Of course, this wisdom is received from a past when the fundamentals weren’t fundamental, they were merely subjective reality, based upon the circumstances of that time and place.

Or, this received wisdom isn’t really wisdom at all, but merely regurgitated conventional wisdom, which has two marks against it before it even is spoken into existence—yet again.

In the now, when confronted by a problem that seems to resembles one we faced in the past, we hearken back to that received wisdom, and being trapped by hindsight bias, we demand that fundamentals be reinstituted.

But this is just a clever version of the idea of returning to a past when everybody got along, there was no strife, and the fundamentals were sound.

Here’s the thing:

Demanding a return to the fundamentals can be a callback to received wisdom, but only if the current problem resembles a past one in any kind of way. And problems involving people, rather than processes, are constantly in flux.

Creating a solution to a problem based in the fundamentals can be a foundation to work from. But they can also be the concrete that traps a person, a community, a society, or culture, in a species of cloudy nostalgia for a past that never really was. And once trapped by such nostalgia, those same people, communities, societies, and cultures, are inevitably surprised when an outlier comes along who fundamentally doesn’t care about the concrete of the fundamentals.

Advocating for fundamentals based in received wisdom can be biased, not only because they reflect the prejudices of our personal attributions to past events, our personal desire to minimize dissonance in the present, and our personal need for stability and security in the future, but also because our personal hindsight is always perfect. But in reality, getting to resolution and discovering what fundamental actually worked to solve which problem in the past, was always complicated, messy, mistake-prone, and not assured of success.

Making a rhetorical appeal to return to fundamentals is inherently flawed when the current circumstances don’t even remotely resemble previous circumstances.

And having the courage to throw the past fundamentals out and establish new ones, will always increase conflict, rather than decrease it.

[Advice] To What End?

What matters the most?

Asking the right questions, or listening to the right answers?

What makes the most impact?

Personalized individual behavioral changes, or massive societal shifts?

When expanding and rapacious technological advancements and the human ability to ignore a crisis until it is impossible to manage its effects merge, the ability to bravely tear down an old system and replace it with another system, is the only skill that matters.

But if we don’t know what matters the most and if we can’t agree on what makes the most impact, then we can’t answer the last question, which becomes the most critical one to get right:

What outcome do we want to end up with?

[Advice] White Space

The person, or organization, pressuring you to make a decision right now, to hurry up, to do the quick and easy thing, are crowding your decisional white space.

This is a rhetorical and persuasive technique where all the methods of persuasion and influence from reciprocation to consensus, meet at the head of a pin.

They know that you know this. That’s why they’re crowding you.

And you know that something is happening to influence your decision making process— you feel the pressure and the stress emotionally and psychologically—but you’re not quite sure why or how.

The framing the person, or organization uses, is that the quick decision is benefiting you, but in reality your quick decision actually benefits them.

Make a quick decision and don’t think about the future, because maintaining the status quo is really what matters, and besides, who can know the future?

Hurry up to achieve harmony, or ensure stasis.

Make a quick decision for immediate gain—or at least, the perception of immediate gain—based on the appearance of an immediate need that needs to be filled.

Don’t slow down.

Don’t consider all of your options.

Even better, you have no options other than the ones that the organization—or the person—in charge gives to you.

Full pedal to the metal driving 105 miles per hour.


The singer Jewel turned down a $1-million-dollar recording contract when she was homeless, broken, sick, and needy.

Money is really no object.

Bob Dylan made albums when no one was listening.

Neither is safety, security, or the status quo. They are stories we tell ourselves, and let ourselves be told.

The future is unknowable, uncontrollable, and imprecise, yes, it always has been. But, today is the place where you have the most control over what you do.

Patience, slowing down, meditating, praying, contemplating, thinking deeply, disagreeing, exploring options, taking your time, being mindful of your surroundings and your inner life—these are not stories, frames or listicle based techniques or shortcuts.

They are skills, based in deeply held values, that resonate through your decisions.

These skills expand your decisional white space, and make it less likely that the person—or organization—pressuring you to make a decision across the table, will have any success at filling your white space.

And they will have even less success crowding the white space of your life.

[Advice] No More Accidents

Here’s an observable fact:

Many people (though not all) are just fine with the outcomes they are getting from their communication styles.

Many people (though not all) are comfortable with the disagreements, differences of opinion, conflicts, verbal fights, tensions, stresses and other outcomes that result from engaging in dysfunctional—and sometimes damaging—communication on a daily basis.

Many people (though not all) are just fine with letting communication happen by accident, taking a reactive—rather than responsive—stance and not really thinking about the impact that a word, a phrase, or even an idea may have upon another person.

Many people (though not all) are just fine not thinking strategically about how they communicate, rather than focusing obsessively over whether or not what they communicated got across to the other person.

Many people (though not all) find it to be more emotionally, psychologically, psychically, and even physically, comfortable to sort of just “go with the flow” and not to engage intentionally with communication patterns in their own lives—at work, at home, or even at school.

Yesterday, following a training in a local workplace, a woman told a story.

She said: “There was a supervisor working here who left recently. She said that everyone here was mean to her. She told me before she walked out the door, that I needed to ‘think outside the box more.’

I don’t know if she meant the comment to be hurtful or not, but I was hurt by it, and I have been thinking about it ever since. And it’s really hard to change the box you’re in if you can’t even see it.”

Many people (though not all) are ready to change their responses to observable facts, once they become aware of the facts they’re in.

[Advice] Re/Solution

What’s going to be on the test?

Is this going to work out?

What can we get here?

Who benefits?

All questions that revolve around what is commonly known as resolution. Some in psychology call it closure, but really it’s the mental and emotional process of getting a definitive answer that “ties off” any loose ends.

Narrative structures such as novels, films, short stories, all rely on an ending that is “settled.” Even when we talk about data and research—areas that should have nothing to do with a narrative, but are merely reflections of the world as we have objectively tested it—we use the phrase lately “the science is settled.

Yeah. Ok. So why are we still arguing?

The problem is not closure, an answer, an end to a narrative or even getting other parties to agree. The problem inherent in all of this phraseology and narrative structure around conflict is two-fold:

  • We are framing our arguments, negotiations, mediations, and litigations, in the language of closure and resolution, when in reality we are selfishly seeking a way for us to win, and for the other party to lose. Rather than chasing a “lose-lose” outcome, this is a corollary to the idea that we seek an answer—or a conclusion—that matches our worldview, which is the best one, or else it wouldn’t be our worldview.
  • We are seeking a manipulation, not of facts, but of other people whose ideas, positions, and interests we find to be distasteful, disagreeable, or just downright wrong. We seek to shut “the other” up, raise our own perspective up and devalue the other party, all in one fell rhetorical swoop.

When we seek to disconnect, rather than connect, and to ignore rather than understand; when we seek to replace the value already provided in an experience with the value we would rather the experience have; when we seek to judge rather than to educate; we aren’t looking to get to resolution.

We are merely seeking a solution.

[Opinion] The Non-Negotiables

There are non-negotiable issues in a conflict.

But a lot of those issues are determined to be non-negotiable by the parties involved in the conflict.

If a party decides that their emotions are the only driver that matters, and that they aren’t going to put those emotions away, for the sake of getting to a deal, then that party’s emotions are non-negotiable.

If a party decides that other parties who aren’t at the table (i.e. outsiders, colleagues, an audience, etc.,) are the ones that are going to control how the negotiation goes, then those outside actors become non-negotiable elements.

If a party decides that their current mood (which can change, day-to-day, moment-to-moment) is the only mood that matters (because, well, it’s their mood) then that decision becomes non-negotiable.

We often think of everything as being negotiable, which is not the same sentiment as “Everyone has a price” or “Everyone can be bought.” Many things, issues, positions, and interests are indeed negotiable. But the problem is, each party decides what’s on the table—and what isn’t.

What makes this decision particularly sticky is that moods, emotions, relationships with other parties not at the table, and many other non-negotiable elements of a negotiation process, involve recognizing the impact of identity, story, and meaning.

And who really wants to negotiate their identity, story, or meaning with a party, whom they automatically have framed as untrustworthy before the negotiation even began?

The skills of persuasion, evasion, coercion, facilitation, and active listening, are often discounted in the rush to close a deal. But those skills become crucial ones for negotiators to value and practice.

Honing the craft of negotiation is more than about sitting in a room and role-playing a case study. Honing the craft of negotiation is about developing intuition, patience, rapport, and caring along with those other skills, in order to get the best possible outcome.

Which usually just means, “The outcome that works best for me, right now.”

[Advice] Intentional Anchoring

The first sentence in a discussion anchors the rest of the conversation.

“I need him to shut up.”

“I don’t like what’s happening here.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“The fact that we’re focusing on this issue is crazy.”

“They don’t know what they are talking about.”

“Who’s in charge here?”

“I’m in charge here.”

The first sentence of a blog post, the first sentence of an online status update, the first sentence of an email does the same thing.

In a negotiation, this tactic is called anchoring. It’s the process of putting an idea into another party’s mind about a topic of discussion, and then using that initial idea to push or pull the other party in a particular direction.

There is verbal and nonverbal anchoring. Anchoring occurs with signs and symbols. Anchoring happens when parties speak and when they are silent. Anchoring happens with body language.

People perform anchoring all the time, mostly unintentionally, but occasionally, someone “gets” it and intentionally chooses their words carefully and judiciously for maximum effect. And with the purpose of generating maximum conflict.

In any negotiation—along with management, facilitation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation—of a conflict, the person who establishes the anchor first has a greater chance to do better than the person who doesn’t. In this context “doing better” just means “getting an outcome that works for me.”

What outcome are you dropping an anchor for?

[Strategy] On Truth and Reconciliation

There’s truth.

There’s reconciliation.

Rarely do you get both of them together.

This isn’t to say that parties seeking reconciliation are engaging in deceitful behavior or lying to gain an outcome that benefits them in a conflict process. But we are all selfish and no more so than when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel of conflict.

This isn’t also to say that parties seeking truth are engaging in behavior that will prolong conflicts and make them worse. But we are all myopic when our needs aren’t met around core values—like getting to the truth of a matter.

Just because you get the truth from the other party in conflict about their motives, their moods, their inner drives, or the outcomes they want, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get reconciliation.

And just like resolution, reconciliation may just be as hard to arrive at.

[Opinion] The Bigots Among Us

It is easy to dismiss ideas that we don’t agree with, that we find to be repulsive, or that downright offend us.

It is easy to dismiss ideas that we believe are damaging, could lead to cycles of violence, or that we believe are fearful.

It is easy to dismiss ideas that we think are regressive, oppressive, or not progressive enough for us to engage with based on our worldview.

And increasingly, and even more disturbingly, it is easier for us to dismiss the existence of people in the culture who hold these ideas.

But, as it turns out, the people holding ideas that make us afraid and angry, or that we think are stupid or retrograde, are the ones that work next to us sweeping floors, washing dishes, taking out the trash, and sometimes even counting our change back to us at the grocery store.

This is a real problem, because there’s no way to eliminate all the people who think differently than we do. There’s no real way to completely and categorically scrub every idea that we find offensive from the public square. The only option really, is to socially sanction the people with the ideas enough so that they shut up…and go away.


Those people are still going to have children.

Those people are still going to have houses.

Those people are still going to have to pay the bills.

Those people are still going to want to contribute to society and culture.

Those people are still going to work.

And when a culture links holding a preferred set of ideas to advancing economically, socially, and culturally in that culture; and, when there are some people who just think differently, that culture is not long for freedom, and is approaching a soft form of tyranny.

Which has always hardened in the not-so-distant historical past.