Archive for the 'Conflict Management' Category

Why the Alt-Right won’t go away

White Protester

Image from NPR

And neither rational arguments nor censorship will make it do so.

The recent furore (not Fuhrer) in Charlottesville and other US flash points has triggered a global wave of discussion, encouraging many people to express opinions about race who have not done so before, particularly white people. This is long overdue. Here is my view – both appreciative and critical comments below would be most welcome.

Point One: Arguments based on facts are not going to work.

As with global warming, we have already seen the dismal failure of science/fact-based arguments to successfully inspire personal, corporate and government action to produce change. If many of the scientists studying global warming do little to change their behaviour, what can we expect from the rest of the population?  Knowing, or even believing, the facts alone does not always change behaviour. And it certainly won’t work here.

As we move to the messier world of human interaction, the facts are even harder to pin down and therefore, harder to use to show those interested in “ethnic purity” the shortcomings of their arguments. The videos from recent events, particularly Vice’s “Race and Terror” documentary, reveal some convenient omissions of history by the alt-right to justify their racial hatred – both recent (declining wages) and older (wealth from slavery).

And with google, it doesn’t take long to find omissions or just ignore facts presented by those with differing views. (This argument can also be thrown at the left). As they themselves profess, the alt-right’s position is not about “facts”, it is about safety, having a voice and power (or loss of it) – just listen to Trump.

Their voices are, for the most part, emotionally driven grievances that are as much about being heard, wanting justice and the reduction of personal threat, both real and perceived. It is a point of irony that, like their nemesis “SJWs,” the alt-right want social justice! And like their rivals, they sound more like desperate teenagers than the superior race they claim to be.

The point here is that emotional vitriol rarely listens to facts alone, if at all. Note to the left: Stop using facts alone to shut down the alt-right! Instead adopt the language they understand, like Jobs, Safety and Freedom of the Individual as these things are not only crucial, they are supported by a fair and egalitarian society.

Point Two: Censorship is not the answer

Shutting down rallies, exclusion from debates and firing of individuals (unless because of their competence) will not work either.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • The internet (still fairly open) will allow discussions to continue, but drive it underground. And like most online discussions, it will continue inside an echo-chamber of re-enforcing beliefs. As an experiment, I recommend spending time on a website dedicated to a value system different to your own and look at how little contrary evidence is presented. Then reflect on what this will do for people looking for surety in a complex world? You may also like to apply such analysis personally… To counter this, I believe the grievances of the alt-right need to be understood, and for that to happen they need to be heard. This will:
    1. Release some of the pressure that leads to violence,
    2. Meet their need to be heard and
    3. Show up the many flaws in their logic.
  • Exclusion from public discourse will add fuel to the belief that the left and liberals are “brain-washing communists that seek to stupefy the public” and turn us all into “docile sheep” at best, and “enslaved in a gulag” at worst. While sanctioning of abusive behaviour ought not be tolerated, ostracizing the alt-right from debate will further convince them that they have a legitimate cause. That said, any violence condoned by either side should be shut down.

So what?

What needs to be understood is that the audiences of the alt-right positions are already feeling marginalised. Radical voices that are shut down will create a further affinity with those already feeling excluded, and actually increase their appeal. Not only that, it encourages the need for an extreme response as their voices are further pushed from the public discourse. And this is why the alt-right will not go away.

Another reason why it will not go away is that most of the possible futures currently presented, both hopeful and apocalyptic, show less of a place for white men than they did in the past. While logically correct, this will ultimately feel threatening. (The rebukes to an all-female cast of the recent Ghostbusters film is one of many examples where anger rises when the role of white men is being questioned.) This is inevitably being felt by the population to a degree they have never felt before. There is not a place at the table as there once was. And although many would agree that this may be a good thing, it’s hard to see that as a white man right now.

Of course, this experience is familiar territory to women and people of colour before that, and still is. However, the challenge of unquestioned assumptions of power that go to the heart of white male identity is not only disorienting, it is destabilising. In order to find redress to this threat to power some blame Islam for the deterioration of Christian insights (even though its far more likely that science is to blame for that); Or “gender fluidity” for destabilising the role of the family as the back bone of society (which again may find its cause in the economics of western nations that require the ideal worker to be on 24/7), the list goes on.

All of these moments are asking men (and mostly white men) to find out who they are without their position and self-worth being handed to them by the machinations of white history. It is an important question that men need to start asking – who are they without power? Without their god-given/biological-given/socially-given place at the head of the table?

This is the question that the alt-right proposes to answer to, or rather seeks to avoid by changing the conversation to force things back how they were “when things were good/safe/clear” – MAGA! Maybe you deserve to be there, and maybe like many others, it is not your place, let’s see what happens…

This truly is an uncomfortable pill to swallow. Unfortunately, aggression will often follow and we still live in a world where access to violence is more available to men. In fact, the dogma of the alt-right is that if you don’t have a place, you can have your role fulfilled by becoming a fighter, whether that be for traditions or social justice. What better way to channel frustration than through violence and anger – after all, it makes you feel like a man! (or should I say human?) And like feminism or BLM, the alt-right demands will not go away until they get a seat at the table.

For me, part of the answer is about recognising the positive role of men in the world and not just the negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated by both sides of the argument. People who are kind, clear, strong and supportive – no matter what your background.

Another step is to understand the position of those feeling excluded – a point Hillary Clinton missed so abysmally in her “deplorables” statement. Without either of these things happening, the alt-right’s cause and following will remain on a fuse.



How to work with bias – addressing a hidden dynamic

When working with groups looking at prejudice and bias, one of the most frequent questions I get is:

But how can I get them to change their bias and behaviour?

Naturally, when an individual expresses a prejudice in a harmful way, people can feel the need for them to change their behaviour. However, the other person doesn’t always see it this way. In fact, they often defend their position and attempt to assert it more powerfully. Recent election campaigns have seemed to promote this behaviour – no matter which camp you are in, defensiveness and ridicule are par for the course.

This natural defensiveness poses a number of challenges when working to change perceived biases. So I decided to look at what we are asking of someone when we deem their prejudice is bad and try to “help” them change.  Assuming we’ve managed to jump the yawining chasm and engage in a conversation, what we are asking is,

That they:

  1. Know they are biased;
  2. Want to change it (by far the biggest challenge), and then
  3. Know how to change them

If that wasn’t difficult enough, although acts of discrimination and hurt are usually delivered by people, they are all culturally informed and sustained. The segregation of blacks and whites in the US and South Africa did more to reinforce the prejudices than the other way around. Growing up in such a situation can make one’s own bias:

  • Difficult to identify
  • Seem impersonal and therefore decrease perceptions of personal responsibility (ie. colonial guilt)
  • Even if the person does want to change, they may feel like they are betraying the culture where they learned the bias, which can create shame as well as threaten their sense of belonging.

To illustrate this last point, or the hidden dynamic of bias, imagine the following:

If a pick-pocket goes past a bulging wallet and doesn’t take it, they may well feel guilt or shame. After all, according to Fagin, “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.”

In the world of pick-pocket culture, not taking the wallet is not only a missed opportunity, but a challenge to identity and belonging. It is almost shameful to a pick-pocket!

The point being that if your group does things in a certain way, and that group is like family, then, if you do something different, you will feel guilty about it – even if you don’t want to feel guilty, and even when you know it’s “right.”

It is this last point that I would like to think about before going trying to “enlighten” the other person’s stance or viewpoint. Be careful, because you are also talking about their culture.

What would you do if someone came and told you,

“Only idiots lock their houses! If you want to get anywhere in life, you should leave all the doors unlocked in order to let strangers in who might bring new gifts or stories that you and your family really want…”

You’d probably tell them they were crazy – at best.

If you are short on real-life examples, a cursory look at the language of the recent American presidential candidates will give you plenty of examples of how “stupid” and “crazy” the other is. So is it helping?

What might be a better approach?

Based on my years of mediating and running groups, here’s what I suggest.

  1. Identify what’s in it for them (benefit)
  2. Let them know you are interested in their well-being (care)
  3. Check your own assumptions and prejudices (authenticity)

First, identify the pay-off or benefit for the person. This will help re-humanise the other. This may not be obvious, or even conscious, but at some level, the person is getting something back for having that point of view. (see Kegan & Lacey, “Immunity to Change” and Dan Ariely “Pay-off” for more on this). Nobody does anything that is 100% bad for them. Find out what the pay-offs are and speak to those first.

These could be anything from friends and belonging; safety and the avoidance of shame; certainty in the face of ambiguity and threat; or even just a good way to have an argument or get some attention. There is always a payoff.

Second, let the person know you have their back. This is basic care.

No one cares how much you know, unless they know how much you care.

If you are interested in changing them for your benefit only, chances are they will tell you to take a long walk off a short pier… Its not going to work.

Finally, be authentic.  Start by checking your own assumptions and prejudice. Asking someone to check their own without you doing it first, is not only hypocritical, it also lacks integrity. And no one likes being lectured by a hypocritical dupe! To do this authentically, to really look at your own biases takes courage and letting go. It’s important to know what that is like before expecting someone else to do it

So once you’re aware of some of your own fears, here are some steps you might try:

  1. Find out more about their world and situation – understand the context for why that view exists. AND importantly, let them know you understand that.
  2. Find out about the person’s hopes, needs and wishes. Identify the persons aspirations and speak to those
  3. And, if possible, find a way to help that person get the pay-off easier or in a different way.

– and with Christmas coming up, I am sure you can find some relatives to practice with. You might even get them to do it to you.

Thanks for reading – please comment below if you have your own thoughts on the subject.

Communication is the means by which you manage change

Communicate well, and you will manage change well.

Communicate badly and the change will go badly.

Either way, change will happen.

How would you like it to go?

A Presentation on ProcessWork

Here is a very basic presentation to Process Work. I am running an introductory workshop on it tomorrow at UK Mediation Academy for the Professional Mediators Association.

It’s the tip of the iceberg of how people can start to change the way they look at situations in order to grow through them.

UK Whitepaper on Alternative Dispute Resolution

Below are some of my responses to the recent whitepaper consulation conducted by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills:

2. Are there particular kinds of issues where mediation is especially helpful or where it is not likely to be helpful?

Contrary to popular belief, I believe mediation is particularly helpful in cases of perceived bullying and discrimination especially, around gender and race. It is less helpful in instances of bad management, although it can work well here if used early enough.

The rise in the need for mediation is more to do with the growth of managers who lack adequate management skills and experience than its suitability as a cheaper alternative to ET.

Also, depending on your measures of success, it can be used to help broker the end of a working relationship, even in formal compromise agreements.

3. What in your opinion, are the costs of mediation?

Depending on the service, £750-1500 for an external provider + costs in a workplace setting. These costs include staff cover, staff hours, venue and travel. In-house schemes mitigate this cost. There are also some admin costs in terms of time. However, should an exteranl resolution service be required, mediation, if it works, is by far the cheapest intervention .

4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of mediation?

ADVANTAGES: Mediation allows people to clear the air and provides an opportunity to build a relationship, unlike many other processes that often contribute to further hostility . It promotes understanding between people so they can make new choices Continue reading ‘UK Whitepaper on Alternative Dispute Resolution’

The Myth of “Personality Clashes”

When people step out of a conflict because of a so-called “personality clash”, chances are they are letting both themselves and the other person down.

“Personality clash” is a tempting label, but it is often lazy one.  More, it can actually sustain a conflict, by seeing it as “too difficult”.

Personality clash can also be a subtle way of demonising another.

However, with some more detailed awareness, this  seemingly intractable problem can actually be worked with productively rather than avoided through the typical generalisations and blanket statements. For example, what do they do or say? What gestures do they make? Be specific about one situation that stands out.  Go over what was said and how it was done.

Chances are there is a communication style difference that is escalating the Continue reading ‘The Myth of “Personality Clashes”’

“Managing” Conflict…

Conflict is never pretty.  Confronting conflict is rarely easy.  But leaving it alone can cause greater difficulties in the future.  Today, a colleague told me about a mishap of a growing company – on the brink of receiving £500,000 investment from a VC! Unfortunately, unresolved issues between the directors lead to a conflict that has ruined their business – and probably their relationships too.  As a result, not only did they lose the money, but are now looking at legal processes (and costs!) to salvage what they can for themselves from the business.  Its not pretty – and its not a productive use of energy.

Yet time and again, conflicts are left in the closet only to emerge at the most crucial stages.  Its happened to us all: whether it be at home, in relationships or with our colleagues.  We ignore, deny or sometimes are just oblivious to destructive dynamics that are affecting our lives.

Personally, this can lead to ill-feelings – at worst depression – and a breakdown in trust and, sometimes, lost relationships.  At work, the same can be true, but it can also lead to a loss in productivity and dynamism from the employees (and employers!)  No one likes these things.  And loss is a part of life.

Yet we can take steps either to mitigate loss OR to discover new opportunities to prevent unnecessary costs.  This itself can take energy, but most of that is overcoming the fear of being hurt, upsetting the status quo or of hurting someone else.  (See future blog “Roles” or contact me for ways to manage this.)

But more than energy, working with conflict takes awareness.

Management Structure

A typical hurdle to addressing conflicts is choosing to take responsibility for noticing them and then acting on them.  A subtle way this can be avoided lies Continue reading ‘“Managing” Conflict…’