‘The Anatomy of Peace’ sounds a heavy read; and the fact it comes from the cultlike-sounding ‘Arbinger Institute’ put me a little on edge… But I’d promised someone I’d buy it, so I did.
In essence it’s a simple thesis:
1) We all spend far more of our time tackling things that are going wrong, than doing things to make them go better.
2) When people: co-workers, children, family members etc, resist our attempts to correct them, we combine increased coerciveness with talking them down – first in our heads, then increasingly out loud.
3) Once we start to coerce people and start talking them down, three things happen:
a) they resist us all the more;
b) we demonise them in our minds and with other people to justify ourselves and our actions;
c) we increase our attempts to coerce them and talk them down further.
This focus on correcting, and the cycle of attempted coercion, self-justification, resistance, demonising and a hardening heart is everywhere, all around and at all levels – all the way up to nation states.
What to do? There’s plenty that’s common-sense: listen more, build enabling relationships etc. But it all starts with the heart and stopping yourself getting into – and learning how to get out of – the downward cycle of correcting, coercing, hot and cold conflict and going to interpersonal war.
I’ve tackled three difficult work situations with these new techniques this week; pitched battles, either in full-blown standoff or seething with cold professional anger.
Tricky stuff. But acknowledging people as just that: flawed, frightened, angry and frequently frustrating; but first and foremost people, is the trick to developing a ‘heart at peace’ in the Arbinger jargon.
And who doesn’t want a workplace, a home and a heart at peace?