Whether you are a warfighter, a private security professional, or work in law enforcement, your mission at its most distilled level is conflict resolution. How specifically you resolve conflict on a daily basis may be dictated by the uniform you wear, the environment in which you operate, and the tools you have at your disposal, but, in the end, your ultimate goal is stopping problems before they get out of hand. Dana Caspersen’s book, Changing the Conversation: The 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution, gives readers simple, easy-to-understand guidance on how to do just that. While Caspersen’s book is geared more towards personal conflict resolution and diverting arguments, the principles espoused in Changing the Conversation can be adapted by anyone interested in preventing, rather than recovering from, the effects of conflicts.
The foundational tenant of Caspersen’s book states that, “You can’t change how other people act in a conflict, and often you can’t change your situation. But you can change what you do.” By making this statement at the very beginning of the book, Caspersen puts the onus of conflict resolution on, and therefore gives control of the potentially uncontrollable situation to, the reader. Once the reader learns that, by stepping “away from cycles of attack and counterattack” that we are all drawn into during highly charged situations, the reader can then guide the discussion, argument, or situation in question toward a peaceful, or at least favorable, resolution.
Caspersen’s overarching philosophy is about changing one’s mindset and habits in order to change the overall conflict dynamic, which can prevent a small misunderstanding from growing into something much more damaging. She offers simple suggestions and exercises to help the reader do just that. For example, instead of reacting as one usually would when on the receiving end of a verbal assault (or “attack,” as Caspersen writes,) by ignoring the additional (and possibly useful) information that might come after said attack, Caspersen suggests the reader should train themselves to ignore the initial verbal attack itself, and attempt to instead listen for the message behind the harsh words being used. As she suggests in another part of the book, when a dialogue grinds to a halt between two disagreeing parties, Caspersen writes that readers should be open to finding previously undiscovered options, and seek those options that people willingly support, in order to get the opposing parties talking again.
Additionally, Caspersen does something unique in Changing the Conversation, in that she (with the help of designer Joost Elffers) chose to modify the layout of the book in order to grab the reader’s attention and make her lessons easier to retain. By utilizing what Elffers calls “horizontal production,” which is basically incorporating the design and content of the book together (versus a traditional book layout of sentences and paragraphs running the lengths of each page,) Caspersen is able to lay out each of the “anti-principles” of conflict (or, the knee-jerk reactions and habits we naturally follow when involved in conflict) across the page from the opposing principles of resolution she attempts to teach the reader to adopt. By utilizing this format, and by including bright, contrasting colors for opposing concepts, options, and strategies, each lesson and example Caspersen imparts upon the reader stands out from its opposite. Instead of flipping between chapters to compare anti-principles to principles, as one would normally be required to do in a traditionally designed book, the Changing the Conversation reader need only scan from one page to the facing page to see Caspersen’s intent. This layout shows both sides of an argument (or the alternate courses of action the reader might take during their next argument) at the same time, which is normally something that is difficult to do when people are engaged in a conflict situation and emotions are running high. In effect, this strategy is point-counterpoint and problem-solution, illustrated.
Given the fast-paced and often violent environments in which security professionals work, the thought of preventing what some might consider to be a “simple argument” might not be high on the priority list. But in a stressful situation, a small misunderstanding can turn into a war of words that has the potential to escalate into something much worse. In a world where people of different cultures, outlooks, and intentions interact more frequently, there is less room for error, and if simply changing our natural reactions to discord and steering, instead of escalating, a conversation can prevent a conflict from becoming a conflagration, Caspersen’s book is an investment worth making.
Want to see other books that we have read and recommend? Take a look at our complete reading list for our other suggestions.