Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities

by Braden

Link to the book

My Thoughts

Do you think your organization has political conflicts that stand in the way of success and make work painful? Then you must read this book! It’s one of my favorites few know about.

The author’s story is unique. He started out working for Shell doing scenario planning and somehow got to mediate the transition of South Africa away from apartheid. He then went on to work with leaders trying to solve the most historical and bloody crises we read about in the news — Israel & Palestinians, IRA in Northern Ireland, Basques in Spain, Colombian FARC, and more. This dude sits with murderous generals and presidents to solve tough problems!

He has a method for solving tough problem that he explains by telling stories from different conflicts he’s worked on to illustrate each part of it. But what I love is that he also tells stories about where it fails and why, which I found the most helpful.

Here are a few insights I gleaned from the book:

  1. “If you’re not part of the problem you can’t be part of the solution.” Seeing yourself as part of the problem is hard!
  2. The goal is not to solve a problem, but to “create a way for a group to engage a problem situation differently in order to improve it.”
  3. “Politeness is a way of not talking…When somebody speaks personally, passionately, and from the heart the conversation deepens. When a team develops the habits of speaking openly then the problem they are working on begins to shift. By contrast, a habit of speaking overly cautiously obscures the problem and keeps it stuck.”

At the end he provides 10 suggestions for how we can operate better to resolve conflict. (You need to read it to find out 😉). What surprised me is that they are simple, but not easy. He points out that even he fails to follow them. “They are challenging because they require us to make a subtle and fundamental shift in the way we relate to the world.”

And that’s the big secret To solve conflict, we must be willing to change ourselves and that’s the hardest part.

It’s a must read for any leader, if you’re open-minded enough!

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