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My Interview for upcoming FED talk

On August 28th, conflict resolution and negotiation specialist Roi Ben-Yehuda will be the featured presenter at FED: dinner parties where you are fed by gourmet food, inspirational ideas, and the company and creative energy of your matched dinner companions. The following is an interview conducted between Deborah Fishman (FED founder) and Roi Ben-Yehuda.

To read more, click here.


10 Ways conflict is LIke Sex

Over at Elephant Journal, I debut my first listicle on the 10 ways that conflict and sex are alike.


Conflict is a part of life. The question is not, “Will I experience conflict?” but rather, “How will I manage conflict?”

This semester I decided to end my class on an equally dramatic note. Fleshing out an analogy and some examples from the great social psychologist Morton Deutsch, I told my students that one insight I want them to take away from the class is this: conflict is like sex. After lots of giggles, we explored some of the ways that conflict and sex are alike. Here are the results:

1. Conflict is relational.

While both sex and conflict can be experienced alone—Woody Allen once quipped, “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.”—they don’t properly happen unless (at least) two interdependent parties are involved.

2. Multiple Parties Complicate It.

As more parties join a conflict it becomes messier: you have to account for more perspectives, needs and interests.

3. Healthy relationships require it.

Research on relationship resiliency shows that healthy couples are not without conflict, but rather know how to manage it.

4. It’s in your head.

While both sex and conflict have an objective quality to them, a good deal of both activities resides in our heads. The stories we tell transform—for good or ill—the relationships we embody.

5. It often produces anxiety.

Anxiety in conflict often leads to avoidance or an extreme tendency to seek out conflict to prove one’s worth. Anxiety in conflict can also lead to premature resolution (a tendency to solve conflicts too early) or resolution dysfunction (an inability to solve conflicts at all).

6. There’s an overemphasis on positions.

In conflict, we tend to get stuck with our default positions. One of the key lessons in both negotiation and conflict resolution is to go deeper and explore the reasoning behind a person’s position. Looking at people’s interests and needs allows us to come up with multiple options for a given problem.

7. Reading about it is not the same as doing it.

No matter how many books and articles you analyzed or how many in-class simulations you experience, your efforts will be for naught if you do not put your knowledge into practice.

8. Religion complicates it.

Anytime someone declares, “But God says…” in the bedroom, boardroom or war room, you can be certain it’s bad news. Sacred identities and dogmas make compromise extremely difficult. More so if the parties feel threatened.

9. It requires a balanced concern for self and other.

When we approach conflict (and sex) only with concern for ourselves, we make terrible partners. At best, we’ll reach our goals in the short term. But no one will want a long-term relationship with us. On the other hand, if we only have concern for the other, we fail to get our own needs met. Thus, in order to meet our needs and maintain a good relationship, a balance between self and other is required.

10. The best practitioners are flexible in their style.

In conflict, people often develop chronic orientations—approaches to conflict that resist change over time. Some people habitually collaborate, compromise, compete, yield or withdraw. The best practitioners, though, fit the situation and the person they are engaged with.

Conflict and sex are, of course, as interesting in their differences. For example, being even-tempered is not a virtue in sex, while emotional regulation is essential for conflict resolution. Power asymmetries can make resolving some conflicts seemingly impossible, whereas getting dominated by a more powerful and aggressive party can be a turn-on. Conflict is more pervasive within families as without, whereas sex (hopefully) goes in the opposite direction.

And finally, bad sex can lead to bad conflict, whereas passionate conflict can lead to passionate sex.

Book Review: Conflict Meets Power in the Workplace

One of the most consequential blind spots in popular management literature on conflict resolution is the failure to adequately address situations of unequal power. Yet research has demonstrated that power differentials significantly impact the way in which disputants handle conflict. In their book “Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement,” Columbia Professor Peter T. Coleman and Psychologist Robert Ferguson seek to address this gap through a theoretically rich, yet surprisingly practical, contribution to the field. Continue reading

Contain Multitudes

Integrity without empathy leads to (Dog)matism. Empathy without integrity leads to chameleonism. Don’t be a dog. Don’t be a chameleon. Be human. Stay human. #ContainMultitudes.

Online Occupation

Is social media the space where complexity about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes to die? My latest on the ways in which we can maintain complexity in our beleaguered and polarized online universe (with a little help from Whitman, Russell, Orwell and Franklin).

It’s a paradox of sorts that over time, as protracted conflicts become objectively more complex – as more actors and issues become involved – they are experienced in an ever-simplified manner. Identities are polarized between righteous victims (us) and evil perpetrators (them). Conflict narratives become less tolerant of nuance and contradiction. And social networks increasingly become ideologically homogenous.

Compounding the situation, in the past few years, most of the major social media websites have begun using filtering engines that personalize the data we’re exposed to. In effect, they create a tailor-made virtual reality. This process is exacerbated by a pycho-social process whereby many social media users self-select an ideologically homogenous community of friends — a process in social network theory known as homophily.

Both processes mean that people are less likely to be exposed to alternative narratives and views and are more likely to think that their reinforced perspectives, and friends, accurately represent the whole of reality. Such social networking trends reinforce conflict narratives, producing simplistic, rigid and polarizing stories.

This collapse of complexity is bad news as a wide-body of research suggests that increasing levels of complexity is essential for alleviating intergroup division and violence.

So what can we do about it?

To read more, click here.


Debating Israel At Columbia

Went to see a lively debate at Columbia University on Israel featuring Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens, Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, along with author and political commentator, Peter Beinart. The motion under consideration was: “Are Israel’s Policies Justified in Light of the Security Issues it Faces?”

Beinart and Iblish argued that the policy of subsidizing and supporting the settlement enterprise is incongruent with Israel’s security concerns and detrimental to its future. Stephens and Boteach, on the other hand, argued (ignoring the motion) that the core of the problem is not the settlements but rather the culture of hatred and violence endemic to Palestinian society and supported by its leadership.

Beinart and Iblish responded by situating the problem of Palestinian cultural violence within the oppressive structure of the occupation (which Rabbi Boteach dismissed with air quotes). Stephens and Boteach remained focused on issues of values and culture, with Stephens arguing that as long as a future Palestinian state resemblances Iran more than Canada, the Palestinian people have forfeited the right to self-determination.

Unusual moment of the night: Philip Weiss brought the debate to an uncomfortable halt when he refused to abide by the no filming rule. This seemed to have irked Boteach who had his own camera crew in the audience. I’m sure we will read about this soon enough.

*Update: Here is Weiss’ post on the event


God Hates Flags

Video 1: An incredible video providing a glance – rich with symbolism – into the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the occupation. A religious Jewish settler in Hebron (of Russian origin) attempts to scale the home of a Palestinian in an effort to take down a Palestinian flag anchored on the roof. Problem is that the settler gets caught in the barbed wire. The Palestinian confronts the intruder (at one point even trying to help him) and a debate ensues about who has rights over the land. Th Settler at first claims that he just came to talk (apparently confusing the roof for the front door) and then argues that the house actually belongs to him (the settler) because all the land belongs to him (i.e. belongs to the Jews). The Israeli solider that arrives on the scene demands that the Palestinian return to his home. The solider seems to be blaming the Palestinian for the provocation of the flag but (at least initially) has no words for the inept (Purim drunk?) criminal.

Video 2: The flag incident continues. Israeli Soldiers arrive to remove the Palestinian flag. The soldiers give the impression that they recognize the unjust action by externalizing responsibility (“I have orders”). They also say (in Hebrew) to their superiors that there is no point in using force with all these cameras around. One can read that cynically, but I see that as their way of convincing their superior to change course of action and manage this conflict by other means (i.e. through the courts, as first suggested by the Palestinians). It’s interesting that the Palestinians are willing to recognize the Israeli courts as the final authority on this subject (not sure why they would). Perhaps it’s just a way to get the soldiers to leave their homes – for the time being – without humiliating them in front of their children. Or maybe they actually trust the high court in Israel to rule in their favor.