WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: High Conflict by Amanda Ripley

I read this book like a novel, unable to put it down! The book explores a number of case studies of high conflict, and analyses the conditions that led to the conflict and how the people involved managed to escape from the high conflict trap.

One of the case studies involved the “father of mediation” Gary Friedman, following his foray into local politics and the high conflict that resulted. The author interviews Gary, his family and neighbours as the conflict progresses, and it’s a very personal and vulnerable story. I have enormous respect for Gary for sharing his story, because at times he doesn’t come across in the best light. As the author says, his story is both reassuring and alarming: “…if even the godfather of mediation can’t help getting pulled into conflict traps, then we can all be forgiven for some of our pettiest moments. On the other hand… if Gary could not resist the traps, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

Other case studies involve an English environmentalist and author, a former gang leader in Chicago, a former guerrilla fighter in Columbia, a New York Jewish community and a group of corrections officers from Michigan. Each story is a captivating account of high conflict and how the main players managed (at least for a time) to step out of it in a positive way.

Ripley uses these stories to identify the typical conditions of high conflict (including group identities, conflict entrepreneurs, humiliation and corruption). She also suggests strategies to prevent high conflict: investigate the understory; reduce the binary; marginalize the fire starters; complicate the narrative. The stories also help us identify some of the strategies that seem to be useful to support people to escape it (identifying and seizing saturation points, buying time, avoiding the “fire starters”, complicating the narrative, finding a new purpose / identity).

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. As well as being incredibly informative, it is a riveting read with some terrific stories told by a master storyteller.

Leave a Comment