WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

This book is essential reading for anyone who is trying to change, or who supports others to change. The book explains why change is hard, why sustaining change is even harder, and then provides some very practical strategies and scaffolding to support people to do those hard things. The authors identify three surprises about change: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. They then provide solutions to these three “problems”, focusing on the heart, the mind and the context. The book uses Jonathan Haidt’s analogy of the rider and the elephant to describe the challenges of working with both the mind and the heart when trying to sustain change. The authors’ overarching change framework is to Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path, and the book includes a couple of chapters with practical tips for each of these three steps. There are also many case studies demonstrating the tips in action. You will finish the book with a whole range of practical tools and strategies that you can use to support your coaching clients, your employees and yourself to successfully sustain change in any area of your life!
Acknowledging the ongoing debate about what is and is not an “emotion”, Brené includes in the book things that are generally accepted as “emotions”, as well as what she describes as “experiences” that are related to emotions. She provides an overview of how these show up in our bodies (biology), how our families and communities shape our beliefs about the connection between our feelings, thoughts, and behavior (biography), helps us examine our go-to behaviours and recognize the context of what we are feeling or thinking (the importance of our backstories).

The emotions and experiences are presented in categories or families of emotions and experiences that are similar or related in some way. For example, the first category “places we go when things are uncertain or too much” includes a discussion of stress, overwhelm, anxiety, worry, avoidance, excitement, fear and vulnerability.

This book will help you to notice, understand and communicate your emotions and emotional experiences in a nuanced way. In turn, this will help you better manage your emotions and their expression, and enhance your connection with others. It’s essential reading for anyone who works with people in conflict, when emotions run high and sometimes language gets lost.

Each chapter provides an accessible summary of what the author calls “the new stuff” – recent research that has potential practical application to mediation (including some of the disagreements and controversies related to that research). He also provides specific suggestions about how the research might inform our practice of mediation.

The book contains a wealth of information, but the sheer breadth of topics covered means that each topic is not covered in depth. Despite this, there are many ideas to form the basis of reflection and developing your practice.

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