Jan. 19, 2021

How to Manage Social Conflict, Communicate Effectively and Find Common Ground with Jeremy Pollack

How to Manage Social Conflict, Communicate Effectively and Find Common Ground with Jeremy Pollack

In January 2021 armed rioters stormed the US Capitol in a harrowing and politically fomented insurrection. It was an apex of years of divisive and condemnable rhetoric and fear-mongering used to stoke insecurities and desperate action. How do we ensure this never happens again? Or how do we dismantle the social structures that feed hate, fear, and contempt? What this event, and on the flip side, our celebration of Martin Luther King jr. Day (when we recorded this episode 1/18/21), reveal is that understanding what leads to social conflict and how to manage and resolve conflict is more essential than ever. Today Adam Gamwell and Astrid Countee talk with conflict management expert and author Jeremy Pollack about healing a divided nation by learning to talk with our neighbors more. We dig into:

  • Why humans need help managing conflict
  • Cognitive and perceptual biases that prevent us from communicating clearly with one another
  • How to communicate clearly around fears and intentions to find common ground
  • How to understand and disarm Worldview defense
  • That we need to start talking to our neighbors more! 
  • The importance of local leadership in modeling intergroup communication and shared goals

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder of nationwide conflict resolution consulting firm Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and author of the new book Conflict Resolution Playbook: Practical Communication Skills for Preventing, Managing, and Resolving Conflict. Jeremy is a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Conflict and Negotiation, and an expert on human conflict with an academic background in social psychology, evolutionary anthropology, negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremypollack1/

https://www.facebook.com/pollackpeacebuilding/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3K6m_0bO31lD7JUc0th_vQ/featured

https://pollackpeacebuilding.com/

 

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Transcript

Adam Gamwell: [00:00:00] All right, everybody welcome to This Anthro Life. We're really excited to have you today on a video, no podcasts, as well as webinar, audio version of this. And so we're really excited today to be joined by Jeremy Pollack. He is the founder of the nationwide conflict resolution consulting firm called Pollack Peace Building Systems.

He's also the author of an awesome new book called the Conflict Resolution Playbook, which is practical communication skills for preventing, managing and resolving conflict. And so those three pieces are super important, preventing, managing, and resolving conflict that we'll be digging into. Jeremy is also a fellow at Stanford University Center for International Conflict and Negotiation and an expert on human conflict with an academic background in social psychology, evolutionary anthropology, negotiation, conflict resolution, and peace building.

All things we love here. And today in the conversation we are joined by Astrid Countee and Liz Smyth. Astrid, how are you doing today?

Astrid Countee: [00:00:49] I'm doing great, Adam. 

Liz Smyth: [00:00:49] Great, How are you?

Adam Gamwell: [00:00:53]Doing pretty well, thanks. It's a fine Monday. Today is actually Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. So we're excited and also a great reason to have an episode on conflict management and resolution. So Jeremy, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:01:07] Hey, thanks for having me really appreciate it. Love you. Love your podcast. Listen to a bunch of episodes, so cool. Thanks. Yeah. I'm excited to be a part of it. So thank you.

Adam Gamwell: [00:01:16] Cool.  So one of the things that we'd like to do when we start the start, the podcast in the episodes is to get a bit about your own kind of superhero origin story and how you got into the work that you do, because we're obviously as anthropologists, we're excited that you have done both social psychology and evolutionary anthropology and obviously those. I think, have clear connections to conflict resolution and management and peace building. But tell us a bit about how you decided to connect all these different Lego pieces together and ultimately ended up having your own practice that helps organizations and individuals manage conflict.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:01:48] Yeah. I always start my origins from the career I'm in now with my martial arts background,I've been a lifelong martial arts practitioner and I started, so I through the study of martial arts and a variety of frameworks. I started looking at conflict resolution.

How  deescalation essentially, not just a physical de escalation, but verbal de escalation, that kind of thing. And I got interested in that and I started just really being interested as I worked with a lot of different martial artists and fighters, professional fighters, and I was really interested in this idea of competition and cooperation and the idea of aggression and the idea of what drives human beings to be aggressive? What drives human beings to form groups that are aggressive and that kind of thing. And so I joined a lab at UCLA, Dan Fessler lab in the anthropology department.

He's like a evolutionary psychologist and was there for about five years and did a bunch of studies with Dan and Colin Holbrook and co-authored a couple of papers with them. Did some really interesting stuff. And then I ended up going to grad school for evolutionary anthropology and got my master's there.

And then I was really interested through that process of that training. I was looking at a little bit more of the theory of conflict and cooperation at the group level especially because in anthropology we're looking into our evolutionary past, certainly anthropologists also look at extant groups, but I was really interested in evolution. Psychologists were looking at how the mind developed over thousands and thousands of years. And I was also how can I use this kind of knowledge to apply it in the real world?

So that's when I started getting interested in peace building and conflict resolution as a natural practice. And so I went back and got another master's in conflict resolution and peace building and just started working in terms of a practice at conflict resolution. I was already a coach for many years.

I was doing personal coaching for a long time and that kind of morphed professionally into helping some of my clients resolve conflicts with their spouses and then eventually with their business partners and that kind of thing. It turns out a lot of my, one of my coaching clients were entrepreneurs and executives and stuff like that.

So the two kind of merged together. And then I started a company where. Where we look at organizational conflict and we help companies resolve conflicts between you and between employees, between executives. We also help train them. We coach, we do coaching and a number of other initiatives that helps build peace in organizations specifically.

That's where we found our niche. But, yeah, but I've done it on a personal level as well as the organizational level. And so I'm just very passionate about this idea of what are the psychological mechanisms driving conflict and how do we start to mitigate those to drive more peace between people and between groups? That's my focus.

Adam Gamwell: [00:04:49] That's really interesting. Is there, something that I guess made, this is a dumb question, but I'm going to ask it, is that why do people need help managing conflict? 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:05:00] Yeah, that's a good question. Listen, we don't need any help getting into conflict right. Conflict is a natural tendency, but we don't have that, we don't naturally have the skills to effectively, at least most of us don’t have the skills to effectively mitigate conflict. I think a lot of it has to do with conflict resolution has to do with A. relationships and B. communication, effective communication skills. And unfortunately, those are some of the things that are to us as we grow up.

Number one, in our educational systems, we don't learn about how to effectively communicate with people and build empathy and perspective taking, we don't learn those kinds of skills. We don't learn skills like how to build healthy relationships with people. We're taught all of that by our families.

And unfortunately generation after generation of families typically don't communicate very well a lot of times. And so you're lucky if you get born into a family of really  good communicators, but it's pretty rare. So I think we just don't learn that stuff. And it's so it's and it's certainly not biologically natural for us to be able to effectively communicate.

I think probably. I don't want to be a pessimist, but I think there's some evidence to suggest that we're biologically more prone to be aggressive when conflict emerges, as opposed to being communicative and trust focused and relational focus. So it's easier to get into aggression or avoidance than it is to be what I would call peacebuilders mindset or conflict-resolution mindset.

Yeah and I think part of it too, is that we can talk a little bit, one of the, one of the things that I think is very interesting in this field and what I talk about a lot is our cognitive biases and or, what might be called mental heuristics, these shortcuts in the mind.

And a very well-researched bias, negativity bias. We are very prone to be hyper vigilant about things that are threats to us and how to respond to those threats. And typically historically responses to threats are a lot of times you're avoiding the threat or of being arrested for it.

So I think that's why it's so natural for us to go that way rather than resolve it peacefully. 

Adam Gamwell: [00:07:21] Minimally, maybe a simple example of that too, is just like that we find ourselves more drawn to watching negative news, versus John Krasinski’s good news today. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:07:29] Absolutely. Yeah. There's I know, media expert but, lots of, I'm sure there's lots of research on how negative stories, fear-based stories, threat-based stories spread faster, spread farther. And, unfortunately I think that's one of the major problems for we'll get into it, but that's one of the major problems affecting our group psychologies and our conflicts in this time is that the media both traditional news media and social media play on our psychological, on our sort of deep cognitive fears.

Some of the needs of being threatened. Some are basic psychological needs to be threatened. And the reason they do that is because they buy and sell attention as their product, they need attention. And what gets a lot of attention, the mind is compelled by things that are fear based and threat based because of a lot of, because of the evolution of our psychology.

And so they play on that and they get a lot of attention if they create a lot of fear and threats, but unfortunately we're collectively, mentally struggling against the struggle for profit. And that's probably part of the reason why this is so salient right now, why the  conflicts are so salient. You studied media a little bit, in that kind of anthropology of media.

Adam Gamwell: [00:09:00] Yeah it shows up a lot in the work that we do here. Yeah. It is interesting. Yeah. And I think, what I hear you saying too, is spot on too, in terms of that, if we're selling attention to, and that's part of this is like what captures people's attention.

And so it's not just pithy headlines, but it's usually ones that like kind of, as you said, this fight or flight response from folks. And they feel more likely to want to say Oh, okay. I need to respond to this versus like a puppy saved the kid from a well today. Like you can't do much about that besides feel good. Versus like I have to actually help the child who's in the well.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:09:33] Yeah exactly, much more compelling that way. And I printed out some different research studies, just  in preparation for this. Because I don't like to just say research and I just kinda yeah, but so I, there's a pretty good article by David Altheide

In 1997, it was more than 20 years ago. If anybody wants to look it up called "The News Media, the Problem Frame, and the Production of Fear". And, I just give the problem frame and that's what news goes off with me. You have to create a problem and that's the framework. And he found through his research and doing some I think meta analysis.

I'm just going to quote him. This is “despite clear evidence showing that Americans, they have a comparative advantage in terms of diseases, accidents, nutrition, medical care, and life expectancy. They perceive themselves to be at great risk and express specific fears about this”. And this is a result of the way that the media frames things, even though we're doing better in general, overall, compared to the history of human beings, we're extremely, still vigilant and afraid of these things because of some of the stories that are running.

No. And that's yeah. And it's unfortunate. I really think this is a major struggle and it's so compelling to our unconscious that it's hard to recognize it's happening at school. I'm just going to believe what's true. And that, and it plays on all kinds of our mental heuristics, all kinds of biases that we have that just, that just humans have. So yeah, I, that's getting more into the I of some of the conflicts, but yeah. Unfortunate. 

Adam Gamwell: [00:11:14] Yeah. But I think, it's an incredibly important point too, in that direct is the idea of cognitive bias. Cause , we tend to hear that language a little bit more these days too, which is good.

Both in terms of organizational psychology and just in terms of conflict management ideas, as well as just a little bit here and there you'll even see it on, more mainstream media too. So I think that's actually an incredibly important point in terms of that we're seeing more cognitive biases. I guess one thing I'm wondering , this is there, there's a number of different kinds of cognitive biases, right? That social psychology has helped us recognize. So part of it actually is just do you have any favorite resources that we might look at? Not, right now, but we can just  point folks to it in the show notes of.

How do we think about recognizing these in ourselves? I know obviously conflict management is part of that. So maybe we can dig into that space there, but negativity bias, I think is an incredibly important one, right? Because it almost feels instinctual, I think that is what I hear you saying too, right?

That we have this fight or flight response that is, there's a threat. I'm perceiving this as a threat. Is it something that I'm going to be imminently in danger of? And even if we're not in danger of it imminently, we might still feel right. We might still perceive it as I have to do something. I have to fight. So, I'm asking two questions in one, but so part of it is, are there any good resources where we can just get a sense of, what are these kinds of biases so we can put them on our perception, as it were. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:12:37] Yeah. Listen, Wikipedia is a great resource actually for it. If you just Wikipedia gods cognitive bias, they have a whole list of cognitive biases that are super important. I tend to focus on a particular suite of cognitive biases that I think are important in conflict and social conflict. And I'll just, a lots of different biases and, just for people that aren't real familiar with this I know, that we talk a lot about bias these days and what we, what people think about, I think  in lay terms is ingroup-outgroup bias, which is one particular type of cognitive bias.

People say bias, and they think, oh, bias group bias, social bias. But there's also bias when we're talking about cognitive bias or we're talking about these mental, called mental heuristics are mental shortcuts that are basically, and I know you all know this, but just for the audience real quick, you shortcuts that basically there's so much information in our environments and we only have a finite amounts of ability, capacity, neurologically to take in that information, perceive it and interpret it in some way.

And so the mind has to do what it can to have these sort of quick shortcuts to go, I have these three pieces of information, even though there's 20 pieces of information about this one situation. There's three pieces of information that the mind can take and interpret and it  filters it through these different types of heuristics, these shortcuts to give some sort of picture of the environment so that the individual can make decisions that are relevant to that situation.

Now, unfortunately we didn't take in all the pieces of information. So a lot of times cognitive biases lead the inaccurate perceptions of reality. So that being said, some of these biases that lead to these inaccurate perceptions of reality, I tend to focus on things like hostile attribution bias.

These are all things that you can look up. You can look up Wikipedia, you can go to Google scholar. There's a whole lot of research on hostile attribution bias, which is basically a frame through which, especially when you're, when it's targeted at either an individual or a group, everything, that person or that group it does now. I'm going to interpret it as being hostile towards me, and then fundamental attribution error is a big one. Basically attributing people's behavior to their character as opposed to the situation, but doing the flip for myself. So attributing my own behavior to the situation and not to my character, that person did that thing because they're an evil, bad person, not because of the situation in general, but I only do that thing when it's the situation.

That's fundamental attribution error, there's confirmation bias. There's availability bias. There's anchoring biases. The Dunning Kruger effect is a really interesting one: it's simplistic thinking basically, only having limited information and just creating a very simplistic view of the situation.

And I think there's one, another one that's really interesting too, outgroup homogeneity bias that basically we look at out-groups as homogenous, we look at them as non-variable where we can look at our own group as very variable. So we look at the out-group as a collective, whatever the out-group is for this particular salient moment where we say whether the group, is based on race or the group is based on the ethnicity or group is based on gender or age or whatever salient group is at that moment, we can look at the group and go those people over there are all like this see my group, we're all we're much more different.

I have these views. We're all together and they're all like that. And that's that homogeneity. And all of these biases are playing on each other and all the times to create conflicts. And then I think, and I do think that the news media maybe unknowingly even but, certainly with profits in mind, create stories that play on those biases which are underlying threats that get triggered by those biases.

And that's kinda what that's what gains our vigilance or attention. Yeah, Wikipedia. Great source really has lists of all these things. Yeah. As a starting point and then there's books on them. And there's re if you want to look at academic literature, you can look at any of those. And they've got a number of research articles where they've done actual experimental research to support the idea that these actually exist in Google scholar.

Adam Gamwell: [00:17:00] Yeah, that makes me think of, even though I've seen that I've talked to friends who have done. It's like racial sensitivity, racial bias training, where they'll do these cognitive tests, where you 'll have different pictures of people at different races and you have to click like, is this, I don't exactly know what the test is.

I haven't done it. But it's like, how quickly you click on is this person seems cool or not or like how okay. They seem and it's like, there's perceptual differences in how quickly someone will click someone of their own racial groups saying this person's okay versus not. And it's interesting because it's like one of these, one of the things that I think is so interesting about.

These kinds of biases are right. It's not that people that have them are bad because we all have these biases, right? This is, I think one of the important pieces to recognize too, is that because these are our perceptual frameworks that we're taught as children in part of our families, in the schools and the communities that we grew up in.

And so it's like when the news media might tell a story that helps trigger something. It's not that the news media is again, this evil organization. That's trying to make us all feel bad in some way. Say that, but there are certainly like using and playing on the ideas that we have these biases, and that they do trigger things that make us react to stories in certain ways. But this is also framed around the idea again, that we all have some level of these biases and different forms of them. Even though again, the in-group out-group is super important. Or was it the individual attribution bias where it's I only do this in certain situations, but other people they're like that, they just act like this. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:18:22] The fundamental attribution error

Adam Gamwell: [00:18:23] Yeah. Yeah. And , I think that's incredibly important, like to just pause and say, okay let's think about, that's a way that I might perceive others.

And to take a moment to recognize that is, ultimately if we're talking about biases, but again, it comes down to this point of it's a communication strategy, it's like recognizing the stimulus input into myself and then saying before I output something, I'm seeing what's happening inside it. It's like mindful of this too. You're meditating for a moment on what the stimulus is before you respond to something. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:18:50] Can I propose, okay. So, there's lots of just ideas about why it's, so these problems exist. And I think it's important to understand that because if we unpack that a little bit and people are more aware of why the problems exist, it's easier for them to be more self-aware and question their own assumptions and that kind of thing in certain situations. And then beyond awareness, what are some, yeah, the actions we can take towards, building more peace.

But if I could just throw this, I have this idea and I'm by no means like the end-all be-all authority on social conflict. But I have this idea just based on my experience and my knowledge and complex psychology, and I'm going to make it quite simplistic.

And this is a very complex issue, but I'm going to make it somewhat simplistic so that we can wrap our minds around it in some way. I think I'm just going to frame it like this, and I've been thinking about this a little bit over the last few days as I've been preparing for our conversation as a three layer framework for understanding what's going on.

And we can look at what's going on with the capital, I guess we can look at what's going on in general and social conflict. And I think in terms of layers, I want to start at the very fundamental and. I will point people to research in what's called basic psychological needs theory, which is a sub theory of self-determination theory, which is a very massive research program over many years that looks at some of the basic psychological needs and how people are motivated to act. 

But, a few basic psychological needs that seem to be super important. One is the need for autonomy. They need to have the fuel that one has agency and another one is the need, and this is not covered in basic psychological needs theory, but it's covered in other needs theories is this psychological safety. So this sort of sense that I'm going to be okay, the ones that I love, we're going to be okay in the future. So there's some safety psychology and then a coherent positive identity, I think is also a basic psychological need that we need to have some sense of who we are and that's it.

And we have, it has to be a kind of a positive sense and also has to be coherent so that it makes sense. So that makes sense to us on a sub cognitive level. And the mind will do this automatically to make sense of our lives relative to the environment we live in and our social environment and that kind of stuff.

But, things that challenge that positive coherent identity create a lot of threat fuse and fear and different types of emotions that motivate behavior that is typically aggressive or avoidant. So we have these three, if we have several basic needs, but these three basic psychological needs that often get triggered.

And I think in these cases, we're talking about conflict in society or our sense of autonomy. Like those people over there are threatening my ability to choose the kind of life to live autonomously. And three, my freedom is being tested. You hear this in the media It's so it's a direct threat to my autonomy.

It's also my survival, my security, my stability, the economy, all those things are direct threats to my safety. And it's also things where anything that has to do with group anything that's like this group doesn't like your group and all that sort of thing that's directly is it it feels, it seems like a direct threat unconsciously to that sense of coherent positive identity.

And so all of these different threats being pointed at us are going to, are basically these safety or threat cues or sort of safety cues and we will respond to those in different ways. And I think the cognitive architecture that has these biases, mental heuristics weaved within it are being triggered by several things by social media, news, media, by people's opinions around us, by the environments we're in.

And then they affect these perceived threats to our basic psychological needs. And then we react and that's the start of conflict. And so I think conflict has to start. The peace has to start at the internal level at this at the mental level and individuals. And then we can start bringing it out in between people.

And I think they could, go hand in hand, but I, do, like to look at it in that three layer approach needs at the very bottom level get triggered, cognitive biases on the mental level start triggering those, the threats to those needs and our environments, including media and social media and the people that we surround ourselves with all kinds of trigger those biases, which then underneath trigger the needs.  And so we just need to be, I think it's like we need to, first of all, be aware of what's going on mentally with ourselves and how do we start to challenge, mitigate maybe get away from some of the really negative cues that we're exposing ourselves to, whether it's in social media, and stuff like that.

Like I'm on a total media fast at this point. No media and I deleted all my social media, except for my LinkedIn, because I needed it for business, but I don't want to be involved with that because I just, I want to focus on what's present in front of me right here right now. I think that's, what's real and everything else is framed through narratives from other people's perspectives.

But that, that's just one approach to building peace. How do I find more peace in myself by mitigating some of these threat tools around me? 

Adam Gamwell: [00:24:24] I really liked that. Actually. I think that's great. Because I think even one of the things that you say in the book too, about this idea of identity, and I appreciate the way you framed it around the idea of a coherent sense.

Like I need to understand and trust I am who I think I am. And if cues are telling me that I'm not, or that I feel like who I think I am is constantly being threatened then rather than taking the time to reflect on who am I. What do I think I am, if I'm always getting external stimuli or I'm always feeling under threat I think it's important.

And I think like recognizing these things in ourselves, both in terms of are these needs being met? Do I feel psychologically safe? Do I feel like I have a sense of wholeness in terms of who I am and can I be right? Is somebody who is threatening kind of my being.

And so I think that's actually quite interesting and helpful to contemplate in terms of when we're seeing conflict arise and especially, so we're starting to put this in the context of both the capital riot, but also again, today's Martin Luther King day. So even one of the things that we were discussing before recording is that the capital riots as of the time of this recording were last week.

And so they're very fresh. And a lot of people, there's a lot of charged emotions. I mean for good reason. And, so there's a lot of anger and confusion and people don't necessarily know how they feel. And so I think this is a really helpful way to if we pause and contemplate these ideas about how our sense of identity feels like it's being impacted, or how our offenses of autonomy feel like it's being impacted by this or our psychological safety, but then also. And Astrid, I wanna get your take on this too, is that because it's MLK day. And we also mentioned both like the civil rights movement, as well as 9/11 as two other like large national level moments of conflict that were about how do we resolve something that was not good or in the case of a terrorist attack or just ongoing civil liberties, or just treating people poorly. Or making laws against treating people well, help us I think reflect on, what's happening today also again, similar to your point, Jeremy of it's About providing, I think a little bit of cognitive space right before we're like stimulus before we react, let's get a bit of a compass of what's happening on the inside. And I don't know. So I asked her, I wanted to get your take on this piece too, in terms of like, how might the, like the historical view, give us a little bit more to chew on in terms of making sense of today, even.

Astrid Countee: [00:26:45] Yeah. As you were talking, Jeremy, I was actually thinking about something recently that's happened. You were talking about people having the chance to reflect and to determine if they are who they think they are. And one of the questions that made me think of is do we even have a culture that supports that?

I know like recently in basketball, Kyrie Irving said that he was taking a break, a mental health break. There's been a lot of mocking about that. Oh, you need a break. Which is a little bit concerning considering the fact that I think a lot of people feel like they need a break. It's just a lot going on.

I had a conversation with one of my friends probably last weekend where we were discussing like the weirdly American responses to in the middle of our work week there being an attempted coup and people asking like, should I keep working? Is that something we do? I don't know how to do this.

But to your point, Adam, about historical points, I was also thinking about things that have happened in the past. We can talk specifically about the civil rights movement. Because there's some interesting correlations there where you have one of the leaders, Martin Luther King deliberately deciding to go through this path of nonviolent protest partly out of inspiration from Gandhi, but also doing a lot of work with the people who were going to protest beforehand to say, we need to all come together, have a really clear understanding of what we're doing, but getting that reflection in. But then when you watch the videos of what would happen just by simply marching down the street, it makes me think a lot about these different levels that you were discussing for the people who are responding to somebody being in a place where they felt like they weren't supposed to be.

Where in that frame that you talked about, do you think they're being triggered that made them respond violently? Rather than actually see this as an opportunity to communicate, like you said. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:28:58] Yeah. Yeah. You mean the people that are reacting to the March, right? Yeah. I think it goes back to that positive coherent sense of identity.

And there's lots of research on this idea of worldview defense. And when you have a particular worldview and anybody challenges it, there's all kinds of interesting psychological and behavioral responses that occur. And So I think that if you have a particular worldview and people are then going to start challenging or worldview, you're going to become really defensive.

Most people are going to become defensive. And if we don't have a wider system and a wider, whether it's a political system, a social system, et cetera, that supports new ideas and, supports change. If we don't have that. Then it's just going to continue to support the status quo and it supports negative responses to change.

So I think we need to work on ourselves and how we respond to new ideas and things that don't feel very comfortable for us. But also we need a system that supports new ideas and supports giving us space. Like you said, like with basketball players there's some new stuff happening. I'm freaked out. I need a mental health day. We need a system that supports this. What we need  to know, whether it's in our organization, our company, but also in the larger political system, we need this. There needs to be messaging out there from leadership about the fact that this is okay. What's interesting to me is there's weframe it in this way.

What I'm seeing is let's say the capitol riots for example. I'm not a civil rights scholar, so I don't really know a whole lot, enough I think to comment with informed expertise on that. But yeah, and in terms of just what's happening right now, I think on an individual level. I think people, cause I'm in a lucky spot. I have a lot of coaching clients in part like a lot of my clients are on one side and it was left with democratic side and other side, Republican side. And so I can see both sides. I can hear both perspectives and I hear both of what they're afraid of and it's very interesting because they actually, if they got together, they would find that they have very similar values, but the ways they're going about achieving someone's values is different and they're afraid of different things.

And so on, sort of if we're going to, we're just going to blanket it in and say left and right. For purposes of this conversation, if on the left side, what I hear is the fear of sort of this of the fascist state or of wanting to harm large parts of individuals, control people, have total affording all that. That's the fear on the way, and I think on the other side on the, on the. right side. What I hear from their rhetoric is we're afraid of the socialist, the communist rule. We're afraid of them taking away our rights and changing the constitution and all that kind of thing.

And I think that if you, one important  thing here, if we want to start building more peace is to start to talk to, and get to know individuals and not rely on what we hear from social media or media, et cetera, about groups of people, because people are very different. Even if we group them into one big group, if we group 70 million people into one group and 70 million people in another group, we're going to have a lot of bias going into understanding what those groups are about.

We need to get to know individuals and I bet you that if you went to most individuals who voted differently than you and you asked them directly. About would you, if you said, would you support XYZ? This thing that you're afraid of? They would probably say no. If you went to, if you went to some, there's a lot of rhetoric about all people on all the people on the right must be either supporting or just okay with white supremacy. And if you went to most people that voted Republican and you said to them, if the government ever did anything to round up people based on their race or their religion or anything like that. And they started a new regime where they wanted to put people into camps.

Would you go along with that or would you support? And I think most people would say, of course not, I would stand alongside you and fight against the government. If anything like that happens. I want nothing to do with that kind of thing. Any you, could ask them that and they would say, and then you, and then the other side, if they would ask them if the right side would ask someone on the left though, do you want a communist party to rule our lands? Do you want socialism, is that what you want? Most people would say, of course not. No. We want to find out that's not what Joe Biden's about. It's not what they would say. And we're not asking each other, we're not asking individuals. What do you actually want?

What do you actually believe? We're just relying on the sort of aggregate information from the news about these groups of people. And that's where I think that's where I think we get into a lot of trouble. We need to start talking to individuals. 

Astrid Countee: [00:34:04] Do you think, because we do have so much access to information that we have gotten even worse at communicating because we are no longer forced to have conversations if we don't want to.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:34:16] I would think so. I would think so. Someone asked me the other day also, they said, cause there's a lot of controversy right now with what's it called? There's a social media platform. That just got kicked off an Apple, Parler right. Yeah. So, there's a lot of people that, like people aren't really looking at their, there's this double standard they're taking Parler off, but Twitter's fine and all this stuff.

And there's all kinds of debate about that. And, someone said to me, don't you think that there needs to be a place where both sides can have discourse, both sides can have free rein in terms of not organizing for violence. I think that's, I think most people would agree. That's not what these things should be doing and it's not, and that's not okay.

However, shouldn't people just be able to voice full-size why cancel one perspective and let the other perspective either. And I was thinking about this and I was just going back to intergroup contact theory and intergroup contact theory is this massive research field. And I looked at some meta analysis of like hundreds of thousands of people about what kinds of contact between different groups of people actually result in positive outcomes versus negative outcomes.

And I think about my initial reaction, and of course there's no research on this. My initial reaction is having people on the same platform that has such different beliefs and in terms of the way they're currently communicating, I don't think it's helpful at all. I think in fact, if they had completely separate platforms and they just, and people were like we don't want to be in an echo chamber, but if you're on a platform where you feel supported in your community with your beliefs and there's another platform with other people with other beliefs feel support in their community in terms of, so in terms of these sort of technological platforms, I think that might actually lower the threat if you're in a platform together with other people and you're just going at each other, you're never going to convince anybody of anything.

You're not going to prove anything about your side or whatever, to the other people. All you're going to do is increase negative and vigilance towards the other side, I think. And there's other ways real contact in the real world with people in a structured way, in a positive way can really have a great impact on relationships with groups, but negative contact between people where you're just going at each other.

And there's no face behind it. It's just like a, it's just the digital text. And that's just, that's negative contact and there's lots of studies to show the negative contact actually makes things worse than if there was no contact at all. So I think in terms of communicating, it has made it worse because of the way we're communicating. But if we got together, we had some structured programs. We could have different people from different backgrounds and experiences and stuff come together in a very structured way with shared goals. Making salient shared values, our shared identities because we all have these cross-sectional intersectional identities.

We have multiple social groups that were part of. If we can make that salient and have some shared goals and shared values made salient and work together towards goals that help each other interdependent goals that's been proven to show real progress in terms of building peaceful relationships between groups.

Astrid Countee: [00:37:34] It sounds in the concept of the framework that you had discussed earlier, that you're saying we really need to get people's own identity more solid before we start introducing them to an opposing view so that they can actually work together instead of feel threatened at the outset and then therefore just completely shut down.

But it also sounds like some of the conversations that are happening now around diversity and equity and inclusion, especially like in the workplace, because there's been a lot of awareness of we need more diversity. We need to make sure that there's ways that people who are maybe underrepresented feel included, but now we're moving to this part of the conversation where it's like, how do we do that effectively?

But when we say we want someone to have a seat at the table, whose table. And is that she'll be going back and forth with tables. What does it mean to actually take people who are different and have them work together? Which in a lot of ways, I think is the real story of America because. As a nation where there's still an indigenous population, but they're not in a majority rule circumstance.

Everybody else is somebody who came from somewhere else and has made this their home. So everyone has very different backgrounds and very different lived experiences, but we're trying to find ways to move forward. And it seems like we are really struggling with how do we actually do that together?

This is one of the things we talked about a little bit before as well.  Does it require actual conflict resolution? Do we need to have shared goals that we achieve or do we just need to manage our differences? Do we need to just agree to disagree and have a safe zone where we all say this is a place that we don't cross the line.

What does it really take? Because. I think a lot of people are feeling this kind of stress in different ways. Like even when you're talking about family members who might have different ideologies than you do, or you're talking about in the business world, how do you address all these different types of issues and keep your team cohesive?

It's just really challenging to understand. What's the right way to approach it? So what would you suggest? I know that's huge.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:39:48] It’s a complex issue. Yeah. So I can frame it through some of the work that I do, but also there's some of the research that's out there.

I think it would be a two-pronged approach to make it very simple. It would be very complex, but I think number one, we need to mitigate the fear. And I think part of that mitigating the fear is we need to directly address the things we're afraid of. And find out for real not, through media narratives, but find out from people, are their intentions actually aligned with the things we're afraid of or have we just heard that story?

And now we're afraid of I, and like I said, I think if you talk to individuals and you ask them directly, but things would, you want to put me, I'm Jewish and there's, people out there that are saying certain people on the right are aligned with sort of neo-Nazis. And I'm like, if I went to someone on the right and said, do you want to put me in an internment camp I'm Jewish? So are you crazy? Of course not. Like, no, if I asked enough people that directly that feels like, okay, I'm going to mitigate that fear. That's actually not true. And those kinds of stories that I'm hearing through the media that kind of play on that. There that's, their particular narrative because they want to get attention wherever, but it's actually not true.

I'm not actually being threatened by people on the right, because I'm Jewish or something. So I think number one is mitigating the fear. Let's directly address the things we're afraid of and seeing for real, asking actual people are those, their intentions. If we commit it, that's great to mitigate that.

Then we start working on how we have more positive relationships with each other. And I think it's really that starts with leadership. You need to have, especially our local community leaders, who we trust, who are in our quote unquote groups, who then can take an initiative to go to the leaders of other groups.

And those leaders come together and they exemplify the model for us. What is it like to have a great relationship with this other group? And then they can put together programs for their constituents, whatever group that is, whether it's a religious group or a local social group, a local political group.

And they can get put together like initiatives, but we get together and we actually get to know people in the other quote unquote group and there's a lot of there's a lot that says that having shared goals does enhance positive outcomes from inter-group contact. It's not necessary, but it does enhance it.

So I love the idea of just reflecting back on the early seminal work on intergroup contact theory and why it works then. And there was this experiment called the robbers cave experiment. I would notify Sherif , and Sherif back in the 1950s. And they did these experiments there, they basically created groups of campers at a boys camp and they tried, first of all they created these groups when they figured out all kinds of things would happen with the groups based on aggressive aggression towards each other. And then they tried to start implementing interventions to see if they can get the groups to start getting along better.

And the thing they found that really worked was getting them to come together and work interdependent goals. And that was the start of this really long field where hundreds and hundreds of studies now called intergroup contact theory. But, working on this idea of shared goals. So the only way that we're going to be able to get that local building back up and running is if we all work together, So let's all come together, let's follow our leadership to see that it's great to work together.

And it's interesting to get to know each other, even though we don't know each other, we haven't worked with each other before, but we have to rely on each other to get this goal done. And we're not gonna talk about politics. We're not going to debate. We're not gonna talk about all of that. We're just going to get to know each other as individuals and work together to get this golden and that kind of stuff. Those kinds of initiatives, I think, have to start at the grassroots level or at the local level. And it has to be led by local leaders. So that, yeah, I think so. I think mitigating the threat and having programs that help integrate contact and positive contact, positive relations, both are really important pieces to that.

Adam Gamwell: [00:43:53] Yeah, that really resonates with me too. And it makes me think of an example of the author Rutger Bregman wrote a book called Humankind that was trying to give a more positive history of humankind as it were. And then being the operative word there. Like the cliff notes version of the book is that the Lord of Flies is a lie and that we don't just degenerate into this bloodthirsty group of people if we're stuck on an island by ourselves but actually our instinct is for intergroup communication and to figure it out together and to survive. And so I think that part of it too is like even Astrid's point before about do we have a cultural problem? The answer is, yeah, like it's, this idea that we have to actually in, into your point, Jeremy, that leadership is I think helping model this.

This is, it's about shifting the culture, right? In terms of having more models of positive intergroup interaction is important. And to honestly help us break down these narratives, that it will become Lord of the Flies if we just let people go at it. And that's not what we want to do. Even the idea of wanting to protect yourself is because you want to be okay, you want to have autonomy. You want to have a sense of who I am, it's about protecting these, this the sense of being in being well and being well with others and, I think that it's, also too, just like helping to bring that forward. Like this is actually some of our fundamental base code. That we're programmed to like is to cooperate. Yeah. And I think that's also incredibly important to help bring out. And so I share, with the idea too, that it is, we have to somehow find a way to have leaders model, local leaders particularly, because again, I think you're totally right when you get to the national level it's important, but also increasingly difficult, the bigger the scale gets. Cause it's abstracted, it's very hard to be like if we can get the Democrats and Republicans to solve the same interdependent issue. It's Whoa. But if it's me and my neighbors helping fix my other neighbor's house, that's a very different and solvable problem. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:45:46] Yeah it has a real world effect on me today right now. And also, unfortunately with our political leaders especially, at the larger scale, they use the fear, they use that sort of those threats, those basic needs in order to get elected, they go, if you elect that person here's what's going to happen to you.

I'm your savior elect me. And so that, that kind of rhetoric, unfortunately, I think that does need to change. Yeah it's I it's so complicated and you're right, it does abstract out to infinity. I think it's ungraspable once you start looking at large groups and I think that's why it's important to do things at the individual and at the local community level to start looking at how we can have better relationships with each other. It's if you think about you, touched on this idea of cooperation as being a natural inclination. I think you're a hundred percent, cooperation is just as if not more salient and in effect for us at all times as is conflict.

If you think about the number of interactions you have every day with other human beings, most of them are probably cooperative. If they're not, you've got a major problem, but most of them, even with strangers, even walking up, this is unique for the animal kingdom, a human being walking right next to another human, a stranger and being able to be just peaceful with that person, just ignore them right. Different than most animals would be so we can walk by and that's still a form of cooperation. We both cooperatively agreed to basically ignore each other, but that's okay. We're not being violent or aggressive to each other.

We're just cooperating, just ok, or we nod or we smile. How many interactions you have every day that are cooperative that are actually peaceful. And unfortunately, when we start focusing on all the one out of a hundred interactions, which are conflicting or we just look at the media and it feels to us like everything's in conflict, we're all in conflict.

We all hate each other all the time. It's not true. You have in your normal life, just in the world that you're walking on the ground. And like you're having cooperative interactions with all kinds of people from groups you have no idea what kind of brings you there a lot of times. So I think that you're right.

We need to focus on the fact that we are very cooperative. We're very proud of the species, ultra social, more than any other species and it's a matter of, and it's attributed to how complex our mental architecture is. And unfortunately, some of the byproducts of that architecture also lead to these biases, which lead to conflict.  

Astrid Countee: [00:48:26] I believe that we can be cooperative on social media. Because a lot of the social media rhetoric is around national stuff but I am also a part of Nextdoor in my community. And usually our community conversations are fine until somebody goes off the rails because of some sort of like political statement and then everybody gets upset and starts yelling and screaming. There's a lot of things like during the time where this summer we were having a lot of protests and there was a lot of discussion around, should we defund our police department and things like that in my neighborhood on nextdoor our sheriff would post all the time about this is what's going on with COVID-19, here's what's going on with arrests, the vast majority were thank you so much. Thank you for letting us know. We really feel appreciated that you and your team works so hard for us. There was not this conflict, I don't know what to do with the police, unless somebody made some statement and then just went off the rails. But I think that level of just your community is something we don't engage in that much. It's maybe our small groups, like our family or friends, and then it's national politics. It's not very often the people who I live around or the people who I kind of am involved somehow like the people who maybe your kids go to the same school or the people who maybe you even associate with at work. A lot of people don't like people they work with. So that level, which I think is from an evolutionary perspective, the most important level that we've operated in cooperatively is a level that we tend to ignore. It's pushed to the side as opposed to this really big nation state level where it's really hard. To be able to have effective conversations about complex things. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:50:11] Yeah. And you're right. Social media has made it harder to be communicative with local people because we're so distracted and our attention is so focused on what's going on in the greater world. And let's be honest, none of us know, like actually know all the details about what's going on in the greater world, unless we're actually there experiencing it on the ground ourselves because everything else is framed through lenses.

And maybe it's really accurate, but it's pretty hard to be as accurate as we want to be. So I think absolutely we focus on the community level. What's going on in your backyard, what's going on in your community, your neighbors. How do you get to know your neighbors? You've got a particular flag out front of your house and the other person's got a flag that's contradicting.

What, how do they might be uncomfortable, but how do you get to know your neighbor and just get to see what they really think? What do they really believe? Are they really a threat to me? Is it what the news tells me real? and I think a lot of times we'll find that it's not.

Adam Gamwell: [00:51:15] And especially when you just talked to your neighbor, it's I'm not a threat to you and you're not really a threat to me. Like we're neighbors. I don't like your flag, but you're not going to like pee on my lawn or have your dog or not pick it up. Hopefully 

Astrid Countee: [00:51:28] Those are very important topics on nextdoor, by the way.

Adam Gamwell: [00:51:33] I'm right next door here. Same. You got to gotta watch out like who's dog was that? But that matters locally, right? That's okay, we're trying to have neighborhood justice. I don't want a dog for my yard.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:51:45] It's you can be so much more effective at the local level and it's not as easy to hide as on the local level people know you.

Adam Gamwell: [00:51:54] Yeah, I think that's actually, that's a very important point too, from social media is just that there's yeah. There's not the anonymity at the local level, which people tend to like self for lack of a better word police, they self moderate when people know who they are and if they don't, then they get called out for their BS because your neighbor is like, you’re not like that or you stop doing that, put that down and and that actually is super important. It  gets lost in a bigger social media conversation or it can so I think you're a hundred percent it's like bringing that out. So even actually you've got me thinking after that, like if things like next door, actually, maybe it's like finding ways to promote these like local based social media networks over some abstract Facebook or Parlor or even Twitter, as much as those are interesting places to see fires get shot at each other, but When it's local, it's different, right? When it's Oh, that's my neighbor posting. Or that's the person over there. I don't know them, but I know where they live. It makes a difference 

Astrid Countee: [00:52:49] We've been talking about the civil rights movement a little bit and it didn't start with a March on Washington. It started with a lot of local things. And it was about trying to get people in that community to take a different path. And that just started to happen and get replicated around a lot of different communities, which created what felt like a national movement, it didn't start as a national movement.

Adam Gamwell: [00:53:12] That's a great point.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:53:13] It has to start at the local and then it grows. Yeah, 

Adam Gamwell: [00:53:17] I love it. I don’t know about y'all but I feel pretty inspired right now. I want to go talk to my neighbors. It works Jeremy, it works.

Jeremy Pollack: [00:53:23] Yeah like I said, I feel lucky because I get to talk very intimately with people on both sides.

So because they're my clients, so I get so I hear their fears, their anxieties, or concerns, or their values and all that stuff. And. I talked to when I talked to them,  I realized that they are not in the position I am. They don't have friends that they directly talk with that tells them their deepest fears and values on the other side.

On the other side, they only have their own friends. So I would highly recommend if you can, to talk to people on the other side and when you do talk to them, do not go into the conversation with the idea that you're going to convince them of something. Rather go into the conversation, purely curious. Just to learn something, learn.

What are your beliefs? What are your values? Where did you come from? How did you get those? Do you actually have intentions that are threatening to me? And I bet you that you'll find out a lot of information that will relinquish some of your fear. If you're afraid.

Adam Gamwell: [00:54:24] Just to tag into your book too. I think that's something that I appreciated looking through some of the different techniques about how do we manage conflict, is this idea of articulating the fears that you have in say, are your intentions, the thing that I'm afraid of.

And oftentimes it's not the case. And  that's that's such an important piece that I think it's, a way of asking questions that I hadn't really thought about before looking at your book. And so I think that's an important point I want to bookmark for myself and for others, if that interests you too, is that recognizing when you're afraid of something that's abstract ? Do you want the government to throw me in a camp? Do you want it to get rid of people like me? But at the end of the day, it's is your intention to do that? And most of the time people will say hello, like no way would I ever do that. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:55:07] In fact, they will. In fact, they're likely to say that if that ever happened, I was standing beside you with a gun in my hand and fight the government.

I would never let that happen to you. That's not, so not only, do I want it, I would fight against it. And I've heard that when I've asked that question to people. And I've given that answer too. So I, yeah, I think we're, I think on, abasic level, many of our values are aligned.

We all have a shared identity. At least we talk about this country. We all have a shared identity of being an  American and I think that's important to remember, we have a superordinate identity, Hey, we're all in this thing together. We're working together. And then on a global level, all human beings, we're in this thing together called humanity, and so to focus on some of our shared identities, And recognize we have a lot of similar values, we really do we just have different ideas of how to achieve some of our needs based on the media and the environment that we are subject. 

Adam Gamwell: [00:56:03] That's a great point. And I think that's a nice This Anthro Life ending point too, right? Like we actually have more than we share that in a difference. Jeremy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing enlightening conversation. It's been a joy to talk with you and learn some of these tactics. So what I want to highlight your book and say, folks check out the Conflict Resolution Playbook.

There's a lot of really great short stories and short little techniques and things like this. This is the kind of stuff we're talking about. How do you ask somebody about the intentions behind the fears that you have? That has been super helpful for me to think. And tell us where folks can find your book that can find work about you and your firm, tell us a little bit about that. Where can people find you?

Jeremy Pollack: [00:56:39] Oh, sure. Thank you. Yeah we, you can find us online at Pollack peacebuilding.com. That's my consulting firm. We really focused on organizations and companies. But we do have people that we refer to individuals too.

And then if you want to go to Amazon, you can find my book there. It's called the Conflict Resolution Playbook. Just a search for that and then they'll pop up for you. Yeah. I appreciate being here. This is a really super interesting conversation we could go on and on about this for sure.

Adam Gamwell: [00:57:10] Exactly. Yeah. We’ll have a part two.There'll be more conflicts than we probably should meet again 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:57:16] Yeah, Plenty to go around. 

Adam Gamwell: [00:57:19] Exactly. Cool.  Many thanks. And we will see everybody next time. 

Jeremy Pollack: [00:57:24] Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thanks everyone. 

 

Jeremy Pollack

founder, author

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder of nationwide conflict resolution consulting firm Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and author of the new book Conflict Resolution Playbook: Practical Communication Skills for Preventing, Managing, and Resolving Conflict. Jeremy is a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Conflict and Negotiation, and an expert on human conflict with an academic background in social psychology, evolutionary anthropology, negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.