Conflict Resolution|Negotiation|Teaching

"Bedlam in the Boardroom and Boredom in the Bedroom": A New Book by Jane Gunn

Jane Gunn’s new book is the first ADR volume I have read whose introduction begins “This is not a sex manual!”

Well, neither is it a self-help book, nor a reminder of the virtues of candid conversation, nor a refresher on the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus.  Yet all that and more can be found in How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom and Boredom in the Bedroom (HotHive Books 2010).

How to beat bedlam in the boardroom

This is not a book intended for mediators seeking to improve their skills, or for business clients seeking to manage their litigation portfolios.  It is for human beings who wish to improve the way they live with other human beings.  And it accomplishes its goal by contrasting business and personal conflicts and showing (guess what?) that they push the same buttons, walk into the same frailties, compromise our effectiveness and happiness in the same ways, and can be managed better with the same tools.

So many of the precautions in the book are familiar: watching for the warning signs of conflict in a professional or personal relationship; seeking information on why the other person is upset; generating alternative scenarios to what you thought was going on; confronting people or competitors with values different from your own.

Yet Jane Gunn’s voice is of encouragement rather than pedantry; of empathy rather than instruction.  She gently warns us against making assumptions about people’s motives, and entertainingly explains why.  She reminds us that ego and self-regard are dominant psychological traits in us all, and that when someone gets angry or rejects us we feel hurt and angry in return.  She reframes the entire “win-lose” dichotomy by opening up the rich possibilities of living in a way that places no special value on vindication or attaining specific goals.

One particularly useful chapter is “The Art of True Conversation,” in which she reminds us of the core of interactivity:  What messages are and are not; what we might listen for when someone speaks to us; why we reflect back what we’ve heard and how we can do a better job of it; the importance of assuring the other speaker that you understand what they are saying and perceive and respect why they are saying it; the skill of adding one’s own interpretation of what has been heard, in order to further the communicative journey and encourage the other person to trust; the “gift” of assuring someone that they have been heard.

Jane Gunn’s book is a guide for living as well as for working.  It is beneficial for all of us to pick it up now and then and leaf through its pages for cogent, gently offered reminders of how we can all do better in dealing kindly and attentively with others.

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1 Comment
  1. Peter, more than being an excellent book, at a price tag of € 15 and sold in airport bookstores (as opposed to costing 10 times as much and being aimed only at a professional audience), it is the sort of thing the mediation profession needs to be doing more of: popularizing the practice by disseminating its practical lessons to a broad audience of the general public. Think of it, if a non-lawyer traveler happens to pick up Jane’s book and read it on a flight from New York to LA, or Paris to Dubai, won’t they be the ones who feel familiar with the idea of mediation and may push for it, instead of their lawyers, if they ever find themselves in a dispute?

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