My reading notes from ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication (Miller, Rory)

  • You cannot solve a problem you are ignorant about.
  • There might not be a reasonable solution to a conflict.
  • If we don't talk about conflict, ignorance and misinformation spread.
  • Your conscious thoughts are not you, it is your rational mind playing catchup.
  • How you control or fail to control your desires is a big piece of who you are.
  • When Being in a group it is just as important to know your position within that group. Not knowing can be stressful.
  • Not everyone shares your dreams, or enjoys the same things. The pattern of Maslow's pyramid is universal but it's expression in each individual is different.
  • Violence was necessary during the history of humanity. To escape violence, we used violence. It was always easier to plunder Rome than to build Rome. Skill at conflict and violence were survival traits.
  • We are mostly exposed to conflicts from the social levels of Maslow's pyramid (Belonging, Being esteemed). Mostly, from people trying to work their way up a group or people competing for position within a group.
  • Violence and conflict can be triggered from any level of the hierarchy of needs. It does not follow that if someone reaches self-actualisation that they will be good. "Becoming Whatever you desire" might be causing pain to others.

The Three Brains#

There are three brains: The Monkey (emotional brain) the Lizard (instinctual, ancient) and the Human brain (neocortex, rational). Each of them works with different "scripts" in relation to conflict.

  • Lizard Brain's only concern is survival. Ruthless and conservative. An elite athlete “in the zone” (in the flow) is functioning almost wholly in the Lizard brain. It can be shocking what one is willing to do to survive. It usually is not compatible with self-image or even with internalised concepts of right and wrong.
  • Monkey Brain is concerned with social survival and status. It cannot distinguish between humiliation and death. Fear of what people might think. Related with behaviours around Conflict and trauma. Deals with emotions. Except for the emotions of extinction and curiosity (a very neocortex-y feel). Community maker. Dangerously, feels rational even when it is not.
  • Monkey strategies (enduring bad relationships, labelling, fear of humiliation) work, just not for you. For the group.
  • We spend much time making reasons for what we have already decided.

Types Of Conflict#

  • Humans have ritualised patterns of social conflict. Social conflict stems from the need to maintain a social group, establishing hierarchy, enforcing beliefs. War is extreme social violence fought for the good of the group. Othering is the ability to convince ourselves that another is different from us.
  • Your natural responses to conflict are Subconscious, Scripted and for the Good of the Group (not yours). To our monkey brain, a couple's repeated (scripted) argument, is not pain, it is a sign of stability.
  • Scripted behaviours are everywhere. In fights, in abusive behaviours, in your superior reaching out after being out of line to reconcile. Falling in love.
  • Change is hard, in terms of both the lizard and the monkey brains.
  • Scripts benefit the group by ensuring stability, establishing hierarchies and roles, tribes. We know deep inside that integrated coherent groups survive better. Scripts also maintain rules. Tactical teams and families are successful because to a point all members believe and agree on the values of the rules.
  • Scripts establish what is normal. They also limit change.

Using The Human Brain Checklist#

  • We are incapable of making rational decisions if we care, if our emotions get triggered.
  • De-escalate yourself first. Before being able to engage in rational thought, you have to break out of your monkey script.
  • Recognise when you are on a script.
    • Scripts trigger fast, so a way to delay is Active listening and pausing.
    • You are feeling emotion.
    • You start to like or dislike the other.
    • Instead of solving the problem you want to prove you are right (pure dominance struggle).
    • How trumps what. Defending past practice instead of adopting better options. Tradition/habit. Managers marking territory by changing rules. Distracting trivia.
    • Labelling. Our way of othering people.
    • Excuses/Justifications
  • See if it is helping.
  • Decide if you stay on script, use a different script or ditch scripting altogether. You are going for a Human win: You have a job to do and problems to solve , and The conflict scripts are interfering with that goal. Focus on the problem and acknowledge the Monkey trap. Scripts are predictable.
  • Check for effect. Like everything in life, periodically pause and reflect.

Staying at the human level#

  • Use "we" instead of you. Prevents othering and encourages cooperation.
  • It takes history to hate a person. “Don’t take it personally” means this: if there is no history, if you do not know the person or if you do but there has been no history of harm or betrayal, it is not personal.
  • The other way as well. If you dislike someone. If there is no history with the person
  • Do not violate territoriality or break a taboo and expect to avoid consequences through reasoning. Your Monkey brain is sneaky and powerful.

Reality, Unreality and the shadow community#

Most of the times,50a4a1 We deal with a map of the world.

Truth is not relative. Zero is always zero. "Should"s are beliefs. They are ripe for tribalism.


Hooks are excuses for acting out. Actively sought out. Motivation to act comes first. Stay above the emotional landscape. The big dog tactic. To further deescalate without violence, leave, or raise the stakes (not advised). Addressing the behaviour directly and staying calm. Acknowledge the monkey trap but refuse to play.

Reversal: Be aware for when you are looking for hooks. Start by staying in common ground. Being rude, cruel or insensitive are automatic hooks. Holier-than-thou-ness can be found in more areas than religion. Look at your friends.

The Monkey Problem#

Real conflicts are almost never about the problem. They are over status, identity, credit or protocols. Some monkey problems:

Group dynamics#

  • Goal-oriented groups exist for complete a mission. Values hard work and creativity.
  • Longevity-oriented groups exist to perpetuate the group. Status based on rank. Creativity discouraged as it is a threat to the status quo.
  • Usually it's better for groups have both types of people.

Management and leadership#

  • Managers want to build systems, policies, absent the human element. Try to create a flow chart. But system becomes the purpose.
  • Being led demands more. A lot of people prefer to be managed. It is easier to be a bad leader. You assume authority, not demand it.

Tactics, tools, techniques#

  • Take time to figure out hunches and feelings.
  • Active listening: Receiving accurate information, subject keeps talking. Open ended questions. Ask clarifying questions. Respond honestly but with respect.
  • Tactical apologies: "I am sorry you are upset"
  • Forced teaming: tactically using "we"


When standards are violated we need to set boundaries.

  • Be explicit.
  • If it is a cultural thing explain why.
  • Altered mental states: Be explicit, using simple words.
  • Tell person what to do instead of what not to do.
  • Neither challenge nor accept delusion. Focus on what you can both see.
  • Be willing to enforce boundary.