By David Brooks
Jan. 28, 2019, 419 c
CreditCreditNick Shepherd/Ikon Images, via Getty Images
I went into journalism to cover politics, but now I find myself in national marriage therapy. Covering American life is like covering one of those traumatizing Eugene O’Neill plays about a family where everyone screams at each other all night and then when dawn breaks you get to leave the theater.
But don’t despair, I’m here to help. I’ve been searching for practical tips on how we can be less beastly to one another, especially when we’re negotiating disagreements. I’ve found some excellent guides — like “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” by Daniel Shapiro, “The Rough Patch” by Daphne de Marneffe and “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker — and I’ve compiled some, I hope, not entirely useless tips.
The rule of how many. When hosting a meeting, invite six people to your gathering if you want intimate conversation. Invite 12 if you want diversity of viewpoints. Invite 120 if you want to create a larger organism that can move as one.
Scramble the chairs. If you invite disagreeable people over for a conversation, clear the meeting room, except jumble the chairs in a big pile in the middle. This will force everybody to do a cooperative physical activity, untangling the chairs, before anything else. Plus, you’ll scramble the power dynamics depending on where people choose to place their chairs.
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | Pending Approval
Excellent piece, that could use some tweaks. David Brooks wrote: “The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say. Never have a meeting around a problem. If you have a problem conversation you are looking backward and assigning blame. If you are having a problem conversation you’re saying that one episode — the moment the government shut down — was the key to this situation, rather than all of the causes that actually led up to the episode. Instead, have a possibility conversation. Discuss how you can use the assets you have together to create something good.” The first one seems brilliant to me, the second one is not always correct. The whole point of a good quality circle in Total Quality Managment, is to many points of view about a problem, and practice problem solving. Perhaps in some areas, problems are a dangerous focal point, but the text needs to be more specific. I wish Brook’s many critics could take a time out. Mr. Brooks isn’t suggesting he can fix everything, but basic social skills are helpful if you want to help people rather than tear them down or incarcerate them. David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNews.wordpress.com. He has co-written and his duo performs a folk music and readings concert and sing-a-long about Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction.