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Free Yourself From Conflict: Jen Goldman-Wetzler on PYP 470

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Jen Goldman-Wetzler, PhD, is the author of Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life.

She's also a former counterterrorism research fellow with the Department of Homeland Security, which should answer your question, “Yes, but my conflict is truly unresolvable; can she help me?”

I first learned about conflict resolution from the Harvard Negotiation Project's bestselling book, Getting to Yes. It taught a rational, linear approach to dealing with disagreements: look behind the positions for the parties' true interests.

For example, if two people at the grocery store reach for the same orange – the very last one in the bin – at the same time, you might think there's no solution that would truly satisfy both people. Either one would get the orange and the other would get nothing, or they'd compromise and each end up with half an orange. But what if we asked them each why they wanted the orange? And one wanted juice to drink, and the other wanted the zest for a recipe? Now we've established their interests, we see that there's no conflict at all.

This approach works, a lot of the time. And while it's rarely so neat, and while compromise is baked into much conflict resolution, the basic principle applies: before trying to divide up the pie, try to expand the pie by factoring in non-competing interests.

But what about when it doesn't work? When, in fact, every time you try to resolve the conflict, you end up making it worse. The parties become more entrenched in their positions, and think worse of their counterpart (or “foe”), and reinforce a cycle of anger, withdrawal, or recrimination?

That's where Jen Goldman-Wetzler comes in. Drawing on decades of research – hers and those of other luminaries in the field – Goldman-Wetzler explains the dynamics of conflict loops. How they start, and more importantly, how they're maintained.

It turns out that while we tend to see ourselves as more or less blameless, and identify the other person as the source of the conflict (they're unreasonable, greedy, mean, violent, etc.), we are nonetheless contributing to the maintenance and worsening of the conflict loop just about 100% of the time.

Which may seem like bad news, but it's actually terrific.

Because if we are helping to cause it, we have the agency to help to end it.

And that's what we talk about in this conversation.

For kicks, here's Goldman-Wetzler's impressive bio:

Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, a leading expert on conflict and organizational psychology, is founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, and author of OPTIMAL OUTCOMES: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life (HarperBusiness, 2020), selected as a Financial Times Book of the Month. For two decades, she has advised senior leaders at global corporations in a wide range of industries as well as at large non-profit and governmental institutions.

In the corporate arena, Jennifer helps CEOs and their teams achieve optimal organizational health and growth, specializing in innovative technology, healthcare, and financial and professional services companies. She has served clients including: CSC, IBM, Intel, athenahealth, Novartis, Oscar Health Insurance, Oxeon, Roche, Barclays, GE Capital, Moody’s, Cornerstone Research, Lexis Nexis, Navigant, and KPMG.

In the public sector, she enables leaders and their teams to optimize organizational impact at institutions including: Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, The New School, Oxfam America, and the United Nations.

As a keynote speaker, Jennifer inspires audiences of all kinds, spanning Google and TEDx, to Harvard and Columbia University, where for the past decade she has served as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Organization and Leadership and taught a popular course on conflict freedom. She also coaches global business and government leaders in the Executive Education Program at Columbia Business School.

Earlier in her career, she was Director of Negotiation Programs at Mediation Works Incorporated, and a facilitator at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

In addition to Jennifer’s new book, Optimal Outcomes, she has also written the book Emotions in Long-Term Conflict (2014). Her work has been featured in The Financial Times, Forbes, Inc., MarketWatch, Success Magazine, The Washington Times, The New York Post, Chief Learning Officer Magazine, Fast Company, Fortune, and many others. She currently writes the Achieving Conflict Freedom column at Psychology Today.

A former counterterrorism research fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she received her B.A. with honors from Tufts University and holds a Ph.D. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.


Optimal Outcomes, by Jen Goldman-Wetzler


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