The reads that most influenced me this year

I read voraciously, a pile of books and articles monthly. Many are interesting and informative, but a few stand out because they influenced my thinking or behavior in a significant way. As I join others in looking back at 2016, here are the standouts that stuck with me and that I’ve most frequently mentioned to others.

The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

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A book that fed my love of words and how we use them

At one level, conflict resolution work can be understood as an odyssey into the meaning of words…what the speaker meant, what the listener heard, what prompted the words, what happened as a result, what words might lead to insight, what words might change the trajectory of the conversation and relationship.

I picked up a copy of the poet David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words and find myself returning to it often. I finally bought the Kindle version so I could quickly return to highlighted passages. Each time I open the book, new reflections greet me; though they were there before, of course, I was not ready for them before.

Two articles that helped me get out of my own way

There are periods of the year when I find myself working 70-hour weeks, and periods I can take a breather. It is the ebb and flow of my private practice, clients and speaking gigs often mirroring the rhythms of the academic year, influencing when we do what since we were young.

It is easy for me to get very focused and driven in those frantic periods, a state I can find it hard to pull myself back out of. I’ve found Derek Siver’s Relax for the Same Result to be an instrumental reminder to me when I get like this. I’ll be racing around trying to get it all done and suddenly, an image of Sivers on his bicycle will pop into my head, my mind’s little reminder to breathe.

I also found Tim Urban’s The Tail End a vivid reminder of where I am in my life and how much time I’ve got left. I’ve shared it with clients, too. His graphics are both whimsical and sobering and, like Sivers on his bike, I find the images rising up into my consciousness as I make decisions about how I will spend my time.

An article that taught me something new about learning

I was an educator before I was a mediator and I tend to bring a learning orientation to conflict resolution work, to see what’s possible through the lens of what can be learned…about each other, about the situation, about oneself. And, of course, some of my work involves speaking to audiences and training mediators, and I remain an educator more directly in those circumstances.

So I am always drawn to research and ideas that tell me something new about how people learn. I was unfamiliar with interleaving until I read Steven Pan’s The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning and my mind is brimming with the implications of learning skills not by practicing one skill over and over and then the next, but by practicing related skills in parallel.

Three works that helped me make new sense out of the human puzzle

I could not do my work well without being willing to reconsider and reassess what I believe about how people tick. It would be terribly arrogant of me to commit to conclusions about humans and refuse to reconsider them, while sitting at the mediation or coaching table and asking my clients to reconsider the conclusions they’ve drawn about each other.

I’m a voracious consumer of new research in biology, psychology, neuroscience, consumer behavior, and the like. This year I found helpful ways of thinking about conflict and resolution thanks to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing and Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer’s Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.

I’ve also been tracking the “replication crisis” in science, most particularly in the social sciences, because there are implications for what we think we know about how people act in conflict and stress. And while I celebrate the closer look that some nearly biblical psychological and neurobiological beliefs are receiving as a result of the crisis, I’m concerned that some seem rather quick to conclude that the failure to replicate a scientific result means that the original study should be completely rejected. That’s not really how scientific research and discovery works. I thought the most measured overview of this entire debate aired this summer on Shankar Vedantam’s NPR radio show Hidden Brain, in the episode When Great Minds Think Unlike: Inside Science’s “Replication Crisis”.

Your turn

What reads and listens most influenced you this year? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know. I wouldn’t want my reading pile to get too low.

Disclosure: One or more links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive a few dimes from Amazon if you buy the book. And, of course, I just turn around and spend those dimes on…more books. Which then inform my writing here, for you. It’s a beautiful cycle.

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