Is a conflict with a large group of people solvable? What happens if it can’t be controlled? There’s a consistent undercurrent of anger, distrust, and hatred. How do you deal with that at a large scale?
Gary Noesner notes that people have been convinced through propaganda to be angry. They’ve been told they’re victims. They’ve been told that the people coming across the border are “taking their jobs.” If you feel like life’s passing you by and you aren’t getting what you want, it’s easy to fall prey to that.
Political parties have realized that if they dehumanize the other party, it’s far easier to manipulate their own supporters and to steadfastly direct their anger against a perceived enemy. Everyone in the other party is no longer someone you disagree with but someone you hate.
People are being manipulated by media outlets. If that’s the message you want to hear, you’re receptive to it. It becomes difficult in those environments for calm, cool, intelligent discussions to take place.
By any reasonable assessment, the election was not stolen. But saying that to people who believe it isn’t enough. You have to move them to a calmer place where you have the opportunity to challenge their beliefs. But you have to earn the right to do that. If you start by questioning what they’re doing, it’s more likely to be met with resistance.
If you go overboard trying to challenge someone’s beliefs with facts, the reality is that you create further entrenchment on their part. You become the “deep state” and the “fake news.” Gary notes that it’s sad to see intelligent and discerning people buy into the message being sold.
Can we simply sit down and have a conversation?
It’s always bothered Gary that reasonable and intelligent people can’t sit down and have a conversation. People can’t seem to agree on anything to work on together. Shared goals are becoming more uncommon. It’s become a zero-sum game. It’s sad for the United States and its ability to tackle big problems.
If you could sit with an individual, you can have some semblance of a rational conversation. But trying to communicate with people at scale is more difficult because it involves irrational components of the group.
If those irrational components are louder and more persuasive than the rational components, the irrational components become the voice of the group. That becomes a difficult situation for an outsider to communicate with.
Why Gary believes almost all conflict is resolvable
Gary dislikes conflict and believes that it’s a waste of time. So he’s dedicated his life to helping people navigate their way out of it. It takes patience and flexibility.
Gary would get called to work on difficult negotiations. He’d work with the negotiation team to find out what had been done and what they were proposing. There were many times he’d toss out some ideas, and they’d say, “We did that already, and it didn’t work.”
But Gary points out that things change. People get tired and stressed. If you offer the same solution, it might just be accepted. If it’s a good idea and it makes sense, you don’t have to abandon it because it was originally rejected. It’s worth revisiting.
We all need to think like hostage negotiators
Gary doesn’t come into a crisis situation and take charge. He always asks others opinions first. He asks them what their options are. He helps them think through the process so; ultimately, they come to the best conclusion on their own. So in the future, they can better navigate a crisis like him.
To learn more about navigating at scale, check out episode #337 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast! Gary shares some of his fascinating experiences negotiating during prison riots.