Book review: Concom by Rory Miller

Did you ever see someone do something and think ‘Why would anyone do that?’41Rs3CbLJDL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_

It could be in the office,  or at school, in a family on the street or between a couple.  

And the person doing the mysteriously stupid thing could well be you.

That's what ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication by Rory Miller is all about.  The book is based on a course he developed with Marc Macyoung.

Rory is an ex prisons correctional officer,  tactical team leader a martial artist and author of a great many books that I recommend. Marc is an ex dodgy geezer who is now a great author on personal security in potentially violent environments. I’ve put links to both their sites at the bottom.

The first time I read this book I was excited. The book offers simple applicable models that explain and can be used to predict behaviour in conflict situations, all kinds of conflict situations.

The language is straightforward and the book promises that concepts are easy to grasp because you will find them easy to connect to your own experiences and I found this to be true. Many of the examples and stories given made me smile too.

As a usable simplification of human complexity Rory suggests viewing the brain as having three main minds, the lizard, the monkey and the human mind.  

The lizard mind is primarily concerned with survival in dangerous situations, it decides on the basis that ‘Keep doing what has not got me killed in the past.’ and is very suspicious of anything new. This has a lot of relevance to martial artists - our lovely, elegant, deadly techniques are usually considered ‘something new’ by the lizard mind, unless it has visceral proof they work. Without this proof in emergency situations it will take over and revert to the instinctual methods that have kept our species alive over evolutionary time.

People who have been brought up in abusive and violent situations can have their lizard survival strategies triggered relatively easily - and this pattern can be hard to shift.

The monkey mind is concerned with how to navigate the hierarchy of a small band of hunter gatherers, and an important part of this is how to distinguish between tribe members and non-tribe members which is important in keeping the tribe together. In social animals isolation is death, and if the tribe falls apart that is likely to mean death too. So the monkey mind tends to keep the status quo in place

An important point to remember is that keeping the tribe together, placement in hierarchy and avoiding change is preferred by the monkey mind of an individual even if that individual is in a shitty position.

Whenever your emotions are active you are in the monkey mind, whenever you rationalise in terms of us and them you are in the monkey mind and the chances are you will be following a script that may make a mess of things, but will make sure it is the same mess you are used to.

The human mind is concerned with problem solving and reasoning. However much of the time the human mind is hijacked by the monkey or the lizard and is used to explain the decisions that these other parts have made.

Especially when it comes to conflict the lizard and the monkey tend to run the show, and the goals of these two minds often differ from the human mind. Hence the ‘WTF is going on, why are they acting like that????’ experience. This also  matches considerable research over the last decades that shows our conscious decision making strategies lag behind or are steered by unconscious and emotional strategies.

Much of these behaviours are described as being predictable ‘scripts’ that once started tend to run to a conclusion. This is not necessarily bad, habit runs much of our lives satisfactorily.

A good part of the book is devoted to how to recognise when you or another party is acting from the monkey or the lizard mind and what to do about it. If someone is in lizard mode reason and emotion mean very little to them, in monkey facts are dismissed because they do not fit scripts or tribal identity. You've had those arguments when the person in front of you just won't listen to logic.

Other parts of the book give practical advice as to how to deal with people (including yourself) in other than rational states, and how to bring them into states where you can actually get things done.

The book is filled with lots of ‘ah of course’ moments, including perhaps the best explanation of why religions all have basically the same core of compassion, love, reverence and care, but can’t get on because they argue about details of scripture and ritual. For me just that explanation was worth the price of the book. There are other examples drawn from romance and relationships, (office) politics, gangs, mugging and lots more.

Importantly the book is written with care, by which I do not mean good copy editing. I mean it is written with a sense of compassion for the human condition and plenty of gentle humour. This is practical,  to help the reader stay in a state where their rational mind can evaluate the information without turning into a defensive monkey.

As I said in the beginning of this review, when I first read this book I was excited. I planned to write a review, but I waited too long to give a reasonable summary. So I’m re-reading and it’s well worth it. What will your first time through be like?

Rory Miller

Marc Macyoung


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