Summary of High Conflict

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High Conflict book summary

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Conflict among people is inevitable and often valuable. But only healthy conflict leads humanity to a better future. In this engaging text, investigative journalist Amanda Ripley explores the toxic landscape of “high conflict” – disputes that reach an intractable state of binary opposition. Using examples from the lives of a lawyer-mediator turned politician, a gang leader turned peacemaker and many others, the author outlines the systemic nature of high conflict, its damaging characteristics, and the techniques and strategies that can help individuals and groups break free of the high conflict trap.

About the Author

As an investigative journalist, Amanda Ripley writes for The Atlantic and many other periodicals. She is the author of two other books: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way and The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why.


“High conflict” is paradoxical: People are powerfully drawn to it, but yearn deeply to escape it.

Individuals and groups often find “high conflict” – disputes which escalate into polarizing divides – highly attractive. High conflict draws people in, giving them a sense of belonging, purpose and power. It lends compelling, black-and-white clarity to difficult issues. But high conflict is also costly – financially, relationally and even in terms of lives.

Good conflict grounds itself in humility and expresses a broad range of emotions. Curiosity, an acknowledgment of complexity and the desire to find a shared solution characterize good conflict. High conflict, by contrast, is characterized by rigidity, certainty and simplicity. While healthy conflict looks for the win-win solution, high conflict sees only a zero-sum game. Good conflict is generally non-violent; high conflict is much more likely to turn violent.

High conflict traps participants in a static pattern, without the potential for change or growth. Those involved become ever more certain of their own righteousness, and increasingly appalled...

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