I had a really great conversation with my best friend Sean at brunch today. We challenged each other's assumptions, demanded proof, and in turn, provided great examples. We did not "agree to disagree". We did not just say "you're wrong". And we certainly did not use any name calling, low blows, or otherwise offensive techniques.
Our exchange made me think about conversations I have with people that don't go so smoothly. I work really hard to strengthen my arguments. As a writer, I understand the power of words and I'm hungry for new knowledge. I quickly digest the pudding so I can relish in the proof. But I have to be honest, I experience a great deal of anxiety when people disagree. I've been like that since I was a little girl and hid under the covers when my parents were having a spat. And as an adult I feel like agreeing to disagree may be efficient, but it is ultimately passive aggressive and an oxymoron. I do it at times, but I sure don't like it.
While I used to believe that self restraint was the sign of maturity, I am quickly learning that the real sign of maturity is being able to respectfully discuss differences of opinions--restraint often being one of them.
Listening to gain insight into another persons perspective has become a lost art. As a manager, I have to do it everyday in order to be successful. When I was in HR I found that often times I had to fully understand both sides arguments so that I could counter it. I was the facilitator of solutions and I took it seriously. It really took a mental toll on me--as a self-proclaimed introvert, caring about people I don't know is hard work.
Robert Benchley once said there are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't. It's true, some people just have to be contrary. They insist on trying to kill flies with missiles or explain ridiculous notions like the possibility of picking up poop from the clean end. The majority of us fall into another bucket: bad listeners.
I think it boils down to our tendency to hear and read, rather than listen and comprehend. We all interpret things differently based on how our lives have played out. Most of the time people are arguing about what they think someone said or meant instead of what he actually said or meant. Instead of probing to seek clarification (read: having a real conversation), it’s easier to fly off of the handle and/or make it personal. Probably because probing takes time and energy, two traits that we often reserve for our relationships.
Which brings me to reason #499 on Why Relationships Matter: Because everyone has baggage but everyone doesn’t manage theirs properly.
Being a great conversationalist is about managing your baggage such that it doesn’t impede your ability to cultivate and maintain successful relationships. Whether that relationship is with job security, corporate culture, or the person you are talking with--baggage tends to rear its ugly head when disagreement may abound. Perhaps I've been scorned in the past, my baggage causes me to yell at you when we talk. Perhaps I've felt unappreciated in the past, my baggage causes me to downplay your recognition. Or my personal favorite--perhaps I made some bad choices, my baggage causes me expect you to do the same.
Nevertheless if the relationship is important enough, change will come.
As I read over the comments section on one of my favorite blogs, I realized that the Internet has made it so that people can create whatever reality they choose. That fact alone makes the plight of being a great conversationalist even greater. Winning an argument will soon be impossible. There simply isn't one truth; when the rules change, the game changes.
The goal of any conversation shouldn't be being so aggressive with your rhetoric that one concedes to "being the bigger person", as much as our conversations should be about gaining an understanding. Understanding does not signify agreement, but it does signify acceptance...
I need to have a tough conversation with my parents about quitting my job and temporarily moving back home. Just thinking about it makes me extremely nervous. I'm not sure if there will be disagreement but I have to admit that I'm comforted by some core ideas in this new game...