A fascinating newspaper article caught my eye this morning about how to have better, more constructive arguments.
It’s by Ian Leslie, adapted from his new book Conflicted, and explains that to have a productive conversation with anyone you have to establish some kind of connection with them, a rapport. This is especially so if you know or suspect that you’re not both on the same page. In other words, it’s important to try to connect with the person before challenging their ideas or opinions.
He discusses some pretty intense situations – hostage negotiations, for example – and reports from his interviews with the experts involved that one way to build rapport is to explicitly signal to the other person that you’re not going to verbally attack them or put them down in any way. In doing this you also signal respect. As Leslie says, 'By being personally gracious, you can depersonalise the disagreement.'
Now, this might seem like simple common sense. But common sense is often not common practice. In daily life, when we hear someone say something we don’t like the temptation is to do exactly what is not advised. ‘I can’t let you get away with that,’ we think, and instantly go into rebuttal mode.
But Leslie and the experts he’s interviewed are right. Whether it’s expressed in words, a look or a tone of voice, disapproval disconnects.
At the very least, it causes the other person to shut up and withdraw. Often it simply produces an argument that goes nowhere, with attack and counter-attack traded back and forth like a bad-tempered tennis match.
Feel the disapproval and listen anyway
On the other hand, when we resist the temptation to express our disapproval all sorts of unexpected possibilities can open up.
I’m a Samaritans listening volunteer and one of the things we’re trained to do is consciously suspend our negative reactions when callers want to share something that we might think is unpleasant or unacceptable.