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Approaching Conversation and Conflict

I’ve had a lot of discussions in my life where disagreement is present. More often than not, they end in a heated exchange where both parties are left with no deviation from their original positions.

I’ve often found myself frustrated with the other person for not being open minded enough to see my point. The objective for me has always been to bring the person around to see it my way, and anything short of that, I deem as a failure. Of course, if my discussion partner has the same objective, the only possible outcome is - communication breakdown and both parties walking away unmoved from their original position.

I’ve started taking a different approach and now my conversations feel a lot more productive. I walk away from them feeling way less angry and like both parties got something out of it.

The approach I take has a few aspects. First, instead of thinking of each person’s position as a binary 1 or 0, where my position is 1 and my opponent’s position is 0. I think of both positions along more of a continuum. Let’s say 0 and 100. Where my position is 0 and my partner’s is 100. If by the end of the conversation I’m at 1 and my partner is at 99, I’d consider that to be a huge success. Of course we still wildly disagree with each other, but the conversation has resulted in both parties changing their original position (even if only slightly). The conversation has been worth something, as both parties now get to move through the world with a slightly more nuanced take on the matter discussed.

I’ve also tried to stop blaming my conversation parter if the conversation doesn’t result in the movement of positions described above. I used to spend hours after a conversation replaying the conversation in my head thinking how unreasonable or stupid the other person is for not seeing my perspective. Of course, they could just as easily have the same feeling about me. Now, I take full responsibly for the outcome of the conversation. My behaviour in the conversation is the only thing I can actually control, so that’s the only thing worth spending time reflecting on. This means if a conversation doesn’t go well, I can think back about how I could have handled it differently, to make it more productive. My experience is most people are willing to have a nuanced conversation if you treat their position with respect. Actually the most important thing is to avoid making your partner feel like you think they’re stupid. If I fail to make the person feel respected that’s 100% on me.

Guiding a productive conversation is more of an art than a science. Like any skill, I find it helps to analyse my own tactics and make adjustments when I find weak points.