Last week I was in the middle of an intense debate and delivered a TKO (technical knock out) point.
My opponent absorbed said blow and meekly responded, “You’re so right. I can’t believe I ever disagreed with you in the first place. Thank you so very much for changing my mind.”
I am no Nostradamus, but I can accurately predict no one ever wrote, spoke or tweeted those words in all honesty.
That’s because heated debates don’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of adrenaline pumping through my veins as I passionately debate anything from politics to whether hot dogs can accurately be labelled as “food”—which by the way, they can’t be.
But debating doesn’t work and here’s why: pride.
We all have it. When anyone, from a life long friend to a troll on social media, stands up, points a finger at us and says “You are wrong and here’s why,” that pride swells up and we (seemingly) must dig our heels in and brace for a colossal clash of ideas, values, points and counterpoints.
While I’m waiting to talk, I’m doing just that: waiting to talk.
I’m not listening or even engaging with this other soul, I’m just spouting off what comes frothing off the top of my head. When those ill articulated points aren’t heard (because the other person, of course, is doing the exact same thing that I’m doing), then I need to sensationalize the point further.
On and on the cycle goes, until it gets entirely too nasty and personal. The only thing that changes is that both parties leave the crime scene wounded and alienated.
Dialogue on the other hand works entirely different.
The point of debate is to prove your point, the point of dialogue is to understand the other person’s view.
When we debate we stand on opposite sides of a river and yell at each other about how things look from our side. When we dialogue we coast down the center of the river, together. Each taking turns paddling as we navigate tricky waters.
Dialogue is a risky and a vulnerable tactic because there is always the chance that we are playing by the rules of dialogue while our opponent is debating. We may feel as if we are playing chicken with the USS Missouri paddling along in a rink-a-dink tow boat. But it’s worth it, because we will set the tone and earn the respect eventually—if not immediately.
Dialogue helps us to see the other side. It allows us to get behind all of the catchy phrases concocted by the opposing party and understand the “why.” In fact, it eliminates the “enemy” altogether. There is no “them,” there’s only “us” and all are worthy of receiving respect.
Here are five tips to help us integrate more dialogue into conversations that could easily slide down the slippery slope into disrespectful debates:
1) Ask follow up questions. Few of us can summarize passionate beliefs into succinct one-sentence points. We also rarely understand points the first time they fly by. So we ask again. Instead of obliterating the weak points in their case, we ask for more clarification. We seek to understand.
2) Rephrase their argument in our own words. This is the first cousin of the marriage counselor’s trick to say “What I hear you saying is you feel disrespected when I leave the toilet seat up, etc.” It works though. It forces us to be objective and see things from their perspective. As long as we don’t drape it in a snarky tone, it will communicate that we are, you know, actually listening.
3) Be comfortable with silence. When something has been said, don’t rush in and start talking. Think. Consider. Then respond. Equally so, if we have just shared, we shouldn’t hog the spotlight just because someone else is pondering our point.
4) Make points for them. Hopefully humble pie tastes good, because when we help develop the point for someone else, it’s not just a slice but an entire plate full of humble pie. We should be willing to see things from their side and share what we see from that view.
5) Admit when we are wrong. If, in the course of the conversation it becomes clear that one of our points is wrong, we should be the bigger person and admit it. Verbally. Too often we try to brush over solid points that are made and try to shift the conversation another direction. That’s debating, not dialogue. Examine the evidence and share findings, objectively.
These tips may not make for world peace, but they will prevent us from being ideological bullies that are only interested in talking loudest.
Real growth can’t happen when he who speaks loudest must be right.
It comes from understanding and interchange. Leave heated debate for the trolls on social media.
Engage. Consider. Understand.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Andy Vaughn
Apprentice Editor: Yaisa Nio / Editor: Catherine Monkman