Conversations are how you live life. It’s the basis of the evolution of life. And how the culture is moved ahead depends on your style, intent and tone of your conversations. Let’s understand how you can be constructive in your conversations.
Goal: To share opposing viewpoints with their rationale
What happens: Often, the conversation starts nicely then escalates to heated arguments. Sometimes the relationship is wrecked. For example, you are an atheist and your mom is a religious woman. You throw all the reasoning on why God doesn’t exist. But for your woman, it’s an attack on her identity by her own son. No one wins.
Some Approaches to Debate:
- Avoid them for certain relationships. For example, don’t debate with your mom. She is old and you love her more than anything else. And you want to keep that love as it is.
- Avoid unnecessary debates. Meaning, not every opposite viewpoint is an opportunity for you to debate. For example, you are with your friend and she says – all tall people are bad. You can nod and move on to different conversations. Often, people say things inflow and are not targeted towards you. Nor are they seeking a debate.
- A moderator helps to contain the situation. But, it isn’t always applicable because informally when two people debate, there ain’t any moderator.
- The goal of a debate is to share opposing viewpoints. And when you debate, if your goal is to change the other person thinking your viewpoint is right then that’s a wrong goal to have.
- You won’t change your viewpoint after many debates. Why expect others to magically change just because you showed them the better way (as per your understanding).
- Don’t hold the debate points to malign your relationships. If you suspect another person will hold you in grey light then avoid debate if you value the relationship more.
- No one is always right, we don’t know when we are wrong – have humility and be open to new ideas. It doesn’t mean you accept everything other people say – but be open. If you can’t then how can you expect others to be open to your ideas.
- In the end, everyone is living life as per their judgement and decision. Do and live what you think is best, keep redefining or refining what is best for you. By being open to ideas and toying with them with your rationale.
- Opposing for the sake of opposing is a good debate exercise. But not helpful when you are with your loved ones.
- A golden rule – if the person you are debating with won’t share space and time for months with you. Example, a long-distance friend you meet only 6 months. Then don’t debate on harsh things like politics, religions or deep rooted identity things. Enjoy the time and move on, life is short.
On Constructive Conversations
Goal: If the time you have to spend is limited with a person. And you want the best impact/output as possible then you have to resort to constructive conversations.
What happens: Often when you converse with someone like a friend – things are random and go off a tangent. For example, you talk about your favourite place to eat. And then a story pops up. Suddenly, the conversation is about a particular person who was bad in her behaviour. It’s fine because you are chatting with a friend. You want to spend time – random things and no agenda conversation makes up the basis of a good friendly conversation. But, things get different when you need to talk with a high impact person or want to have some influence.
Some Approaches to Constructive Conversations:
Let’s say you want to talk to your younger sister to teach her something. Like not to talk with strangers alone because she is young.
One way to approach this is by being strict and showing your authority. It might help her to seem compliant. But as soon as you are gone, she will resort to previous behaviour. The better option is to tell a story – not a random one. But a concise story of your younger self. How one fine day, you were talking with a stranger and offered you a toffee. Luckily, mom came and shooed away the stranger. Turns out the stranger was trying to take me away. I talk with strangers in the presence of my mom. Until I am an adult, I did it because I love my mom and I love myself.
This is a concise, to the point story with an arc and lesson. You don’t have to explicitly tell the lesson, she will understand it. Next time, ask her if you are present talking with a stranger. She will remember the story and ask you to stay.
Constructive conversations make something happen, moves a person and helps.
Below are some general ideas:
- If what you are going to say isn’t helpful then reconsider if you should even say it.
- Are you responding after a thoughtful listen or an impulse to voice in because you want to seem like an expert.
- Is it true? If not, then see within yourself why you are jumping to speak on seemingly false things. Is it status symbol or signaling or conforming to the norms?
- You can have constructive conversations with self too. This will get rid of unnecessary mental stress you put by overthinking and going on random tangents with your inner voice.
- Practice having better conversations – see where you falter or don’t make impact. Reiterate and try again. It’s a skill and you can have more meaningful connections or deepen the existing ones. When you understand that it’s a skill you can become better at, you will keep practicing to do more of it.
On Spotting Bad Arguments
It’s no point arguing with someone when that person tries to derail the conversation.
And ideal to-and-fro of arguments should look like this
- Your claim with anecdotes and proof
- Her claim with anecdotes and proof
- No judgement end of arguments
- You self-evaluate and think
But there can be many people will try to use bad arguments so as to make you look wrong, stupid or one with the problem.
1- Strawman Argument: In this type of bad argument, the other person usually makes a new meaning of your claim. For example, if you say – poor people are underprivileged. She will say, you mean – poor people don’t get water to drink. And then go on to prove how poor people drink water. And thus claim victory of proving you wrong. But in reality, your point of view was misconstrued and thus it’s a bad argument.
2- Slippery Slope: In this type of bad argument, the other person claims that your argument is the stepping stone for a series of related events which will end in a big bad outcome. And thus they claim your argument or notion is not valid or shouldn’t be pursued. But no one knows if those related events will eventually happen. It’s made like a slippery slope where your argument seems to fall. But usually the one creating a slippery slope is making a bad argument.
3- Loaded Question: In this type of bad argument, the other person will ask a question which presumes something which isn’t true or not agreed by you. For example, you will be asked – “Did you stop smoking weed”? This question assumes you have been smoking weed. And before you can answer or make a sense – another such question is blurted out. And you realize you are in a bad argument.
4- False Dichotomy: In this type of bad argument, you are said to belong to a certain side because you spoke against or for something. For example, you said something against rich people so you should be with poor people. But in reality, you can be representing both sides with a balanced view. Often you are termed as black or white and have no representation of the grey side. When someone labels you one or another, then you are in a bad argument.
5- Circular Argument: This is a type of bad argument in which the person will try to argue by giving an explanation which depends on some other thing being true. But that other thing is dependent on her argument being true. For example, she will say – rich steal money because rich people are bad and hence they loot people. But for rich people to be bad, they have to loot people. And to loot people, they need to be bad. None of which is proven. But it is presented as if and then. It’s a circular chain of unproven theories to make a bad argument.
6- Red Herring: This is a type of bad argument in which the person will distract the discussion away to something irrelevant. For example, when you will be talking about wage gaps – suddenly they will say, ‘Black Lives Matter’ you know. And when you say – let’s talk about the wage gaps, you will be questioned – “what, don’t you think Black Lives Matter”. Now suddenly, you are under the scrutiny for a topic which wasn’t even the main topic of argument. When there are many distraction tactics – know it’s a bad argument and opt out.
7- Ad Hominem: This gets personal. Let’s say you are having an argument on how species should be saved. And then another person will point out how you had gone to jail in your teens for stealing something. It doesn’t matter that bringing this up is not connected to the current argument. But because you did something back then, you are wrong now. When your image is being tarnished from your past or other unrelated things. And the conclusion is made that whatever you say isn’t right because of that, know it’s a bad argument. And save yourself.
Now that you know how what you talk has so many layers. Let’s decide to talk with humor, positivity, humility, clarity and good intentions. One better conversations at a time.