As we near the presidential election, there have been a growing number of articles, tweets and Facebook statuses posted regarding our candidates, their views and their policies. If you scroll through most of the comments posted to these articles and status updates, I’d be surprised if you found one chain of comments that is actually a productive discussion of opinions. I find that this is the same for most conversations – both in person and online – covering any topic area that may provide different views or opinions from your own.
So many conversations turn into unproductive arguments because the parties involved are so quick to share their own perspective and aren’t willing to be open to rational influence. A discussion, rather than an argument, not only can challenge your own thinking, but also provides the opportunity to challenge other’s opinions and thinking.
I experienced this myself recently during one of our Standing “collaborative work space” sessions, when two of my colleagues and I got into a heated discussion over our views about the economy and government aid. Even though we did not agree on every issue discussed, it was an opportunity for me to see a different viewpoint and have a direct conversation – sharing opinions and supporting our stance on the issue. If only every conversation could be an open discussion of opinions and beliefs!
These types of conversation reminded me of a book I recently started reading by Susan Scott called “Fierce Conversations.” In this book, Susan shares ways to have successful conversations, making each conversation matter – at work and in your personal life. The author encourages readers to not automatically default into defending your views and instead, inquire to understand someone else’s thinking. When you make the effort to explore different viewpoints, you engage in real thinking. People are going to have conflicting views or suggestions. Open-minded discussions provide consideration for others and the opportunity to explore another person’s way of thinking.
This doesn’t mean that your conversation has to alter your position on a specific topic. Having discussions versus arguments over topics allows for a productive conversation to occur that is beneficial for all parties involved. Arguing is not convincing or constructive. It leads to unstructured emotions and a conversation without a direction. Spend time learning something new or gaining new insights in your conversations online and in-person, instead of contributing to unconstructive arguments. Everyone deserves the chance to share their voice and support their position without being criticized or bashed by insensible responses.
During your next conversation with colleagues, family, friends or online, take the time to focus on learning from others instead of just getting your points across. Great ideas and new insights can come from open discussions, where opposing views and suggestions are productively shared. Conversations should lead to learning and further discussions based on knowledge and experience, not directionless arguments or an atmosphere where people are afraid to express their opinion.