When Conversations Get Fierce

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.

  • Maggie Brandt

    Great post, Jessie! One of the most frustrating things for me about these politically-charged weeks is that there is a whole lot of talking (sometimes informed, sometimes not) and very little listening. I find I learn so much more when I stop defending my perspective and really consider another person’s. You don’t have to convert to their way of thinking, but you should at least understand why they think that way.

  • James Muir

    بسیار خوب جسسیکع جان

    Excellent article.  Import points to think about.

  • Ashlyn Brewer

    Great post, Jessie! I especially love your point that fierce conversations aren’t reserved for just political issues—it’s important to be able to have direct conversations in the workplace as well!

  • Ashley Pitlyk

    Great post, Jessie! Definitely a timely topic. Typically, when I’m in group settings, I always try to divert discussions away from controversial topics, but now you have me thinking twice. I think open dialogue would definitely help the public be more informed on important issues, but I think it also takes some good moderating skills to make sure the conversation doesn’t go in a bad direction. Hmmm… Maybe there’s a follow-up blog post there.

  • Chris Uithoven

    Great post, Jessie!  I love Scott’s “Fierce Conversations.”  How much more productive and balanced would we be if we focused on learning something from each other in our conversations?  Arguing is not debating and debating infrequently leads to understanding.  A goal of gaining ideas and insights? Indeed! Thanks for sharing a timely and thoughtful perspective.