Talking to each other

Thinking about the way we talk to each other.

I’m often accused of disagreeing, not I hope in a disagreeable fashion, but when someone mentions the weather’s nice I’ll say, ah but there’s a cloud in the sky, or, it will rain later. There’s much to be said for agreeing and amplifying. Not disagreeing. By disagreeing you take over the conversation, put it on to your territory, and you shouldn’t be surprised if the conversation ends there.

If it’s about the weather then maybe it should of course…

Attitude is important. Respond aggressively, even if the comment itself is harmless, and that simple maybe unintended response can set off a train of events.

Argument is a very different matter. Whether agreeing or disagreeing the same principles apply. Don’t argue for the sake of it, and answer the point just raised before setting out one of your own. Find agreement before disagreement. Keep to common ground where possible and build on it. The two sides should be closer together at the end than at the start. How often is it the reverse! As we argue we pull apart, and usually end up holed up in our own encampment, repelling boarders, quite happy with the walls we’ve built – but apart from having isolated ourselves having achieved very little.

Arguments that win the day are usually cogent, to the point and unemotional. Make it emotional, and you get an emotional defensive response.

I remember with my own children how I’d get angry and lose an argument. I may have won the war: the following day they’d do what I asked them to. Maybe with kids that’s the way it has to be sometimes. And with adults: sometime emotions break down barriers, if not immediately, then on reflection, as the dust settles.

That doesn’t invalidate my point. Aggression and emotion are stock-in-trades for many of us, but they don’t usually get us very far. A few years ago I read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, and it changed the way I look at things. That’s a subject for another time. Enough to say now that if we make our starting-point the common ground between us, and debate rather than argue, we’ll get much further much quicker.

It won’t happen in politics, and we shouldn’t expect it to. Human nature is what it is. But we can rein in our impulse (I wouldn’t say our natural impulse – I’m not certain that’s what it is) to confront, and do so only when the occasion requires. I like the idea of that Cabinet table with the coalition ministers sat around it and Vince Cable and George Osborne hobnobbing and finding common ground.

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