We’ve just been through one of the most contentious midterm elections in history. It was brutal. I got very tired of watching the TV ads that mostly said, “Don’t vote for the other guy.” Also, I watched, and participated in, some pretty heated discussions about candidates and ballot initiatives here in Colorado.
If I were a cynic, I might think that there is no hope for us, that we’ll never manage to have civil discourse and meaningful conversation. But then I came across a blog post on conversation skills I wrote several years ago. These were my thoughts then. They hold even more true today.
When you’re in a conversation, acknowledge one another as equals. Regardless of your hierarchical relation to the other person—if he or she is your boss, peer, or subordinate—remember that we are all human beings. As such, we are entitled to respect and dignity. Talk with people, not at them.
Stay curious about others. People are fascinating. I have had some very interesting conversations with immigrants. It’s interesting to hear their take on life in the USA. Be curious about the people you know, too. People are always growing and changing. When you take the time to be curious, you’ll find out new and interesting things about old friends.
Conversations are fraught with potential misconnects. You need to listen to understand and make it easy for others to listen to you. Think before you speak. Speak clearly. Ask questions, and answer questions asked of you. Don’t be afraid to pause and reflect on a question. This shows that you are carefully considering your response—not just saying the first thing that comes to mind. People will appreciate you for your thoughtfulness.
Remember that conversation is the way humans think together. The world would be a better place if we all “thought together” instead of thinking separately and trying to convince others that our thoughts are better than theirs.
Conversation is messy. That’s okay. In fact, it’s great. Some of the best ideas come out of messy conversations. The willingness to get into the mess and slop around is what frees your creativity.
If I were asked, I would offer these suggestions to our elected officials. Since I have not been asked, I’m offering them to you. Use them in your conversations—with your colleagues, boss, subordinates, customers, and contractors. I’ve found that they work pretty well at home, too.