I know a lot about communication as it relates to interpersonal conflict. Problem is, I don’t always apply it. Which begs the question, what good does head knowledge do if it doesn’t make its way to the heart?
Case in point, last SatRun. Most every Saturday morning you can find a few of my ideologically diverse friends and me running 10 miles up, down, and around Olympia, WA. I’m the guy with the dorky calf sleeves.
While running, we share eventful stories from the work week, debate political hot potatoes, talk sports, and tell family stories*. The only thing all of us agree on is how fortunate our wives are to be married to us.
Last Saturday, I blew it. Despite just blogging about the futility of imposing one’s views on others, I entered into an unwinnable argument about the relative merits of our last president versus our current one. No argument is winnable when one or both participants’ contrasting viewpoints are based almost exclusively on emotion. No amount of reasoning; no matter how dispassionate, empirical, and persuasive; is any match for strongly held emotions. I forgot that I cannot alter my friend’s fundamentally negative feelings towards our previous president, just as there’s nothing he can say that will assuage my negative feelings towards our current one.
And so the “exchange” spiraled downwards so much so that one teammate purposely gapped us. The two us ended up much, much more irritated, than enlightened, about our differences.
So the first path in the interpersonal conflict woods, emotion-laden arguing, is not recommended. The second path, curiosity-based conversations, is a much preferred alternative.
Had I demonstrated just a touch of interpersonal intelligence, I would’ve asked questions to try to better understand my friend’s
warped political perspective. Among others, WHY do you feel that way? Had I done that, two positive things may have resulted. First, he probably would have moderated his most outlandish claims, thus lowering the temperature of the entire convo. When agitated, it’s human nature to assert things much more intensely than necessary. In those situations, we in essence, surrender to negative emotions. Second, had I listened patiently enough; eventually, he probably would’ve asked me some questions in a similar effort to better understand me.
If I had gone full Socrates and focused on understanding my friend’s thinking, I probably would’ve kept my emotions in check. Meaning it could’ve ended up being a worthwhile conversation instead of the pointless argument paralleling the one playing out nightly on opposing cable news stations.
The third path in the interpersonal conflict woods is knowing the limits of one’s capacity for curiosity-based conversation. For example, I cannot practice curiosity-based conversation with anyone who looks passively at the continuous stream of mass shootings in the U.S., and repeatedly concludes, “We’d be better off if more “good people” had guns.” Just. Can’t. Go. There. Of course, there’s nothing requiring me to.
How much time do you spend on the three paths? Depending upon how centered I am, I see-saw between pointless arguing and enriching, curiosity-based conversations. A tiny fraction of the time, I opt out altogether. I hope to eliminate pointless arguing from my life by continuing to learn from my mistakes and living a long, long time.
Before next Saturday’s 10-miler, I commit to not just warming up my bod, but also my heart.
*or they bully the guy on sabbatical, the one with the humble blog