Reality Check: Choices of Conversation

It’s that time of year when people get together. Perhaps you’ll attend an office party to socialize with your fellow workers. Perhaps you’ll catch up with seldom-seen relatives. Maybe you’ll be partying with friends.

In any case, it’s possible you’ll find yourself with a variety of people who hold opinions different than yours! Differences can provide great opportunities for conversation, for learning, and for entertainment. They can also prompt conflict.

For example, political discussions can provoke very emotional responses. Someone may love a politician that you perceive as evil. Someone may have a perception of government that’s completely at odds with yours. There’s lots of opportunity for disagreement—whether the politics is local, provincial, national, or even in that country to the south.

Let’s say you’re planning to attend a nice family dinner. But you know that great-uncle Fred will be on a rant about politics and he’ll ruin everything. Do you have any choices? Of course you do! Are any of them good choices? Well, it depends on what you want, doesn’t it?

To help you figure out your choices, here’s a few to get started.

You could avoid attending the dinner. You can do that. You don’t have to point out that you’re skipping it because of Fred. Just find a reason to be somewhere else. If you perceive that you need an excuse, then volunteer to help an organization or an individual at the time of the dinner. You can avoid the unpleasantness and feel virtuous, too!

If you choose to attend, you could avoid talking to Uncle Fred. You can do it. Just smile and wave from across the room.

You could attend but decline to discuss anything contentious with Fred. How? Smile, and say, “Thanks, but I avoid politics at a party.” You don’t have to take the bait, even when you are so sure that you are right, and so sure that Fred is wrong and misguided, and so, well…obnoxious about it.

Instead, talk about the weather, the grandkids, the dog; you can find topics to discuss with Fred. You don’t need to go to disagreement. Unless you want to, of course.

But what if you want to argue? If so, then go ahead. However, before you climb on your soapbox, it might be worthwhile to ask yourself, “Do I want to hear Fred’s viewpoint? Or do I just want to point out to Fred how misguided he is? If I do so, will it damage this relationship? Is that what I want?”

If you choose to argue, don’t mislead yourself into thinking that you will change Fred’s mind. A heated argument is unlikely to persuade.

What if you genuinely care about Fred and believe that he’s just not seeing things properly? That he is lacking information which, if he knew, would change his mind?

You are unlikely to achieve a serious discussion over turkey in the midst of a noisy crowd. If you want a real exchange of ideas, offer to discuss it. Make a date for a conversation. If you truly have information to share, then it’s worth saving it for a time when it can be heard.

Whenever we have a conversation, there’s a good chance that we will hear things that we don’t agree with. How we respond to that disagreement is up to us. How do you respond when you have a strong disagreement with someone?

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