By Dayna Mason
Much of what passes as conversation today is simply monologue. We may take turns talking, but no one is actually listening. I say what I want to say and while you’re talking, instead of seeking to understand, I’m thinking about what I want to say next. Productive conversation requires dialogue—the process of understanding and reasoning.
When we are telling, we are not listening. If all we do is tell, we learn nothing. Conversations that inspire and transform require curiosity and respect.
Promote dialogue to prevent pointless interactions
Social media has made it easier than ever to be disrespectful and say things we wouldn’t say if we were face to face. It’s easy to tell someone they are an idiot if there’s no risk of them punching you in the face. But these interactions lead to nothing beneficial for anyone.
Thoughtful, reflective, mature, and reasoned dialogue is necessary for constructive discussion. Dialogue requires curiosity. If we aren’t open to changing our viewpoint, conversation not only loses its value but our disagreement can devolve into insults.
To promote dialogue that’s beneficial, we need to soften our stance—let go of our need to be right. Listen to understand the other’s viewpoint. Listen as if we actually care about their thoughts.
When confronted with information that contradicts our perspective, we can accept that we may not know everything, or may even be wrong. If our emotions are triggered, it is almost impossible to have a valuable discussion. It’s better to take a step back and wait until we feel calm again before reengaging in conversation. When we are calm we can examine our assumptions and create communication that encourages mutual discovery.
Conversation that is both inspirational and valuable begins with “humane communication.”
“Humane communication” and productive conversation
The early definition of the word “humane” meant “courteous, friendly, civil, obliging.” This definition evolved over time to include “marked by tenderness, compassion, and a disposition to kindly treat others.”
Practicing humane communication can greatly improve our interactions with others.
Rather than assume that people who disagree with us are bad or ignorant, we can assume good intentions and imagine that in their own way, they want what is best even if their views are difficult to understand. For example, someone may state that religion is harmful and to be avoided. Instead of preparing an argument for why they are wrong, we could seek to understand why they have that belief. We may discover that they had a traumatic church experience. We still may not agree with their conclusion, but now we understand that their belief is based on a desire to prevent others from experiencing the same pain they did.
We don’t have to agree with others, but we can show respect: due regard for their feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions. Try to see another person’s view from their perspective and experience and be willing to learn from them. When we understand why someone believes as they do, it’s easier to have empathy for their beliefs even when we disagree.
We can take the time to understand both sides of the debate. It’s difficult to persuade someone to see your view if you don’t understand theirs. At the center of meaningful conversation is our willingness to not only appreciate the right of others to disagree with us but to see it as an opportunity to learn something new.
We can filter our thoughts. Not everything we think needs to be communicated. If what we are thinking is not helpful to the conversation, we can keep it to ourselves.
Productive conversations are the result of humane communication. Genuine exchange of thoughts, beliefs and ideas through non-defensive dialogue which helps us develop wisdom, and can result in powerful insights that lead to worthwhile agreements.
Let’s refuse to engage in disrespectful interactions and approach communication with empathy and understanding that can result in a collaborative future.
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