Conversation Is Not a Battlefield
What do Aristotle and Karl Marx have in common? If nothing else, they both viewed humans as “social animals.”
People not only thrive on, but need the interaction with other human beings. Interpersonal interaction is fundamentally important to human development and our behavior — it influences us on multiple levels. Meaningful connections to other human beings offer emotional cushion through stress reduction while also provide intellectual stimulation and deeper personal development. We have the power to affect each other’s brain function, emotional balance, self-actualization, and self-awareness…
Babies and kids are perfect and pure examples of our need for communication, companionship and both verbal and non-verbal cues from others. So why is it, then, that we often treat our fellow humans as opponents on a battlefield, someone we have to strike down, over-run or defeat?
I have witnessed and been part of more than one conversation, where participants act like players in a “King of the Hill” game, running ahead of everyone else, seizing the conversation, quickly turning it into a domineering monologue than a productive, engaging, enjoyable interaction. Granted, some of us are more competitive than others, and some of us are more expert in one subject than our co-conversationalists. Yet, all of us have something important to say and wish to be listened to.
I fully believe that to achieve effective, productive, wholesome connection with others in a conversation (insert any other avenue here — meeting, discussion, interview, presentation, etc.) is to not treat others as your battlefront opponents. Other people are usually not your enemies. Don’t treat them as such. Don’t attack them openly by casting down their views or deliberately ignoring their brought-up topics. Do not shut them down inadvertently by philosophizing or succumbing to verbal onanism just to prevent others from speaking. Don’t let your need for self-expression rob others of the same basic need. You are not going to win anyone over by one-upping them or winning an argument every single time.
Instead, think of communication as a creation that is built by all the participants. The English language is already full of allusions to human conversation being akin carpet weaving. Storytellers “weave” a story. Conversations have “threads” (it is good to find common ones with others in your surroundings) and fabric (which should flow and remain flexible). Communication has lines (which should remain open!).
We already have all the cues to achieve our best in human interaction. We just need to listen — to the existing words, concepts, our own creative forces, and, of course, most of all, to our fellow human beings. Leave monologues to plays and memos — engage in creating something instead.