Constructive Conversation/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Posted on December 23, 2017


A recent article appeared at by Judy Ringer. The title of the article is straightforward: “We Have to Talk: A Step-by-Step Checklist for Difficult Discussions.” All discussions where this undergird a non-agreement are difficult ones. In the discussion that is sub-titled “Inquiry”, several trenchant points are made.

1. Maintain curiosity
The late radio psychologist Dr. Joy Browne would tell her listeners “Be curious not furious. Try to use the conversation to find out where the other party is coming from. What motivates them? What are their fears and concerns? What got them to the point where they are are now entrenched in this controversy. This is your chance to find out what makes them tick.

2. Imagine them as if they were from another planet

If you met someone who was very different from you in terms of language, culture, etc. you would need to study them carefully. What does their body language tell you? Where is their energy being invested? Are their eyes connecting with yours or are they averting their gaze? Study them to gain insights from non-verbal cues.

3. Let them talk
Rep. Sam Rayburn from Texas was a very quiet man. He spoke little but listened a great deal. Why? “You can learn more from listening than you can from talking.” Utilize your listening skills to gain insights and to learn about your opposing party.

4. Don’t take things personally.

Don’t be defensive. What the other party is telling you may truly be about himself. President Bill Clinton once told a teenage audience that when people poke fun at them for their weight “”They are telling more about themselves than about you.” Listen with a certain sense of distance. That may be your best chance to learn about your opposing party.

Be curious and not furious. You will learn a great deal more that way, in mediations and in life itself.