In the last post I wrote about ways to damage a conversation (I am sure there are a lot more). This post will list some ways that help a conversation in my experience.
start a conversation with something positive and/or a compliment. Telling someone that you are happy to see her/him never hurts, and might brighten his/her day.
use a positive conception of humans. Human communication is inherently context dependent and therefore ambiguous. In doubt, assume good faith in the other person. Many people tend to mirror the mood of others, so better provide some positive image.
in contrast, when I assume the other one wants to exploit or betray me, I will act accordingly and always find some interpretation of his words that support my negative assumptions
imagine a conversation like a game you play together (and not against each other). You pass the ball to each other, back and forth
don’t force topics. Watch out for the echo that the other gives you (or does not). If the other remains silent or looks away, it might be time to change the topic
add your personal experience and thoughts to things.
telling me that you read the latest bestseller is nice, but I can look up bestsellers in 5 seconds on my phone. I want to know if you liked it or not and why. This I cannot look up in the internet.
be genuinely interested in the view of the other. If the other is not planning something that will hurt her or others, or is illegal, there is little need to change their mind
if you think it is a stupid idea, try to get into her shoes and understand why the other believes it is a good idea. Think of it like a criminal case you want to solve. In a playful way, not in a take-revenge-like-Liam-Neeson way.
move from general and uncontroversial topics to more diverse matters
do not insist on being right or knowing better
in contrast to what many people believe - it makes one look weak and insecure. A person that is certain about its own values, can present a stand without belittling others. This person can also accept and welcome the existence of different and opposing views
try to sharpen your sense what the other seeks. Is it moral support, encouragement, a listener, advice?
provide what you assume most likely, but check for the reaction and adjust accordingly
do not blindly apply what works in one situation on all other situations. What works and is appropriate in a business context, can be totally out of place in private situation.
take responsibility for your words. When I say something that insults others I should not insist on “you got my words wrong”. This transfers a lot of bad messages
I am right, you are just to dumb to understand it
I am the victim here, and I feel hurt, because you blame me of being rude. Even so I did everything right and you act just in bad faith against me. Poor me. Help.
I cannot change my behaviour, because I did everything right
when you cannot add something positive or constructive to a topic, it is okay to remain silent from time to time. Free speech is no requirement to add a comment at each occasion.
How can this long list be summed up? While writing this post I realized that I am guilty of all the counter examples and bad manners listed. On some more, on some less, but to a certain degree on all. So why do I often follow paths that I want others to refuse?
Like an alcoholic there is little hope of getting better, without admitting to have faults. And I mean truely admitting. Everybody can agree on platitudes like “nobody is perfect”, “I am just human, so I am wrong from time to time”. Truely admitting means naming the time and the place when I was wrong or at least could have done better just by making a smarter decision. This admission can be just in front of myself.
Besides admitting the faults and willingness to work on them, I think another trait must be cultivated. The trait is to resist our opinion urges. I think there is no salvation. We have to learn to live with contradicting views and arguments. In us and in others.
Much of the bullet list is inspired by the excellent guidelines of hackernews, which help to maintain healthy conversations between strangers on the internet (very rare and unlikely at all times). I highly recommend reading them.
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