On Conversations

Types of conversations
  1. Dialogue
    • 2-way, cooperative (win-win).
    • Listening with an open spirit and open mind.
    • The goal is understanding and relationship building.
  2. Debate
    • 2-way, competitive (win-lose).
    • A verbal fight, focusing on finding flaws in arguments.
    • The goal is to convince and win with the best argument.
  3. Discourse
    • 1-way, cooperative.
    • The goal is to deliver information.
  4. Diatribe
    • 1-way, competitive.
    • The goal is to express emotion, intimidate, or inspire.

On Intention

  • Be mindful of the kind of conversation throughout (even as it shifts around).
  • The connection matters far more than the content that flows through it.
  • Each communication is an opportunity to strengthen and develop the bandwidth and integrity of the connection.
  • If there is no mutual respect it probably doesn’t make sense to engage.
  • Virtues and values to keep in mind: kindness, generosity, sincerity, earnestness, care, honesty, integrity, humility, curiosity, friendliness, open-mindedness, rigor, compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, impeccability, thoughtfulness, consideration, and above all, love.

On Listening

  • Employ Rule Omega (and disengage with those who seek to weaponize this concept).
  • Assume everyone is trying to express something meaningful and listen to isolate the signal from the noise.
  • If it’s worth engaging, it must be worth listening through possible grievance-induced exaggerations and distortions to find meaningful truths.
  • Listen in order to steelman the other’s position.
  • Tacit knowledge (lived experience) can be hard to articulate—listening well and asking questions can help elucidate it.

On Speaking

  • Speaking is not the same thing as communicating. If the message you intend is not received you are doing the former without the latter. Take responsibility to communicate effectively.
  • Use language that engenders openness rather than defensiveness.
  • Do not use absolutes (always, never, the reality is…) as they come across as power plays.
  • Do not entangle important points with subtle criticisms such that is impossible for the other person to accept the point without losing face.
  • Avoid attitudes of righteousness, superiority, dismissiveness, overconfidence, and indifference.
  • Beware emotive (Russell’s) conjugation.
  • Slow down (especially when things get hot). Take the time to formulate your speech with clarity and precision.
  • Admit ignorance of words and concepts you do not understand and ask for clarification.
  • Give credit rather than seek it.

Conversation Traps

  • Throwing aside your intentions when things get hot.
  • Ad hominem attacks.
  • Strawmanning.
  • Mistaking and rationalizing poor behavior for passion.
  • Justifying poor behavior because the other person’s views are “bad” (and they deserve it).
  • Using humor to insult the other with plausible deniability.
  • Thinking about what you’re going to say when the other person is talking.

On Debate

In any debate, there are three things available to each side.

  1. Present arguments (to build a case).
  2. Attack arguments (to tear down the other side’s case).
  3. Defend and repair arguments (from attack).

Because debate happens linearly, these three things quickly become difficult to follow for both the participants and the audience.

Debate tends toward being asymmetric (someone always gets the first and last word), incomplete, chaotic, disorganized, disengaged, inefficient, equivocal, ambiguous, and prone to gamesmanship (ad hominem, strawman, dodging, etc.).

Unlike dialogue, debate lends itself to a more strict structure so we can use tools and technology to move from a state of chaos (obscurity) to order (clarity).

For example, live visual aids of the debate tree structure so everyone can follow along as arguments get sorted into agreements and disagreements which makes it very difficult to obscure anything (and obvious when it occurs).

  1. Four-quadrant chart and descriptions adapted from David W. Angel.
  2. Almost all principles copied and edited from Daniel Schmachtenberger.
  3. Debate analysis based on The QPARQ.