Before You Speak, Listen.

Much of our current social/political predicament is caused by a lack of rational thought and a lack of active listening - on BOTH sides of the political aisle.

Too much emotion, not enough rationality. Too much talking, not enough active listening.

Because this is the rhetorical landscape that this generation of kids is growing up in, it won’t be long before this type of conversational dysfunction spills over into the workplace and corporate boardrooms when these young people take over the workforce. We must do all we can to stop it and reclaim some semblance of civility. Enough is enough.

You will no doubt recognize some of the following mostly unrelated trends in your everyday lives and conversations that you overhear or watch on socials:

Listening to Talk, or “Shooting the Conversational Gap”

Listening to someone speak is supposed to be an active experience. Ostensibly, the listener is actively: 1) paying attention to what the speaker is saying, 2) analyzing what was said, and then 3) formulating a response that either agrees or disagrees with the speaker’s premise. In reality, many people listen simply to wait for the gap created when a speaker pauses, so that the listener can go on the offensive and ram their thoughts into the conversation (if it can be called that) before their counterpart can speak again. I refer to this as shooting the conversational gap. It is a bit like wrestling. Not ideal for pushing policy objectives forward, or team building, or any other collaborative efforts.

The prevalence of this phenomenon is largely attributable to two things. First, the political shoutfests that one now sees everyday all day have consumed and largely destroyed cable news. There once was a time not long ago where news and opinion were separated. That is definitely not the case today.

All the pundits on the air today have a limited amount of time to force their viewpoint into the conversation regardless of what others are saying. The days of WIlliam F. Buckley, Jr. and Dick Cavitt and intellectuals who happened to be on TV are long gone. No listens, everyone shouts.

Secondly, smartphones and messaging apps have forever changed the way we communicate. That particular genie is out of the bottle. We will never go back to the pre-smart phone days on this point. Everyone (me included) are exchanging ideas in written fragments, without punctuation, replete with acronyms, the list goes on and on. For today’s kids that are growing up with this as the norm, we have to focus them on reading, literature, poetry, debate, public speaking and all the rest, because basic grammar and syntax are under attack.

Author/blogger David Cain did a brilliant piece on the way we used to talk to one another. Go check it out here.

Dismissing an Opposing Viewpoint (or speaker) as “Stupid” or “Idiotic”

In the old days one would call this an ad hominem attack - an attack against the person. If you can’t defeat the idea, defeat the person. By discrediting the intellect of a speaker, thus the ideas also can be discredited. This is the hallmark of the intellectually lazy. It is somewhat related to the first trend we noted above.

Why is this the tactic of the intellectually lazy? Because it takes energy and thought to discern what someone is saying and run that through your own intellectual filter. This also assumes that the listener has a basic pool of subject matter knowledge from which to draw upon. This by itself is a huge supposition, because very few people are interested in facts and objective truth anymore. There are such a thing as objective truth in this world.

When a lack of concern for objective truth is coupled with a lack of critical thinking skills (more on that in a subsequent blog post), then all you have left is to attack the person. Troubling.

Mistaking Tantrums for Policy Positions

Finally, and this is likely an entire book topic unto itself, is the logical fallacy that outrage or being offended is a substantive position on any issue. Let me clear: it is not.

Do you know who gets offended and acts out in a conversation? Young children.

Didn’t get ice cream? Tantrum.

Can’t stay up as late as you want to? Tantrum.

Didn’t get the GI Joe with the kung fu grip? Tantrum.

A tantrum is not a rational response to a question nor is raw emotion a policy position. Tantrums are merely reactions without intellectual substance.

Recently, I saw a social media post from an adult that contained a phrase substantially as follows: “How do I not cry angry tears everyday?” because of national political issues. If this post is to be taken literally, and there are people actually crying everyday because of the goings on in Washington, DC, those people should be under the care of a mental health professional. This is not an attack on any person. I want people to be happy. We live in the greatest country in the world, and no one should be that sad everyday in a place as full of opportunity as what we have here.

When it comes to dealmaking or debating, rationality rules. If you find yourself going into a negotiation and you are willing to walk away from the deal if the terms do not meet your criteria, then you should proceed to work out the terms with your counterpart. However, if you find yourself going into a negotiation driven by emotion and feeling desperate to accomplish your objective because you have to have that thing, you are about to make a very bad deal.

If you find yourself in a debate where your counterpart starts shouting or yelling, or emoting, just remember that the most powerful person in any intense conversation is the quietest one. Never shout when you can talk and get your point across.

Acting out emotionally in a debate projects weakness and a lack of intellectual rigor, whether the conversation happens in person or virtually through social media. If I’m delivering cross examination of you in a deposition or hearing, or we are debating some political issue and you begin to act irrationally, or you are “triggered” by certain subject matter, then I own you. I’m going to continue to hit that issue again and again and again until you concede the point. That’s how it works.

Some suggested reading on this point is from author Ryan Holiday’s article If You’re Angry, You’re Part of the Problem, Not the Solution.