Monday, August 16, 2010

The art of disagreeing

Mrs. O. and I had a disagreement today.  We were in the garage together...she came out to keep me company while I did a little work.  She was reading and I was working away when I asked a question.  "Have you ever thought that maybe...?"  It was kind of a long question, and the question isn't really the point, either.  I mean, we've had disagreements about other questions and statements.  Trouble is, I occasionally fall into the same trap as I did today.

So, Mrs. O. started answering, "Well, no.  I mean, as long as you've got people..."

Hmmm...It wasn't that she was disagreeing.  I'm fine with that.  I felt like she didn't quite understand what I was saying.  I probably didn't explain it well.  I'm not always very good at putting my thoughts into words on the first go.  I started to explain, "No, that's not really what I meant..."  I could feel her look of disappointment even though I was focused on my work.

"I think I'm trying to answer your question with a 'no.'"

Ok.  I know I've started to interrupt and I do that sometimes.  I don't want to, so I decide to stop in my tracks.  I'll just listen to the whole explanation.  I'm acting pre-maturely...or perhaps immaturely!  So, I say, "Okay," and I turn back to my work.

It doesn't quite translate in black and white.  I can't even feel the tension as I read it through, but shortly thereafter we were both hurt and the conversation was over for the time being.  What happened?  How many times have I been in a situation like this and said to myself, "How did I get here?  When did I start down this road?  Why am I so frustrated, and why is she so hurt?"

We had another awkward conversation a bit later when we decided to finish talking.  I was asking her what I could have said differently.  After a few suggestions I ask, "So, if I had said all of that, you wouldn't have been hurt?  You would have wanted to continue talking?"

"I don't know."

It dawns on me over the course of the afternoon (with much patience and assistance from Mrs. O.) that a deep conversation is more than "you say this, and then I'll respond with that."  If only life were that simple.  It seems like the problem is more related to the fact that it sometimes takes Mrs. O. a minute to separate how she feels from what she thinks.  Her thoughts don't always come out in a step by step kind of order.  I, on the other hand have little trouble separating how I feel from what I fact, if I don't think about it too much I wouldn't even realize that I feel anything at all.  All of that makes Mrs. O. feel like she's at a disadvantage when the conversation turns into a debate.  If she thinks she's at a disadvantage, she's more inclined to be hurt by what I say.

But, I still haven't answered the question: how do we disagree without insult?  How do you say, "I think you're smart, but wrong."  Once I catch myself interrupting, is there any way to turn that around?  Where is the point of no return...or is there a point of no return?  Well, I have a plan: I'm going to do my best to simply listen to Mrs. O.  Sounds pretty basic.  I should be able to do it.  Just listen until she's finished.  No comments.  No additional explanations.  If I really do want to hear what she has to say, then maybe I'll start by doing just that: listening to what she has to say.

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