Level-headed, deliberate, accurate

On my blog I want to share stories of successes as well as failures, and today’s is a story of success. And, as a self-deprecating Canadian who will readily point out my own failure but is reluctant to highlight my own success, sharing this story is somewhat therapeutic for me. I have plenty of failures and I’m sure we’ll look at some of those in the future (I already shared one previously). This time, though, I did something right!

The person I quote below emailed me in private after seeing how I handled myself in a public discussion. Details have been changed / removed to protect the innocent / guilty.

I was intrigued with how you handled Ricardo.  I get quite frustrated with some of his opinions about politics, among other things, and appreciated your level-headed responses to what he said. Thank you for being deliberate and accurate in your claims!

This person has obviously interacted with Ricardo in the past, on these issues, and found the interactions frustrating. All I will say about Ricardo is that he came across as very passionate in his opinions, and very diligent in presenting them, though I did not find him exceptionally aggressive or rude. This passion, combined with an eagerness to share one’s opinions, can be intimidating to some people. I don’t know, specifically, what I said that impressed this onlooker, but obviously I helped keep the tone level-headed, and I made an effort to be very clear (deliberate and accurate) in what I said.

It’s a short email based on a short conversation so there isn’t much to dissect. Still, let’s take a look at some quick lessons:

  1. Ricardo’s passion and energy has obviously rubbed some people the wrong way. I am certain he meant no harm, but we do always need to be careful to consider how the people we are interacting with are responding, verbally and non-verbally. Sometimes we need to zip it, and other times we merely need to tone down our enthusiasm.
  2. Keep it level-headed. As I have mentioned in the past – and as I describe in Arguing with Friends – we can often control the temperature of the conversation just by refusing to follow somebody else who may be heating things up. They get passionate; we respond dispassionately.
  3. The onlooker specifically appreciated that I was deliberate and accurate. Again, this is not an accident, nor does it come naturally to me (at al!). I’ve taken years to learn this and even now I still get it wrong often. When we get into conversations like these we need to think before we speak. We need to analyze on-the-fly even allowing for awkward silence, if needed, as we reflect before we respond. Learn to hold your tongue, even if you are completely at a loss and have to say, “I’ll get back to you on that one.”
  4. Accuracy. This should be obvious. Be careful to make sure your statements are true and accurate. If you don’t know something for sure, admit as much. Always accurately represent the other person’s views; no straw men (more on that here).

Anyway, I hope this miniature story and dissection is as encouraging to you as it was to me. It’s nice to know that I sometimes even get it right! In this case even a short conversation, if handled properly, can make an impression on others. In Arguing with Friends I have a chapter on failed conversations in which I consider the question of why we even bother talking with difficult people (not that Ricardo is specifically “difficult”). One of the reasons, illustrated beautifully here, is because other people are sometimes watching. If we behave ourselves, our gentleness (especially contrasted with another person’s aggression) may be noticed and we will have earned credibility in the eyes of others who are seeking Truth.

What about you? Have you “got it right” before? I love sharing stories of both kinds (successes and failures) so please connect with me and share your story so we can all learn.

Thoughts? Objections? Let me know...

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