10. Let's make this discussion meaningful

Uncategorized Mar 18, 2020

Let’s make this discussion meaningful. 


Discussion deepens understanding and promotes problem solving when done properly. When done poorly it can fray nerves, foster animosity and leave issues unresolved. In our culture the most prevalent forms of discussion are talk shows on the radio and T.V. A lot of times they lead to the latter effects. 


Complex questions are asked by the host and encouraged to be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. If those being questioned provide the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the host lambasts them for oversimplifying the matter. If they try to answer in a balanced way they are criticised for avoiding the question. This is when the host usually answers the question themselves. Guests who agree with the host are treated nicely, others are dismissed as ignorant or dishonest. If there are guests debating they each take turns interrupting the other while shouting “let me finish.” Rarely do they show desire to learn from each other. At the end the host will thank the participants for a ‘vigorous debate’ and promise listeners or viewers more on the next show. 


Such discussions lead nowhere. In real life more civility, meaning, and productivity should come from your discussions. To do so follow these guidelines so our talks about fitness and nutrition are helpful. 


  1. Prepare in advance. An agenda to stick in your head for use in our discussion is called SOAP notes. SOAP is an acronym for subjective, objective, assess, plan. This sequence of analysis covers what you felt and noticed that can't be easily measured (subjective); what you did measure (objective); what happened recently(assess) and lastly; what you have coming up (plan). Use this information to prepare for our discussion. 


  1. Set expectations. We rarely change our minds easily and quickly, especially when it comes to our long held beliefs. How we move and eat fit that category. When we are exposed to ideas different from our own we want to know what evidence supports the idea. Expect to have your ideas challenged. Be cheerful and gracious in responding so you can avoid disappointment if someone doesn’t abandon their views.

  2. Drop ego and agendas at the door. In order to be productive, discussion requires an atmosphere of mutual respect. If you believe the person you are talking to knows something you do not, and that person believes the same of you, discussion can produce learning in both people. Egotism produces the opposite effect - “I’m more important than other people,” or “My ideas are better than anyone else’s.” Personal agendas such as dislike for another or overconfidence in a particular point of view can lead to personal attacks and an unwillingness to listen to others.

  3. Contribute but don’t dominate. Some people love to talk and have a lot to say. They contribute more to conversations than those who are more reserved and seldom say anything. Both types of people exist and there is nothing wrong with either. Discussions tend to be most productive when all parties involved contribute ideas. In order for this to happen you may need to exercise some restraint or accept responsibility for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Stop distracting speech habits. Mumbling, slurring your words, starting one sentence and abruptly switching to another, saying “um, ah, like, or ya know” are all examples of distracting speech habits. These annoying tendencies distract people from your message. To overcome them, listen to yourself when you speak. Record your discussions with family and friends and pay attention to your habits. Everyone picks up some bad speech patterns along the way. Hearing yourself using them makes it easier to aim for clarity and directness.

  5. Listen Actively. When people in a discussion don’t listen to each other the discussion becomes little more than a continuous monologue - each person takes a turn at speaking while the other ignores what is being said. This can happen unintentionally because our minds can process ideas faster than we can speak them. If you hear the same thing from others often your mind may grow bored of waiting for the message and wander to what’s for dinner, the show last night, or the weather. When this happens it’s important to recognize your distraction and return to listening by making eye contact and asking questions to clarify.

  6. Make judgments responsibly. Ideas range in quality from terrible to amazing, helpful to hurtful, and empowering to degrading. Therefore it is important to judge them. Fairness demands you base your judgement on careful consideration of facts, strengths, and weaknesses of the idea. This is in contrast to letting your initial feeling or impression guide you. You must be careful with ideas that are unfamiliar to you or different from your own because those are the kind you will be most likely to deny a fair hearing. 

  7. Resist shouting and interrupting. Did you know that shouting and interrupting are in many cases signs of intellectual insecurity? It’s true, if you really believe your ideas are sound you will have zero need to raise your voice or silence the other person. Despite what the popular talking heads on TV demonstrate, getting loud to get your point across makes you look silly, not smart. Even if the other person resorts to such behavior the best way to demonstrate your confidence and character is by refusing to reciprocate. Disagreeing and being disagreeable are a little different. You can disagree with someone masterfully and avoid the childish behaviors of disagreeableness. And to do so means to discuss without raising your voice or cutting off.

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