PSA: The goal of communication is understanding, not agreement.

Recently, I was in the middle of a conversation with someone who painstakingly laid out their viewpoint, speaking to me as if I were a child; when (after my ability to listen politely had worn out) I said “It’s not that I don’t understand your viewpoint, I don’t agree with it.”  It made an awkward moment in the conversation but it highlighted a valuable point in the purpose of communication.

The goal of communication is to gain understanding, not acceptance.  If you’re in a relationship with someone, regardless of what kind of relationship it is, and you remove the ability to safely disagree with the person or offer a different view point, you’re removing the ability to discuss.  At that point in time it’s not a conversation, it’s a directive.

Examples of this kind of unhealthy behavior look like the following:

  • Interrupting someone who’s speaking with the intent to further their own agenda.
  • Refusal to “waste time” having further discussion on a specific idea under the pretense of moving the conversation forward.  Or rushing dialog. Or ending the meeting.
  • Rephrasing dialog that has been spoken, changing the dialog to suit their own needs.  Example: Original statement: “I don’t like my work environment.” Revised statement: “So what you’re saying is you don’t like your job.” 
  • Raising your voice and talking over someone, or noticing that tempers are getting heated.
  • Noticing that members of the conversation have just become silent, seeking to just wait out the directive dialog, without contributing to the development of the discussion.
  • Only one person or group of people “wins”.

Warning signs of prolonged exposure to this looks like: glazed over eyes, refusal to make eye contact, crossed arms, eye rolling, big heavy sighs, or closed off body language, glancing at peers with faces of “I told you they weren’t going to listen.” or “See, we’re not valued here.” 

Examples of healthy behavior when communicating:

  • Listening without your own agenda with the intent to seek understanding, not acceptance.
  • If you’re the speaker, asking your listener to repeat back what you just said, to confirm that your message isn’t being misunderstood.
  • When in a group setting, many voices and perspectives are contributed to the dialog without fear of being ridiculed, marginalized, or undervalued.
  • Hard topics are handled with respect and openness.
  • Everyone “wins”.

 


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