Sometimes you’re in a discussion with someone, but you notice that the discussion is going into a dead end, one that brings no solution to the problem you’re discussing. It’s uncomfortable because nothing is happening, and nothing is getting done.
There are some familiar pitfalls in discussions, in which everyone falls and which definitely will block finding solutions.
1. Judging too quickly.
Suppose you have an opinion about whether or not to abolish intensive animal farming. Personally, you are totally opposed to intensive animal farming. You think it’s bad. End of discussion.
Your quick judgment will provide resistance in people with different opinions. You shut the door immediately. That will make others become offensive or defensive. Thus, the chances are that the situation remains as it was or even worse, while you need the others for support and cooperation, they don’t want to work with you anymore.
To open up this closed situation, you need to open up yourself. To have an impact, you must be open for the positions of everyone involved, even though these opinions are the opposite of your own.
Ask yourself these questions before you take a position:
Why do they think what they think? What arguments do they use? Is there a bit of truth in their arguments? Can you refute their arguments with good counter arguments? Have you thought of the possible consequences your advice or solution might have for all concerned?
Strong primary reactions are not necessarily bad: they make it clear that something is going on. Primary reactions indicate – for all parties – where the conflict is. Where do emotions such as anger or resentment come from? What are the underlaying values or principles? Where exactly do these principles collide?
2. You can be guided too much by emotions and personal experiences.
Certain positions may be significantly influenced by emotions and personal experiences. They obstruct a clear view of the discussion and prevent you from having an informed opinion.
An illuminating example that evokes many emotions is nuclear energy. There are fierce supporters and fierce opponents. Opponents consider it a danger to humanity, health, nature and the environment. Proponents see it as a necessity for energy and also to diagnose and cure diseases.
Such an issue raises many emotions: everyone knows someone with cancer who needed radiotherapy, and everyone knows the images of Chernobyl and what impact it had on health and environment.
Don’t ignore these emotions. The pitfall is when you base all your conclusions and judgments solely on your own personal experiences and emotions.
3. Seeming to being open to others, when you’re not.
Nothing is more fatal to a discussion when you create the illusion of openness. What I mean is that you engage in a discussoin and hear the opinion of another, but actually think, “What nonsense! I’ll keep thinking what I think. You only ask for people’s opinions to avoid complaints or critique.
Why is this a destructive attitude? Because this attitude damages confidence, appears hypocritical, and makes you unbelievable. Next time, others will also be much less willing to talk to you and will work against you.
4. Only use the arguments that reaffirm your opinion.
You leave arguments out because they weaken your position and arguments. You use only the arguments that reconfirm your opinion. That’s not a deliberate consideration, you just follow your first judgment. It is understandable, we all prefer to be right.
If you taken in unwanted counterarguments into your final judgment, you are better able to withstand criticism. Take all arguments, and write your plan from there. It makes a solid structure that can withstand lots of criticism. People will also better understand and support your plan.
If you argue like it’s a battle in which you must win by pressing, then you lose. Because you will fall into these pitfalls. These pitfalls in discussions can have a temporary positive effect, but later they will turn against you.
Ultimately it will cost you unnecessary time, money and energy. And worse: it can cost you your relations. As a result, you have even less impact.