Robert Quillen once said that “Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance”. How many times have we started a friendly discussion, whether it be at work or in a private setting, and after a little while the sides harden, and learning goes straight out of the window, and we go straight to having a full blown argument. By that stage, it is not anymore about what is said, but about our own emotions…who is right! In his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnegie wrote: “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”.
Now, the reason this has suddenly popped into my head again, is that I recently was recommended a book by Keith Johnstone called “IMPRO”. While superficially dealing with the art of improvisation in the theater, the text itself is riddled with pearls of wisdom about the human behavior and psychology. In the first few chapters he explores the idea of status, states that the basic functioning of a discussion is a display of status. Either we try to elevate our own status, or we lower the status of the other person. The British idea of “one up manship” is also closely related to this.
When we begin a discussion, we usually want to learn something, or exchange views on certain subjects. Many times, we also try to convert someone else to our point of view, our mode of thinking. Yet, how likely is that to happen, when what we are doing is disagreeing. In this way, Dale Carnegie’s words are a maxim to not only go by, but to communicate by, as the best way to get the best out of an argument is to avoid it.
The first time I told friends about this concept, they looked at me like a fool, laughed and said:”So what, you want us to always agree and never say no? How good a manager are you going to be like that, not taking clear positions?!” (add laughing sounds). Obviously, at that time, I did not follow my own advice to well, as they were not convinced of my ideas. To an extent, I did and do mean that you agree with people, because agreement leads to a certain level of trust, and with that, you can then slowly begin to introduce your own point of view. (sound familiar? Indeed, get into the other persons map, and then lead them to yours….)
Naturally, when alcohol and friends are involved, some arguments can not be avoided. They just happen, and form a natural part of our society. Yet, more and more you will begin to notice that many arguments are completely unnecessary, and can be avoided very easily, and with the avoidance of them come the benefits of greater trust, rapport and influence. Damn, horrible that, isn’t it?!