March 28, 2009

Conversation vs. confrontation

I received a private message yesterday from a Twitter connection, disagreeing with a point of view I had expressed in one of my "tweets."

But instead of starting a dialogue that could have led to some interesting discussion, the person decided to be confrontational and insulting. I responded diplomatically, wondering if I could get her/him into an actual discussion. But no, the response again came back condescending and rude.

What's my point with this story? If you get in people's faces, they're less likely to hear your message.

Sometimes the topics we speak on are controversial or difficult to talk about. And sometimes our audiences don't "get it" or seem apathetic. Our own passion can quickly turn to anger and aggression if we feel strongly about something but don't feel that we're being heard. We start to take it personally when people don't agree or find fault with our arguments.

So do we confront people or do we have a conversation and try to learn more about where they're coming from?

Having spent six years educating youth and adults about domestic violence, a cause I'm very passionate about, I can tell you that there were times when I almost felt violent myself! Someone would say, "Well she must have done something to deserve it," or "She must like the abuse or she would leave," and I would feel my temperature rising and my heart beating faster.

Sometimes I would feel like telling someone what a stupid idiot they were (just being honest!).

But of course, that's not the case. Just because someone doesn't have the same understanding of an issue that you have, or just because they disagree on some points, it certainly doesn't make them stupid or ignorant, and they are not out to get you. They are not in the same place you are, and it's your job as a speaker/educator/trainer to help them see your point in an open and understanding way.

And you have to realize that they may never come around to your point of view, but having an open and honest discussion where you really hear each other's arguments can at least create understanding and appreciation of the other person's perspective.

I learned through that experience, and later experiences teaching healthy sexuality classes to middle school students and speaking on gender equity for my nonprofit, that you can't truly make a difference in people's lives unless you listen to them, bite your tongue, and make an effort to understand where they're coming from.

That being said, a little confrontation can be okay, in the sense that you might have to share stories and facts that are shocking and uncomfortable for people to hear. You might have to shake up their comfortable world a little bit for them to grasp your message.

But it's just not okay to insult your audience, yell at them, or make the issue personal between you.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Tonni said...

Nice article with some good things for me to remember. Thank you.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Tonni!

Barb Desmarais said...

You are RIGHT ON Lisa!

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