What do you do when you talk, talk and talk, argue based on knowledge, but you still fail to get the other person to understand you? Many then ask themselves the question: Does he or she may or may not understand us? Are we making ourselves unclear? Sometimes we invest a lot of time and energy in discussions and have the expectation that the other person will have to understand what we mean if we only talk to them long enough.
And then there are the cases in which we find that people suddenly express completely contrary opinions to their previous convictions – opinions that we cannot understand. The confusing thing is: Sometimes you seem to no longer recognize your colleague, partner or relative because he or she is suddenly no longer accessible to objective arguments. The problem with these opposing opinions is not the contrary – but the way in which they are represented: not tolerating a second opinion, believing that they are in possession of the only valid truth.
It is not always clear to us why other people talk the way they do, and we do not always understand each other. Often we want a factual discussion, an exchange of arguments, data and facts, and yet the well-intentioned discussion ends in a misunderstanding or even in a tangible conflict – which leads to mutual understanding being reduced even more.
As a conflict manager, I generally advise those in dispute to maintain contact with one another. Only in one case do I find conversation not constructive. Namely when the disputants argue on different levels. Because then they talk past each other. You may be able to talk or argue about the same topic at different levels – but in a different context. And here lies the cause of the mutual non-understanding.
Discussions on different levels lead nowhere
Someone who is literally 180 is active on the emotional level. But if the other person is on the factual and rational level, the feeling arises of talking past each other. Communication and discourses that are conducted on different levels usually cause conversations to run without effect and rarely bring usable results. However, they consume a lot of energy.
However, you don’t have to be at 180 to communicate on different levels with zero impact. It is sufficient for one of the parties to communicate on the emotional level and the other on the rational level. Sentences like “Now let’s look at the whole thing objectively” or “… now stay objectively …” have already been heard or spoken by many of us. They are clear signs that people are talking on different levels.
Perhaps you have already experienced this yourself: One person wants to talk about everything and may lapse into repetitions, the other wants to create quick solutions and thus have the topic off the table. Different approaches and different needs come together here. But people learn from experience and not when an opponent bombarded them with arguments, data and facts – and certainly not when they communicate with one another on different levels.
Address discrepancies and go constructive ways
If you notice that you and the person you are communicating with are communicating on different levels, you should point out this discrepancy. It is then best not to talk further about the conflict issue – at least not if you want to find a constructive way to resolve it.
There is a simple tip if the person you are talking to is on the emotional level and you are calm and matter-of-fact yourself. Name what you are observing in calm words: “I can see how annoying this topic is …” or “I can see that the topic seems to bother you very much …”. Often empathy is enough to reach the other person – and to find out whether it is more constructive to postpone the topic.
If you notice that the person you are talking to is communicating much more rationally than you, you could say, for example: “I want to get angry right now. It helps me to relieve my emotions … after that we can hopefully talk about the subject matter-of-factly. ”We are nowhere near as rational as we assume we are. Often we are not even aware of how we are emotionally triggered by something or by the words of a person – and sometimes unconsciously get into an emotional spiral. It also has nothing to do with stupidity if we still consider ourselves objective and rational, even though we have long since reacted emotionally.
Agree on it: We disagree and accept that
Therefore: If you communicate on different levels, then postpone the conversation until everyone has reached the same level. Or ask yourself the question: do we have to clarify the topic at all? Can’t we also agree that we have different opinions on the subject – without trying to convince the other of our “right”?
Sometimes in my job as a conflict manager it almost seems to me as if people have forgotten that different opinions and points of view are “normal”. Just agree on it: We have different opinions and accept the opinion of others for what it really is – namely different. Not wrong and not controversial, just different. This is sometimes difficult and requires tolerance. But don’t we expect exactly this kind of tolerance from others?
Stephanie Huber is the founder and managing director of konSENSation GmbH and works full-time as a mediator with a focus on business mediation and conflict management. Your area of responsibility primarily includes companies and their managers who are looking for solutions for their company through active communication management.