No news is always good news

For a while when I was younger, whenever I went away without my parents, I was confused. All my classmates and peers would always be in constant contact with their family, whilst my parents would cheerily wave goodbye and then eagerly listen to the second by second story upon my return.

It took me a while to realise that this approach was actually a bit different.

When ever someone went away, or travelled somewhere there was no expectation of being called, no excess worrying or thought given to what terrible things could possibly have happened to them – if they needed something, they’d be in touch.

I remember arriving at my French exchange partner’s house and one of the first things I was asked was whether I wanted to call home.

“But why?” I kept thinking – it’d been less than 12 hours since I’d last seen them anyway – they certainly wouldn’t be thinking of phoning me – and what would I have have said anyway?

“Oh hai, I’ve arrived in France, as you can hear, I’m not dead, yet, and the exchange family seem OK, but I’ve only spoken to them for 5 minutes, and in my experience, mass murderers don’t introduce themselves as such. Oh and pat the dog for me. Bye.”

It occurs to me that this mentality – assuming that no news means all is well, and not requiring constant status updates to confirm that, probably pre-dates modern communication technology – if communication is actually excessively laggy (like letters) or expensive (like international telephone communication in the not too distant past), then actually, it’s really the best approach to adopt, as there are very few other options.

Therefore, when I went to Sweden earlier this year, I went completely offline and offgrid for the longest time in many many years – I can’t actually remember the previous time I spent over 7 consecutive days without internet access (or any phone signal!) – my family were somewhat prepared to not recieve instant updates from me. If I needed to be in contact, I’d find someway of doing it.

I talk to my family all the time, but if I don’t hear from people for months at a time, I’ll just assume everything is good and they’re doing they’re own thing – if they have something to say, they’ll get in touch, as I would if I had anything to say.

I think it’s easier this way, don’t you?

Hiking in Sweden
Hiking in Sweden

When they’re wrong, how can you change someone’s point of view?

Frequently we encounter people that we disagree with, frequently we talk about why they’re wrong, but rarely do we consider the steps to convince them to change their views.

Many people seem content to tell people that they’re wrong, without making the effort to explain *why* they’re wrong in a way that they’ll respond to.

Essentially, the process can be broken down into three steps:

Step 1) Understanding that other people are entitled to hold other views, even when they’re wrong

Step 2) Understand that other people hold their views based on their principled stance of the world (which may be different from yours)

Step 3) Articulating your views in terms of their principled stance of the world

Can you change someone's point of view?
Can you change someone’s point of view?

Let’s address those one by one with an example:

Step 1) Understanding that other people are entitled to hold other views, even when they’re wrong

My friend “Jim”, believes that speed limits shouldn’t exist on UK motorways – he believes that as he has a fast car so he shouldn’t be limited by the law.

I disagree. I think that speed limits exist for a good reason, and whilst I’m uncomfortable with his position here, I’m happy to sit down and drink a beer with him and talk about other things. I’m also happy to casually chat about this – I know it’s not easy to change your mind about something you feel strongly about, and I may not cause any change, but I feel strongly about it, so I’m willing to try.

It turns out we support the same football team and so can chat for hours about something we both agree on – it’s important to find some common, neutral, ground.

Step 2) Understand that other people hold their views based on their principled stance of the world (which may be different from yours)

After chatting to Jim over a few beers, I find he strongly feels that the law is unjustly criminalising motorists and milking them for cash. He sees speed limits as an unwanted tax on cars to pay for “green power” schemes that he doesn’t agree with.

Jim is 46, and is a manager at a factory that makes polystyrene packaging, he doesn’t really read newspapers but listens to BBC 5 Live, and has Sky at home, he has a wife and two children from a previous marriage who largely live with their mother and her partner.

As Jim has a forty five minute commute to work, with longish trips sometimes at weekends to see/pickup his children.

Jim isn’t all that good at articulating his views – he gets agitated if you push too hard with a different viewpoint so that he feels like he’s “losing” – because he can’t explain his views as clearly as you can – so it’s important that you intersperse the conversation and not to take things too seriously.

Step 3) Articulating your views in terms of their principled stance of the world

It’s very easy to articulate that someone else’s views don’t make sense given your view of their world, but articulating your views in the terms of someone else’s principled view of the world is more challenging and takes a little thought.

For instance, it’d be very easy for me to say to Jim, that “driving at 90Mph causes considerably more pollution than cars travelling at 70mph” but this isn’t something Jim cares about – he just wants to go from A to B. He’s had campaigners come round before who gave him a flyers about how his car was fuel inefficient, but they were casually dressed students and he has no respect for their agenda, labelling them “hippitards”.

On the other hand, Jim cares a great deal about his children – if we can explain how extra speed limits may affect his children, we may stand a chance. we must be careful, however, not to criticise him personally – or suggest he is a bad driver – we want to find something we both agree on, that makes him think that perhaps speed limits, of some sort are required.

One thing we could point out is road safety statistics involving the speed of the accident – research how fast collisions have different effects to slow collisions – sympathise on his getting from A to B frustrations, but show some maths to calculate how little time it’d save in total – instead suggest that turning a set of problematic pedestrian lights into a pelican crossing could save more time. Perhaps suggest the effect of other people driving recklessly at speed – does he see bad drivers often? Do they upset him? Should this problem be tackled first? What does he think?

The most important thing is not to try and tell him what to think – point out various things, and let him draw his own conclusions from them. If you’ve given the right perspective, he’ll be persuaded, even if he won’t agree.

Frequently, one of the problems is that people like Jim haven’t encountered anyone who will listen to them for long without trying to preach their own views upon them. If you can gently try and talk to them about various things that already fit within their view of the world, you can make some serious progress.

It’s not easy, it’s not necessarily fun but it can be very rewarding.

Next time you disagree with someone over a view they hold, try thinking – what would it take to help them change that view?

Help show someone the light
Help show someone the light

Shouting quieter makes things better :: How I learnt to yell less and win more.

At quite a young age, I realised I enjoyed arguments; a second to face up one’s opponent of the moment – a chance to put them down with cruel language – an opportunity to let go and lose one’s temper.

Of course, it was all about being on the winning side, and with those wins being few and far between, frequently I’d end up crying in someone’s arms.

As I grew older, I started to notice how the person who spoke quietest, seemed to keep the upper hand – speaking quieter appeared to make the other party shout even louder… a seemingly illogical and bizzarre state of affairs.

It seemed that after all those arguments about staying up “and extra half an hour”, raising my voice hadn’t been helping at all. I decided to embark upon a new strategy…

At the same time, at school, we were being taught dispute resolution procedures for use in the playground. It was a basic mediation process, colloquially called “My Turn, Your Turn” whereby one would be approached/approach others who were involved in a conflict and go through some simple, structured steps something along the lines of:

– Alice, please describe what’s wrong?
– Bob, please describe what’s wrong?
– Alice, how does what Bob is doing make you feel?
– Bob, how does what Alice is doing make you feel?
– Alice, how can we resolve this?
– Bob, how can we resolve this?
– Alice, Bob, does it work for each of you?
– Alice, Bob, resolve it how you explained and then go back to playing football.

Essentially in abstract terms, this getting each party to listen to each other, communicate clearly and come up with a resolution themselves. The “My Turn, Your Turn”, segment referring specifically to requiring each party to listen to the other person without butting in or interrupting them.

At an fundamental level, this is really quite an effective method of dispute resolution.

As I grew older, I started to realise outside school, that if I held back on getting involved in arguments I couldn’t win, I could make sure I had ‘extra ammunition’ with which ‘to hit’ the opponent of the minute with when a better opportunity arose. Several examples delivered without shouting were more effective still, but I realise that by combining that with “My turn, Your turn” tips, one could add one’s feeling into your response, eg.
“but you let $otherchildname [who is the same age as me] stay up until late o’clock, 3 times on identical occasions to this, so I feel disappointed that you aren’t applying your own rules consistently.”

Clearly, a well laid out, persuasive argument like this, is much more effective than trying to shout louder than someone, and is much more effective. Extra bonus points if you noticed how that argument also accuses them of breaking their own “due process”, and frames it within the other persons world.

Fast forward many years…

I was asked recently why I didn’t get more pissed off by car drivers who cut me up whilst I cycle round the city. The suggestion was, that being on a bike was an advantage, because it meant you could shout at idiotic drivers. This made me blink a bit… How was shouting at them going to make any useful difference?

It turns out, when I was a child, I missed out on a key point; to try to leave the conflict resolved, so it wouldn’t happen again. Whilst shouting at cars may be helpful for letting off steam, really all it does is reinforce to a few motorists that cyclists are arrogant and dangerous, whilst reaffirming to a few cyclists the perception that motorists are twits that drive away without caring, neither of which constructively addresses the situation in any way.

When friend’s of mine my lose their tempers, I feel sad.

I find it upsetting because they haven’t learnt how to identify their stress, find the a self control and skills to step back from the argument and try to resolve or mitigate it.

To me, it seems incredibly rude (or immature) – I find that losing your temper seems to characterise poor judgement – and I do my best to avoid situations where people do.

However, when your friends lose their tempers, as much as you may not enjoy it, you’re in the best possible position to bring it to an amicable resolution. William Ury explains:

William Ury: The walk from “no” to “yes”

It does occur to me, that my perspective here must partly be influenced by arguing a point effectively as a child. When I read this article about “teaching your children to argue” – I did wonder what would have happened if actually, people were taught to effectively communicate their point, things would be a lot different today.

As Adora Svitak says:
“The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adults, but rather better adults than you have been”