Conversation, discussion, argument.


Conversations have brought us together and connected us for centuries.

Every one of them, an opportunity to meet in the beautiful space between us.

brown classroom chairs

Conversations, discussions, debates, arguments . . .

These are all inherently positive. As long as all parties involved are engaged, and there is a genuine wish to understand each other. To reach an agreement or compromise. And hopefully to learn.

A heated argument can be positive. As long as there’s mutual respect, and we’re dedicated to finding common ground – solutions to move forward. When the heat comes from the individuals passion for the subject. And not from animosity or being opposed to seeing the other parties as part of the solution.

We will learn more, reduce friction and misunderstandings, clear the air. When we have good, constructive discussions where everybody is heard. And remove the stigma around having an argument. An argument merely indicates that multiple opinions, needs and requirements are being voiced. And everybody involved needs to work together on deciding on the best solution, a suitable compromise. Or work together on coming up with new alternatives.

The key is to see the world and points of view of those you engage with.

You may not agree with them, but if we listen and make an effort to understand each other. Then we can empathise. And then we open the door for creating something meaningful together. We can bridge opinions, neighbourhoods and cultures.

A great way to engage with people. Is to speak because we want to learn.

One and the same ?

They are all forms of dialogue.

These words essentially cover the same activity. The format and setting can be different. But in every regard we’re exchanging experiences, viewpoints, wishes, demands.

They are more a way to distinguish how we feel about the exchange. Not least afterwards, when we digest the outcome, the residual feeling about it. And over time when we see the effect of the exchange, or lack thereof.

We tend to colour things differently than we did during the conversation. Once it sinks in. Some times the excitement or pressure of it, makes it difficult to pause, and sense how we feel about it in the moment.

When someone are merely speaking at you, and no longer engaging in a dialogue. They either presume they are right or have the power to relinquish dialogue. Or as it’s often the case, they are afraid to be proven wrong, or they are under a significant amount of stress.

Enter all dialogues with a clear intent to increase mutual understanding. Create as much valuable outcomes for everyone as possible. And, importantly, end them with everyone eager to engage again another time.

Healthy habits when engaging

Engage with an open and positive mind.

Focus on what you can learn from others. There is always something we can learn.

Don’t abandon your beliefs – but listen to reason.

Increase valuable outcomes for all parties.

Cultural considerations

You don’t have to be different nationalities for culture to be a factor. Consider the little differences between friends you’ve known for years. Your own extended family, different departments in the same company. You should in fact always consider people you engage with, as having a more or less different culture from you.

This is not a problem to be solved. It only makes conversations and engaging with others even more interesting.

In some settings it’s seen as rude to ask questions. Indicating that the person speaking is not knowledgable, wasn’t clear and articulate. Or possibly not considered a senior or valuable partner.

In some cultures you don’t even mention or imply there might be a difference of opinion.

Often people remain silent for fear of sounding stupid when asking a question that’re ‘obvious’ to others. An issue stemming from an unfortunate, yet prevailing, ‘finger pointing’ culture. That should be eradicated.

In any scenario, where we are not quite able to discern what is holding up “progress”… the best way forward is continuing the conversation. Politely returning to the topic and asking for the persons expertise or re-confirming their input.

In general. Remain calm even when strong positions are voiced. Speak in a calm voice, make sure to let others finish sentences, and allow them proper time to convey their message. Look the person you’re speaking with in the eyes. Use hand and arm gestures sparingly, don’t point at people.

Make sure to actively listen. And when in doubt, ask for clarifications and examples.

Adhere to a freedom of speech culture. Speak for what you believe is the best possible way forward, not against what others believe.

When engaging with other cultures. Slowing down – so we can speed up, is always the right way forward.

Venue matters

When we communicate. Means and proximity have a major influence. But also where we are.

We communicate differently when we are comfortable, on neutral and mutually welcoming ground. Than if we feel out of place, uncomfortable or put on the spot. Same as we act and converse differently one on one and in larger groups.

If you are in a position of seniority, control or power. Make sure to not leverage it. For one – there’s no need to. And you’ll risk getting flavoured answers and input. People tend to say what they believe you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. In fact – underplay it, meet on their terms and their home ground as much as possible.

This is again culture dependent. Some find it special and prestigious, when a senior leader comes to their workplace. Others prefer being invited to a meeting in the leaders office, the corner suite or on a higher floor.

Gemba – going to the place where work is done. Should be practiced as much as possible. Yet firm rules are as always a hindrance more than a benefit. Decide based on what will create the most valuable outcomes for everybody.

The venue is modified and influenced by where you come from. Leaders bring their corner office with them, wealthy tourists and business people in poorer countries. We bring each our cultures when we visit different parts of the world. These are in no way negatives, it’s how we meet in the spaces between us. But we must respect local culture and remain considerate guests wherever we go.

Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact. Are all important to understand mood and intent. As is mutual history or starting to write your chapters. And these days where we increasingly communicate via short form text messages, this is often lost and misconstrued. No amount of emoticons and hashtags can or should compete with in-person conversations.

As we increasingly work in international settings, remotely and from home. Our ‘venue’ has become a chat box, a ‘submit request’ form. We work with people for years whom we’ve never met or even seen a picture of. It’s flexible and the de-coupled asynchronous nature of it enables us to throttle workloads. But it hasn’t brought us closer together, and many feel disconnected and numbed by the lack of personal contact.

We must make an effort to still meet in person or via video call. Especially early on. As in all relationships, it takes considerable effort communicating intend via text only, even when you know someone well. Among family, in a relationship and colleagues who’ve worked together for years.

We shouldn’t try or even attempt to resolve disagreements via text messages or chat. Only agree on when to meet for a face to face conversation. And then have a proper dialogue.

Often a good way forward to resolve differences, and find the best way forward, is to step away for a bit. And have each party formulate their points of view, add documentation, forecasts, plans, drawings, etc. for each to digest. And reconvene for a well informed discussion.

What to bring into the arena

Some good thoughts, habits and considerations for engaging with others.

Always preload. Come prepared – as much as possible.

If people approach you for a conversation – or argument, on a topic you’re not prepared for. It’s better for everybody to pause, have time to prepare for the conversation – and re-engage later.

This is particularly important when personal, sensitive or emotionally laden conversations take place. And especially so in private. We are often rushed into arguments when we are ‘caught’ unaware. It puts us out of balance, and we instinctively feel we have to defend ourselves. Which is also why we should preload others about upcoming conversations.

Bring facts, if meaningful and required – Not evidence. Facts can help with framing solutions. Evidence is about proof – being right – winning. Nobody should enter a dialogue to prove anything – as it is then a different type of exchange.

The good habit, to only speak because we want to learn. Is valuable in any dialogue.

Uncover new territory

Any dialogue that uncovers a difference of opinion, disagreement or conflict. Is in essence creating a space between us – we are essentially in different places on that topic.

But rather than seeing this space as a problem or concern. Look at it as undiscovered territory. Same as engaging with a different culture. It’s a beautiful space to discover, a space where you can meet people, get to know each other, learn, create new experiences and make new friends.

Every time we encounter someone or something new to us. Especially if it is so new, that we call it foreign. There is this amazing opportunity to learn and discover something about them, and ourselves.

Some have inadvertently been taught. To be apprehensive and distrusting towards people who on appearances are different. They’ll focus on what they see, and be afraid or not even think to discover how much they have in common. They’ll miss out on how much they would enjoy each others company, and all the new impulses that will widen their view on what’s possible.

Those who’ve been lucky enough to discover, that differences are what unites us as humans. From others or by their own efforts. Will be open and curious, and engage in dialogue. Will continuously seek to explore the space between us all, and close the distance between people. We always have something new to offer each other.

Tori Amos – China – lyrics

China, all the way to New York
I can feel the distance getting close
You’re right next to me, but I need an airplane
I can feel the distance as you breathe

Sometimes I think you want me to touch you
How can I when you build the Great Wall around you?
In your eyes I saw a future together
Oh, you just look away in the distance

China decorates our table
Funny how the cracks don’t seem to show
Pour the wine, dear, you say we’ll take a holiday
But we never can agree on where to go

Sometimes I think you want me to touch you
How can I when you build the Great Wall around you?
In your eyes I saw a future together
Oh, you just look away in the distance

China all the way to New York
Maybe you got lost in Mexico
You’re right next to me, I think that you can hear me
Funny how the distance learns to grow

Sometimes I think you want me to touch you
How can I when you build the Great Wall around you?

I can feel the distance
I can feel the distance
I can feel the distance getting close

Written by and all rights to the amazing Tori Amos

Remember. Every time we part with friends, business partners and loved ones. We each go out, have new experiences, and meet new people. We change a little – we create new space to be shared and discovered when we meet again.

We are 98% the same

We are all 2% special !

Spend time with people unlike yourself

It’s the space that separates us. That is the most interesting, intriguing, mysterious of all.

Not taking anything away. From how fantastic a lifelong friendship, love, marriage, partnership, business relationship… can be. The continuous journey of evolving, as we revolve around each other. The spaces that are constantly created between us, as we individually ride our pendulums through life.

Absence does make the heart grow fond. We get to re-discover and experience re-union with each other.

There is a philosophical, very real and practical aspect to this.

We know this from we were kids, playing outside – seeing and meeting the neighbourhood kids for the first time. The first time we see someone with a different racial or ethnical background.

People who are seemingly the same as we are. People who live in the same neighbourhood, went to the same school as us, walk the same streets every day – living the “same” life. Are often remarkably and wonderfully different from us. We don’t have to travel or seek out different far away cultures, to find inspiring people to speak with.

We should cherish our diversity. Not least among people closest to us.

Delayed conversations

Often we delay conversations, things that’ve been left unattended or unresolved for too long. Hoping the problem or conflict will go away with time.

It still bothers us, and now we’ve waited too long. We’re somehow past a point where it feels natural bringing it up. We’ve ‘allowed’ it to go on. How can we ‘complain’ now?

Quite often all parties involved knows there is an issue to be resolved. Either it’s obvious or there’s a palpable tension around certain situations and topics. Plus, it’s not uncommon for everyone to believe, it’s one of the others who should initiate the conversation.

Or it’s a very personal and sensitive subject. We’re concerned about hurting other peoples feelings. Or we are afraid of the response we ourselves will get.

Same as we often change our perception of a normal conversation based on the outcome – how we feel about it. We unfortunately, but understandably. Often spend the time waiting for that difficult conversation to happen. Imagining what the others might be thinking, what they might say.

And we prepare arguments and well formulated reasoning, and counter arguments for scenarios that most often doesn’t exist. These prepared statements. Unfortunately often means we’re not listening to what is actually being said, or the emotions being conveyed.

And once the conversation finally happens. We sit and listen for the words we’ve been running through our heads repeatedly. Even bending what is being said, to fit with what we hope or fear to hear. We’re eager to present our arguments and well prepared speeches, even if not relevant.

Most delayed conversations that do happen. Bring relief, unease tension, and solve what needs to be solved. And every time we experience that they do. We should be encouraged to have them. Well – earlier.

Another category of delayed conversations, are the ones that we don’t even think to have with each other. In relationships, among friends, at work, with business partners. We can all benefit from having more conversations, with more of all the people around us. Before it’s too late.

Moderating criticism

When people speak, when they criticise or talk down to you. Remember they are also talking about themselves. We all tend to do that. We are not taking ourselves out of the equation.

We say things to others that we see and recognise in ourselves. That’s often how we recognise “errors” in others, things they need help with. It’s because we’ve been through the same, and made the same mistakes – that we have the experience, enabling us to help others.

Often we see ‘signs’, that others are about to make the same mistakes that we’ve made, and react too soon. Or we use stronger than reasonable language, to distance ourselves from past mistakes. Both reminding us to not make them again, and convincingly project an image of infallibility.

Doesn’t mean that you should reject 50% of the feedback you’re receiving – it’s too valuable for that. But moderate the tone of voice you hear from others through that filter. Take away their self-frustration and what they’d have liked to do themselves… and hear it all.

People often feel that ‘people don’t listen to them’. That they are not being taken serious. And will make stronger points than they intend to. Sound more commanding and demanding than appropriate in the situation – and will often repeat their ‘advice’.

From the same shelf. The more frequent we hear the same feedback, the more it will annoy us. We will raise our defences and raise the ‘external factors, causes and excuses’ game another level. We should instead simply thank people for their time and feedback – and reflect on it.


Many seek to ‘win’ arguments and discussions. They believe it’s somehow implicit that there is a right and a wrong, and the purpose is to overcome an “opponent”. If that is the thinking – you shouldn’t be talking with anyone. You should take a breather, go for a walk and find some calm and perspective.

If you enter any conversation with the intend to ‘win’. You’ve already lost. You will be less likely to listen to others. Thus barring yourself from attaining new information. That may well help everybody produce a higher mutual outcome. And thereby increasing your own potential.

Your final “victory” will likely be smaller on your own – than what you could achieve together with others. And you’re less likely to be invited back to the table.

And if you want to ‘keep your victory’, to stay ahead. Your chances are significantly better if you convince people to come over to your side – than if you ‘beat them’.

Worse. If you intend to catch someone on the back foot – your intentions are not good. You’re not looking for solutions. You’re looking to be right – at any cost. Or you feel you’re coming into the conversation with a disadvantage. In which case you should instead approach it as a learning moment.

And yes. A business negotiation is very much a dialogue. And you should think of winning only, as your ability to make everyone around you successful.

Silence is trouble

When people stop being engaged, and just sit back. It’s not necessarily because you’ve made great points or won them over. You most likely lost their interest.

Maybe your need and ambition to win took over. You might have overstepped some personal or cultural boundaries. Possibly you didn’t invite or even appear to be open to their input. Or it’s the same topic brought up again and again, endlessly debated, and no action is taken.

When people are simply being told what to do, when ordered to perform. It’s implied that orders are to be carried out – with little or no questions asked. Also ensuring you’ll not be receiving any constructive input or ideas from the people doing the work. The very people closer to your product and your customers than you. An entirely unwise approach.

When people have no belief they can influence what they are part of. They disengage.

If the silence is on your part. You have an equal responsibility to voice your concerns, in a timely and constructive manner. Respectfully recognising you may be in an environment, where free speech is limited. Or having an opinion and challenging superiors is a sure exit ticket.

It’s important we all have a voice. That we know someone is listening and knows we exist.

Are you right – if everybody readily agrees with you ?

It feels good when people agrees with us. We’ve achieved consensus, brought us a step forward. We’ve become a little closer. But good sense dictates we take a minute, to ensure everybody have the same view.

You don’t want to risk people simply agreeing to pacify you. The ‘to tolerate is to ignore’ trap.

Ask people to describe how it might impact them. What downsides or pitfalls they could imagine – that you need to consider. The changes and challenges for each of you. Make sure they know what they need from you and others. It will get everybody thinking in solutions. And of course – give people ownership and freedom to implement things in their own way.

This approach usually works better than asking people to ‘tell you what you just told them’. It’s putting them on the spot for potentially not listening – and you might run into defensive answers.

It’s important to spend time with, and listen to, people who are unlike ourselves. New impulses, different perspectives, ideas that may be radically opposed to yours. You might even invite disagreement and introduce opposing views. To spark a healthy debate and get some brain storming going.

It takes extra time in the beginning. But you greatly reduce misunderstandings, rework, having to have the same discussion again. It’s slowing down – so we can speed up.

Keep the conversations going

There’re few things better we can do as humans. Than having fun, interesting and engaging conversations with each other. They can bring us closer, learn, help us find meaning.

Conversations have brought us together and connected us for centuries. Even when they become passionately heated. There’s beauty in the space between us.

Photo by Ian Panelo