Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
Do you find that some people are much easier to talk to than others? I am thinking of discussions – even arguments – that involve your opinions, perhaps about politics, or religion, or education. Such conversations are of course easier if you share the same view as the person you are talking with, but the are potentially more interesting, more stimulating, if you have different views.
For some people, having a discussion is about exploring a topic with someone else. This means listening to what each other have to say, and understanding each other’s point of view. It can also lead to a better understanding of your own point of view and a broader understanding of the subject in hand. It may also lead to a change of opinion on your part. I’d see such conversations as constructive and co-operative – “peace” conversations.
For other people, having a discussion is about winning or losing. Such people tend to start the conversation with a fixed point of view which they have no intention of changing. Their purpose in talking to someone else about it is to convince the other person of their view – to out-argue them. They are not seeking a better understanding of the topic, they are simply looking to win the argument. These are “war” conversations. People can gain a lot of pleasure from this sort of cut and thrust – it is like a game, and they want to come out as winners. Sometimes, I think, they adopt a view on a subject for the fun of having the debate, not because they have really thought about the topic and really believe what they are saying.
Although the words “war” and “peace” carry judgmental undertones, I am not saying that one sort of conversation is better or worse than the other – but they have different purposes. “Peace” conversations are more appropriate when agreement is sought – so if you and your partner are discussing your children’s education it is good if you can agree on the question of whether you can agree about whether to pay for private schooling. If one of you feels railroaded by the other into a decision they are not comfortable with, that is unlikely to be constructive. “War” conversations, on the other hand, are more about having fun – intellectual sparring can be stimulating and leave you feeling closer, more intimate with your “adversary”. But reaching agreement is really not important.
But when two types of people go into a debate for different reasons there can be quite a clash. One is trying to debate a topic and develop understanding – the other is playing a game and trying to win. If they don’t recognise that difference, both can end up getting frustrated with the other, and there is no resolution. Often one person will simply end up closing down the conversation because it seems pointless – and that can be annoying for the other.
Within a relationship, patterns can develop and there can be difficult power dynamics – so that conversations can have an importance beyond the topic in hand. Such conversations can have emotional undertones – about respect, about affirmation, and about love. If one person simply wants to “win” the argument they can be oblivious to the emotional impact of their “victory” on their partner – it can leave them feeling unvalued, ignored, disrespected and unloved. But equally if one person is seeking common understanding and agreement it can be hard for them to understand that this is frustrating for their partner. Their partner may feel that the conversation has happened – maybe several times already – that both sides have expressed their point of view and laid out their arguments. What more is there to be said?
So what’s the answer? If these two types of people are in a relationship together, is conflict inevitable? Not necessarily, I think, because if they recognise the situation they can work with it. “Hang on a minute! We’re having a “war” conversation here when we should be having “peace” conversation. Let’s rewind and start again…”