Adonis Diaries

Notes on notes: Solving the communication conflict

Posted on: January 2, 2011

William Choukeir published notes on “solving communication conflict” on http://notesby.me and it inspired this post in reply.

I will reply on two issues:  the “Ramallah’s discussion” and “discussion with his brother on relativism”.  The first part was related to a “TEDxRamallah community” talks on solving the middle-eastern conflict.

William wrote: ( “We are sitting in a chaotic circle, we watch a TEDtalk courtesy of TEDxSKE, and a discussion starts. I’m confused; it sounds like it revolves around solving the middle-eastern conflict. I sit back. I don’t interfere. I’m aware of the energies in the room. I’m aware of the emotions. I’m aware of the uncontrolled reactions. I say nothing. I observe with a birds-eye’s view; completely disconnected from the conversation, yet completely immersed in the chemistry of the group. A few try to put the discussion back on track, with little success. there are too much emotions involved.  Suddenly, a realization starts to seep into my awareness.  It’s only when the gathering ends, that this realization is complete: all arguments start before anyone begins talking.

This is what was happening: most of us believe that there can only be one truth around a specific topic.  Thus, whenever anyone in the circle starts talking, the rest expect to hear a truth. Then, they took this truth and compared it with the truth stored in their archive.  If the expected pronouncement was a match, green light, they nodded; if it was a mis-match, red light, emotions rose, and they reacted uncontrollably: the truth they expected to hear turned out to be a lie, or even a personal insult.

This cycle of arguments was happening so often that there was no communication taking place.  There they were, a group of people, all passionate about solving the middle-eastern conflict, yet unable to perform the most basic requirement in solving any type of conflict: they couldn’t communicate.  Why? very simply, because every time anyone talked, they expected to hear a ‘truth’. What’s the cure?

People don’t share truths: people share experiences, feelings, emotions, perceptions, thoughts, etc. and we can all agree that two people can have different experiences around the same topic (even if there can only be one truth). This is what you can do: when someone talks to you, never expect to hear a truth, expect to hear an experience. In his way, what you hear will never clash with your archive of information, because you genuinely believe that both experiences can co-exist. your mind would still be receptive and open, your emotions would still be contained, and communication would still be possible.

This discussion would surely not solve the middle-eastern conflict;  it can definitely help in solving the communication conflict, middle-eastern or not.”)  End of quote.

I realized that William failed to note what specific topics were discussed in the conversation of a highly important conflict in the Middle East. He failed to note what he got from this conversation and understood from the topics.  What he focused on was a diagnostic on the dynamics of the discussion and how he formed a system for resolving conversations that are fraught with “arguments”. A golden opportunity was offered to William for asking pertinent questions in order to understand the subject matter that concerns us all; and he failed in that endeavor since he didn’t provide any clues to what generated all that heated discussion.

Fact is, William does not live in China:  he is from Lebanon and lives in Lebanon; a small country that was invaded six times by Israel for various excuses related to the Palestinian/Zionist conflict and inflicted on our citizens thousands of death, injuries, handicapped, humiliation, destruction of infrastructure, destabilization of our society, mass  evacuations, and programmed a civil war that lasted 13 years. Fact is, this conflict in the Middle East has already spanned over a century with its trails of suffering, pains, hate, and destruction:  It is not a temporary conflict but a matter of survival.  This is not a conflict for “just being curious”, playing the neutral role, sitting tightly and watching from a “bird’s-eye” the heated and emotional “arguments” flying every which way in the room.  Playing the role of a wise man staying above the fray from this incoherent, and dishevelled talkers does not cut it. Playing lax in comprehending a conflict of survival will ultimately affect the “comfort-zone” of people not taking seriously national problems.

This is not a case of “solving a communication conflict with a private party or a business negotiation”, unless William means to considering communication problems among Lebanese and people in general for unimportant matters or spiritual issues or subjective concerns.  Fact is, heated arguments have been labelled as signs of negative connotation communications by uninterested communities in our long dragging troubles.  As if you must refrain from any clear-cut positions so that you please the neutral minded and the apathetic culture of the assistants.  This new forced consensus of appeasing vehement argumentation (meant for business negotiations) has been disseminated by vested interest organizations in “training the trainers” in the last two decades (of quiet communication environments) in order to “softly” propagating their ideologies and policies.

Asking pertinent questions that demonstrate our sincere ignorance on a subject matter is far more rewarding and honorable than avoiding arguments and working around semantics.  Note that you should not admit your ignorance if not prompted:  Otherwise, you will be ignored. Displaying your ignorance out of the questioning context backfire:  I experienced this situation several times and failed miserably every time.

William’s notes are fine for diagnosing a conversation where many people care less or are ignorant of the subject matter and need more information to joining in the discussion.  Fact is, avoiding arguments does not necessarily make us more knowledgeable, even if the conversation is managed properly.

In part two, William stated:

(“Someone said:”[…] What you have said above [in the pre-requisite note], is quite difficult to do when you’re faced with people who would NOT reciprocate it back. As in…I could see their view as what they FEEL to be true, but they would always believe their truth to be the ONE and ONLY truth. Makes it hard for me to be understanding. […] but I guess that’s pretty selfish of me isn’t it? I should be the understanding party to BE understanding….it shouldn’t be a bargain ‘I’ll be understanding if you are too’ […]“   So what do you do if you understand that people share experiences, not truths, but the other people don’t? they start the argument, they attack, and they refuse to listen? they shut you out.

For example, my brother and I were discussing relativism and that’s such a relative topic by itself, that disagreement is inevitable, except if you approach it this way.  My brother said “relativism is this…”

I replied “I think you’re right, because I believe that different people understand realism differently depending on what they know about the subject, which definition they read, from which education and cultural background they come from, etc. what I read and know about relativism gave me my own understanding of it. I feel relativism could be a label, understood differently by different people. I would usually try not to use labels, as they could lead to misunderstandings.  Instead, I prefer to explain the way i see things; to explain my own experience of things; just to prevent these labels from creating misinterpretations.  I believe that sometimes, a big percentage of the population can explain a label in the same way. and for that group, they would have reached a common understanding; and i feel each should explain his understanding of the label, so that they can all agree that they understand it similarly, and also share it with those who have experienced it differently.  The way I understand relativism, which I’m sure is different from the way other people understand it, is this…” (I doubt that William has read any philosophical or articles pertaining to relativism in order to sustain an argument in that topic.  It does not matter: the point is how to turn a discussion around with pertinent questions in order to comprehending the other’s view and acquire an understanding of the topic for a friendly communication.)

Note that my brother started with ‘relativism IS…’ which was my cue.  It means (for me) that he believes he’s sharing a truth, not his understanding of the label, and that he’s also expecting to hear a truth in return. I could have very simply said: “no! that’s not relativism…” or “yes, but that’s not what it is…”

This kind of reply would have instantly created a clash in the mind of my brother:  he expects to hear a truth.  By taking the approach of the ‘yes-but’ or ‘no’ options, I would have also supported his unhealthy expectations, and made him believe that he is wrong, that I am right, and that I’m going to lie to him by telling him something that isn’t THE truth. This instantly stops him from listening; this causes his brain to think of ways to fight back and attack, regardless of what I’m going to say next. even if I say ‘yes, but…’ and I just repeat exactly what his definition, he will answer back with ‘you’re wrong…’ and add something meaningless to his own definition.”

So let me dissect my first reply to my brother, and explain why I believe it works:  it has proven to really work in 100% of the times I engaged in such situations so far. I also have to mention that in most cases, only steps 1 through 5 are required. I’ve included 6 through 9 to cover some extreme cases of truth expect-ors, or when you have no idea how the other person will react. Use them as you see fit; and never change the order.  That’s how I’ve experienced the mind to work, and this is the order that the mind generally responds to.  Here’s the dissection:”)  and then, William delivered 9 step by step propositions for avoiding “argumentative discussions”.

In the discussion with his brother William failed to learn “What is relativism” and focused on applying his “argument avoidance” techniques that he developed a couple of days ago.  A quick background is necessary.  The brother was reading the book published by World Youth Alliance WYA (Track a Training) for applicants to their training semester in New York.  This document included articles on Relativism written by William Gairdner who lambasted cultures and philosophical views that promoted a relative view of nature and mankind’s morality and ethical conducts; in a sense the WYA wanted to disseminate a particular ideology camouflaged under  training sessions for training trainers for their ideology. Applicants were to write articles based on the suggested pieces in the handbook and sending them to the center by email.  It happened that I read this essay on relativism a week ago, and I was a witness to the last 10 minutes of the discussion in the kitchen.  The irony is that the brother had sent one of his articles that was counter to the ideological expectation of the WYA and was denied acceptance to the program after initially being encouraged to participate.

First, I doubt that William had read essays on relativism (not relativity of Einstein that Gairdner does not like either) and it was an opportunity to asking pertinent questions to his brother on what he understands as relativism before engaging in a useless “argument avoidance techniques” that left all parties in the discussion no better off in knowledge as they started.  I guess William was in a hurry and didn’t feel like prolonging the discussion for learning things he was not interested in.  I have this impression that the brother did not later demonstrate any inkling on resuming his study on relativism; and might avoid discussing other philosophical topics with William.

Second, William drew the conclusion (after his discussion with his brother) that his “argument avoidance discussion” technique works 100% of the times, based on this single case, a case that I don’t think was a success in the first place.  I have this impression that William will find it difficult to review and fine-tune his technique based on his overconfidence in extrapolating prematurely.

Note:  William replied with an extensive and detailed post.  It appears that he listened patiently to the “lucubrations” of his brother and asked a few questions on relativism, a topic he is not interested in.  As for the 9 steps for avoiding arguments in conversation, William spent two years formulating them, although the last paragraph in the “Ramallah discussion” implies that it all got clear to him after the session and not that he was engaged in the formulation for a couple of year.  My apology again.  My critics of his disengagement on the Near East conflict still stand and with more insistence and vehemence as he declared that he is not interested in understanding this conflict!  If William does not mind publishing his reply I will gladly do it with further notes: His reply is constructive.

2 Responses to "Notes on notes: Solving the communication conflict"

thank you for your feedback, i find it unnecessary to reply to your post, as it offers no constructive feedback, and highly misleads the purpose of my notes. at the same time, i see it as an opportunity to clarify some points to the community. i understand that the reader might be misled by your false assumptions about my person, take them as true, and completely miss the beneficial points behind my notes; and so it becomes worth it to write the following:

1. you have to understand that each person has his priorities, for me, these priorities do not include learning more about the middle eastern conflict, nor about relativism, as you might have mentioned above (this does not make either one less valuable). by commenting on both of these topics, you miss the point of my notes completely. additionally, i never claimed to solve the middle eastern conflict, i only propose a method that would facilitate communication between 2 or more people.

2. Asking pertinent questions that demonstrate our sincere ignorance on a subject matter IS rewarding and honorable. at the same time, it absolutely cannot be done if you are in a heated argument with someone, emotions are hot, and everyone is overreacting. which makes the following claim of yours confusing, and with little meaning: “it’s better to ask questions that demonstrate our ignorance, than to avoid an argument.” instead i would say: “avoid an argument in the first place, then ask questions that demonstrate our ignorance, and help us understand the other part better”

3. i believe you extrapolated prematurely, assuming that i drew the 9 steps from this one conversation with my brother. this was an ‘example’ to make the 9 steps more tangible. if you refer back to the note, you can see that i started with: “for example, my brother…” the information i shared have been acquired from countless courses that i took, over the period of 2 years, specifically on communication, and on understand how to approach the mind in a way that the mind would find favorable. i don’t claim to be an expert, however, i do claim that i am more expert than others. and this means that those others will find benefit from what i share.

4. you also extrapolated prematurely that i failed to learn more about relativism. you yourself wrote that you witnessed the last past of the conversation with my brother. the very first part that you missed was all about me listening to everything my brother has to say. i did not interrupt, and i was not thinking of an answer. i was merely listening to what he understood from relativism, and asked some questions along the way for things that i didn’t completely understand. and although learning more about relativism is not a priority of mine, understanding what the other party is trying to say, is a priority.

5. it is true, i have confidence, and i also believe that you extrapolated prematurely as well, by assuming that my overconfidence will prevent me from fine-tuning and reviewing my technique. so far, i have gone back and edited 4 notes based on constructive feedback and comments from readers of my notes, and their personal experiences and knowledge. my personal approach to sharing is that of a community collectively growing the knowledge. i never claim that what i write is the ultimate truth. these are “notes” not PHD publications. and these notes are available for the public to build on, remove fallacies, add credibility, and expand them. and if you had provided any constructive input to fine-tuning the proposed technique, i would have gladly reviewed it; that’s how the collective & the individual benefit most. and i most welcome you to propose ways that would build on the technique i proposed.

hi William Thank for taking the time for a long reply that was very constructive and I am glad that I was wrong in the case of not listening to Cedric. I already warned you that my article will be harsh on purpose: you failed to give the seriousness of our conflict its dues. This conflict is not to vanish in your lifetime and it will affect all of us very frequently: Nobody could have believed that a civil war in Lebanon would last 13 years! You don’t have to be interested in relativism but our problems are “every day”experiences (external and internal in emotions and doubts). Expect more constructive and scientific notes on energy recharging and other topics related to conversation. Isn’t it exciting to be publishing? What else can we leave after death if not what we shared in writing and in conversations about our limitations, doubts, and emotional distress? Love you. Take better care of our future in the Near East: You are involved by your silence and lax attitudes with regard to our daily difficulties.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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