This is the first article in the series, How To Reason With Unreasonable People. Click here to visit the original article that started it all.
In this article, we discuss a communication tactic called, linear conversation.
What are linear conversations?
A linear conversation is a conversation with a set path. You discuss point A, then move on to point B.
It’s a logical sequence of discussion where you deal with each bit of the conversation separately, one piece at a time, instead of addressing a few topics all at once.
What this does is eliminate the potential for distraction. Oftentimes, when we hold non-linear conversations we “lose our place” or forget that thing we meant to say earlier.
Holding a linear conversation ensures that each point gets addressed such that no one “loses their place” or gets distracted from the topic at hand.
Linear versus non-linear
Think about how you communicate with your best friend. I know when I chat with my best girls, we pretty much have five or six separate conversations going at the same time.
We end up going on tangents and sometimes forgetting what we originally started talking about. We find ourselves in a very non-linear conversation talking about everything that’s going on in our lives all at once.
With my best friends, it never gets confusing and we always conclude each topic (that we remember) at some point during the conversation, but it is rarely a linear sequence.
These types of non-linear conversations with unreasonable people are not wise, however.
Straying from the main topic allows the unreasonables to go off on tangents and present additional information as to why they are right and you are wrong.
It’s like an opportunity for them to grab a wrench out of their toolbox and loosen your anchor bolts.
Always, always, always do your prep-work before engaging with an unreasonable.
All confrontations require some forethought; but it is never a good idea to begin a confrontation-type conversation with an unreasonable without having a strategic plan. Otherwise, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.
Before you address an unreasonable with a concern, make sure you know the exact topic that you want to discuss.
Mentally outline specific details about this topic and put them in a logical order. This provides a linear sequence for the conversation and a “home base” you can return to whenever you feel like the conversation is straying.
Initiating the conversation
When starting the conversation, approach the unreasonable in a non-threatening way, but matter-of-factly.
Don’t start off with, “Can we talk about something?” or “I have something I need to tell you.”
Get rid of the mystery. Instead, get right to the point and make the topic clear and concise.
But don’t say something like, “We need to talk about how you disrespect me,” or “I think it’s important that we talk about the fact that you don’t value me.”
None of those will get you very far. If anything, they’ll get you an emotional backhand to the heart.
Instead, approach the unreasonable with something along the lines of, “Hey, can we talk about a couple comments that were made at dinner last night? I wasn’t sure how to respond to them at the time, so I’m hoping we can talk now just to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Something like that creates a request for the conversation to occur, provides the unreasonable an opportunity to respond to your request, clearly states the specific topic to discuss, and establishes an even playing-field where both people are supposed to be “on the same page.”
While you’re in the trenches
It is crucial that you maintain a linear conversation.
Don’t let unreasonables get off track. Keep them focused on the topic at hand.
If you get off track, that leaves them with a wide open opportunity to bring more topics to the table all at once and develop a stronger (read: more confusing for you) case by overdramatizing everything (and I mean everything).
Follow your linear path and deal each issue separately.
You can easily control the direction of the conversation by asking questions.
If an unreasonable starts off on a tangent, you can simply ask, “We can totally discuss that, but can we first finish talking about <insert the thing you were originally talking about>?”
A simple question like that gives them an opportunity to feel authoritative by answering “yes” or “no.”
You can also be proactive in the conversation by asking questions before the unreasonable starts to stray. Keep them reeled in by delving deeper.
Ask questions like, “Why do you think you responded that way?” or “At what point in the argument did you start feeling offended?” or “What specific statement did you disagree with?”
Keep your cool
Please, please, please do yourself a favor and resist every urge to blow up. Blowing up will put you right back where you started: in unreasonable land.
Maintain a straight face, or maybe even a little sympathetic, and speak calmly.
You are the leader in this linear conversation, so present yourself the way you want the unreasonable to act.
Closing the conversation
You know just as well as I do that the conversation doesn’t end when you stop talking. Unreasonables file away conversations and open those files whenever they are reminded of the topic or in a fit of unreasonableness.
Thus, the best you can do is pause the conversation and let the unreasonable file away what has been done.
The more files of productive conversations the unreasonable has, the harder it will be to trap you and make unreasonable claims in future conversations.
Find a good stopping point and end the conversation with something like, “You know, I think we covered a lot of ground today and made good progress. I don’t expect to solve all our problems in one conversation, so how about we sit on all this, we both take some time to reflect, and then we can get together again and pick up where we left off. Does that sound good?”
Make sure you end with a, “Does that sound good?” or “Would you like that?” Give the unreasonable an opportunity to make an authoritative decision. The answer will likely be “yes.”
If the answer is “no,” however, reply with something like, “I really have reached my capacity and I just want to be able to thoughtfully talk to you in a reasonable fashion. I’d really like to let all this digest in my brain and pick up again tomorrow. I think that is wise.”
End on something that will force the unreasonable to either look like an idiot or comply with your reasonable request. Chances are, the unreasonble will comply to avoid self-entrapment.
- Know exactly what you want to discuss. Be specific.
- Know exactly how you think and feel about what you want to discuss.
- Be non-threatening, but don’t be passive.
- Have confidence, but don’t be domineering.
- Request a conversation, don’t just plow right into one.
- Clearly state the specific topic.
- Ask questions to stay on topic.
- Maintain your composure at all times.
- End by making a positive statement and ask to continue the conversation at another time.
Have any other tips on linear conversations? Please share with us so that we can all benefit.
And please let us know how it all goes. If we all discuss what works and what doesn’t, we can learn faster and hold much more productive conversations.