I have been an arguer since before I could walk. I would argue with other kids, their parents, my parents, and my teachers. As long as there was a disagreement I was happy to jump in and spar with the other person. It didn’t matter who it was with or what the consequences might be. I used to think that this made me strong, learned, decisive, etc, but now I realize that the only thing it made me was a fool.
As I have spent time reflecting on my life and the many forks that it has taken, I can’t help but realize that there have been many relationships needlessly lost to my pride. In some instances I know that I was right, in others I have come to find that I was almost certainly wrong. In the end it doesn’t matter because when I was right I made the other person feel lesser or like their opinions did not matter to me, and when I was wrong people stopped trying to convince me, which meant I stopped learning new things. When we stop learning, we stop growing, and if we fail to nurture old relationships and don’t have the skills to start new ones, we quickly find ourselves alone.
I recognized this weakness in myself and have since implemented six rules to improve my communication:
- If someone says something that I disagree with, I bite my tongue and I think before I answer.
- I think about what people are saying, not what I am going to say.
- I think about how people say things, not just what they are saying.
- I have a card in my wallet with “scio me nihil scire” written on the top. It means “I know that I know nothing” in Latin and I see it whenever I go to pay for something or take out any form of identification.
- I ask the other person to explore their words or what they are saying instead of telling them exactly what I think. In many cases they will think more deeply into the subject as they try to explain it, resulting in a realization that they may in fact be wrong, or at the very least a willingness to consider my point of view.
- I remind myself to listen first, think second, and speak last.
The purpose of these rules is to remind myself to listen to and validate the other person’s opinions and beliefs. More than anything, we all want to feel important and respected. If I feel respected by a person, I am much more likely to listen to what that person has to say and vice versa. When there is mutual respect, it is much easier for us to drop our guard and openly converse without our biases, prejudices, and feelings getting in the way of our reason. Think about it. If someone alleges that something is true and I swear up and down that it is definitely false, I am openly calling that person’s intelligence into question. What’s more, if that person proves to be correct, I look like a fool and I will lose the respect of my peers. However, if I say something like “I may be wrong, but based on the facts I think this is false” it has two effects. First off, I have stated that neither of us is right or wrong, which preserves respect and encourages reason. Second, if I am wrong I already stated that I might be, so nobody thinks anything of it and life goes on.
I have only recently implemented these rules into my day to day life, but I have already noticed a positive difference in my relationships. If you feel like you are having trouble communicating to others as well or know that you like to argue, I highly recommend implementing some rules of your own.
Thanks for reading. If you have any rules of your own that you find work well I’d love to hear about them in the comments!