Three Ways Not To Start a Dialog

Three Ways Not To Start a Dialog March 16, 2017


If you wish to get into a fight during dialog with a significant other or as the mattress commercials call them “your bed partner,” here are three ways to do so. In fact, after leading and participating in hundreds of Socratic conversations at the college level, I am confident that these conversation starters not only don’t start a conversation, they end it.

I don’t mean to be offensive, but . . . 

A husband talking to his wife used this classic just today across from me in a restaurant. As I could have warned him (don’t ask), it did not go well. Starting a conversation this way says two things about what is coming next:

You are going to be offensive.

You mean to be offensive.

Perhaps there is a hard word that needs to be said in a relationship, but you would be better off just saying the word (“That dress makes you look fat!”) than dodging it. That way the response (“Everything makes you look fat!”) will come quickly and cleanly and the real conversation can begin.

I was talking to our friends and they all agree . . .

This did not work in high school with your parents. It will not work with any adult that wishes to be treated like an adult and not like the parent keeping the Internet password from a teenager. An even bigger problem with this clueless gambit is that it admits that you talked to all the person’s friends before talking to the person.

Now everyone knows what you are about to say except the person involved in your present conversation.

It is also good to avoid implying (which you just did) that the conversation partner is so thick headed or angry that you had to talk to many people to get the right thing to say. By the way, extra bad points if you drag in an authority figure like a pastor, teacher, or this post.

I was reading this post on the Internet and it said you . . . 

Nothing good will happen. Do you want to start a Google war? Do you realize how little credibility the generic term “Internet” has as a source? I can find the location of Atlantis on the Internet in multiple locations and I know that Plato invented the whole place.

You might “win” a certain kind of discussion with an appeal to a relevant authority, but hold up. Do you really wish to “win?”

The triumph of your rhetoric may leave you alone tonight and that is a bad idea. Note that all failed social gambits begin with “I.” If you wish to win, then you will “I” . . . if you wish to have a discussion, then try “We.”  Second, have a discussion. Nobody “wins” in a discussion, because a discussion is not a debate. A discussion is a search for truth and everyone can be happy if truth is found, because truth can be everybody’s.

Yet too many smart people plunge into what the Victorians called social intercourse with Socrates as a weapon.

There is a dysfunctional sort of debater who thinks Socratic dialog is a script:

I will say “this.”

They will say “that.”

I will say “retort!”

They will say “You win.”

This rarely works, unless by working one means making all the people in the conversation think you are a jerk. Socrates died for open ended, loving conversation, don’t make people shun you because you misuse his technique for cheap relational wins.

Instead, a dialog begins with a sincere question that will get to the truth of the matter for us all. We will learn. We might both be wrong or both a bit right. Oddly, sometimes we are both right, because there is a deeper truth that unites our opinions.

Hope this helps.



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