Valley Voices

How to talk politics without a fight

I am what is called a dinosaur lawyer, because what happened to the medical profession years ago finally has happened to the legal profession – the disappearance of the general practitioner.

You see, I was a general practitioner for most of the 44 years that I practiced law, and now all new lawyers are picking specialties.

Having practiced law that long, I naturally tended to use a lot of legal lingo. However, when I finally decided to write a book on conflict, I decided that it would be more useful to use plain language since I wanted the book to be used by everybody, not just lawyers.

It was then that I had an epiphany, a sudden realization that the best way to avoid conflict is to simply reverse the way we usually approach dialogue. By that I mean that we generally start conversations from our own state of mind and don’t get around to the other person’s state of mind until much later, if at all, in the conversation.

And we also probably have made some assumptions about the other person’s thinking, and for that we know the dangers of assumptions (break down the word “ass-u-me”).

So if we clear our minds of assumptions concerning the other person’s point of view and start the dialogue by asking open-ended questions, listening both actively and empathetically, and showing that we really are listening by both verbal and nonverbal feedback, then we should know what the other person really thinks.

Then we can really begin a dialogue that will tend to be more absent of conflict. So, in that old sales rule that “he who speaks first controls the conversation,” perhaps we should change the word “speaks” to “asks questions.”

Have you ever had discussions with an older and more successful person? If so, did you notice that generally the other person would usually talk less about himself but would rather ask you questions? And did not that loosen you up because he was taking an interest in you? That same feeling is what we want to achieve in dialogue.

I had that experience when having coffee with Lou Eaton, the founder of Guarantee Savings, and with Leon S. Peters, owner of Valley Foundry, when they were both alive. The result is that, when you get to the point of expressing your own interests, they can be framed in a manner that is more agreeable with the interests of the other party.

Would not this approach cause less conflict? Take a subject that I talk about a lot that usually tends to lead to conflict, like politics.

Asking open-ended questions about the topic first rather than just opining your frame of mind will surprise you because knowing how the other person really feels about the subject will tend to change your approach, especially if the relationship is important to you.

That, interestingly enough, is also the dialogue method of successful mediators and salespeople. And as stated by William Ury, the co-author of Getting to Yes, that is “... how to get what we want while satisfying the needs and concerns of others.”

James H. Flanagan Jr. is a writer and lawyer. His book, “Managing Conflict – Strategies to Create & Teach Resolution of Conflict,” is available on Amazon. His website is