If Carl Marx was right about one thing, it was noting that human beings are social animals. Humans thrive on interaction with other human beings. Interpersonal interaction is fundamentally important to human development and behavior and influences us on multiple levels – brain function, emotional balance, self-actualization, and self-awareness, to name a few. Babies and kids are perfect and pure examples of our need for communication, companionship and both verbal and non-verbal cues from others. So why is it, then, that we often treat our fellow humans as opponents on a battlefield, someone we have to strike down, over-run or downright defeat?
I have witnessed and been part of more than one conversation, where participants act like players in a “King of the Hill” game, running ahead of everyone else, seizing the conversation, quickly turning it into a domineering monolog than a productive, engaging and enjoyable interaction. Granted, some of us are more competitive than others. Most of us are expectedly more expert in one subject than our co-conversationalists. All of us have something important to say and wish to be listened to when we say it. Fully understandable and definitely appreciated. Yet what is important to keep in mind, with very few exceptions, most of our communication is not an active field of battle.
I fully believe that to achieve effective, productive, wholesome connection with others in a conversation (insert any other avenue here – meeting, discussion, interview, presentation, etc.) is to not treat others as your direct opponents in war. Other people are usually not your enemies. Don’t treat them as such. Don’t attack them openly by casting down their views or deliberately ignoring their brought-up topics. Do not shut them down inadvertently by philosophizing or succumbing to verbal onanism just to prevent others from speaking. Don’t put your need for self-expression rob others of the same basic need. You are not going to win anyone over by one-upping them or winning an argument. There is a time and a place for that, of course, too.
Generally, though, think of communication as a creation that is built by all the participants. The English language is already full of allusions to human conversation being akin carpet weaving. Storytellers “weave” a story. Conversations have “threads” (it is good to find common ones with others in your surroundings) and fabric (which should flow and remain flexible). Communication has lines (which should remain open!). We already have all the cues to help us achieve our best in human interaction. The words and concepts are already there. We just need to listen to those words, concepts and our own creative forces, and, of course, most of all, to our fellow human beings. Leave monologs to plays and memos. Engage in creating something instead.