I’m a strong-willed person who was not used to being “wrong.” I’ve avoided this indignity in the past by being passive-aggressive, overly diplomatic and mousy in confrontation. Running away also helps, as long as you don’t forget anything in the room and have to return to retrieve it.
Turns out, though, there are better ways to approach the possibility of being wrong. One of my latest discoveries is the idea of being “right” versus being “curious.” Once I learned about this concept, I was free of a lot of burdens that “being right” entails. For one, I didn’t have to know everything, which was, I have to admit, pretty time and energy consuming. Another benefit was that I didn’t have to deal with heated confrontation, which was pretty emotionally draining and drama-inducing. Most importantly, I didn’t need to run away from people anymore, which was becoming a problem as I wasn’t a track star in the first place.
As the book, Top 20 Teens : Discovering the Best-Kept Thinking, Learning and Communicating Secrets of Successful Teenagers (Bernabei, Cody, Cole, Cole and Sweeney) references, it’s definitely more beneficial to be curious than right. Most of the time, when an argument starts, the goal is pretty clear – someone’s gonna hafta win. What would it be like, though, if the argument instead evolved into a discussion? Wouldn’t it be great if there was dignity retained on both sides of a particular fence?
It’s all in the approach.
This isn’t a cakewalk. You have to shift your perspective in an argument to a discussion instead of a fight. If that means you take a bit to breathe, or walk around, so be it. You have to prepared to talk, not to verbally beat someone into submission.
If you disagree with someone, I think your best bet is to start asking respectful questions. Instead of:
- “You shouldn’t feel like that.”
- “You don’t make any sense.”
- “You’re out of line!”
You could try:
- “Can you tell me why you feel this way?”
- “I don’t understand what you mean – can you explain it?”
- “How did I behave to make you think that I did this to you?”
Even the language is disarming – no accusing “you,” rather, the emphasis is on the “I,” trying to figure things out from your perspective. You are asking for clarification here.
Intent vs. Impact
Your intention may not be equal to the impact of what you said or did. How someone feels….is how they feel. Sorry – aside from Jedi mind control, you can’t change that. What you can do is clarify your intentions, even if the impact was felt differently. Most of the time, it’s a matter of perception, isn’t it? You aren’t necessarily conceding, but you are respectfully trying to work your way to an answer. You don’t have to fall over yourself to apologize, but you can be sure to let the other person know what your intention was. Just knowing that your intention was not to be hurtful can break down barriers, and can lead to both sides seeing the human beings and emotions behind the disagreement. Just because you didn’t intend for something to be felt a certain way doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook, but it does help in clarifying the situation.
How to use this in class?
This is the tough part. Many teachers have been trained to act as THE AUTHORITY on all things in THEIR CLASSROOM, which means that they have to devise their own way of handling things. You don’t have to give up all of your AUTHORITY, but you do have to resist the urge to jump to immediate judgment. This means that kids have to feel listened to and trusted, and that they have a voice in your classroom. If something negative happens, your role could be to ask a lot of questions:
- “What did you want to accomplish?”
- “Did I do something to disrespect you for you to act that way to me?” (this has worked like a charm for me!)
- “How do you think your actions make Lucy feel?”
And let the resolution begin. You can also model for them how to “be curious,” so that class discussions don’t get too crazy. Role playing would be a fun way to do this. Go crazy and open up to more student-to-student discussions using guidelines formulated from the “right vs. curious” mindset. With these kinds of tools in their back pocket, the value of discussion can shine through. The teacher can truly serve as a facilitator, or with enough practice, an observer.
This is a process, and your companion in the argument will have to be interested in a discussion rather than a shout out. This doesn’t work, by the way, if you are in any kind of literal headlock, or on the ground trying to get wind back in your lungs. However, I will say that being curious beats my alternative measures in being right. Being curious feels a lot better than being right, too.
Take it from someone who used to know everything.