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Can We Have a Respectful Disagreement in this Age of Trump and Brexit? We Can Try!

I’m from the USA, and, like many, am surprised over the recent election results. These results have revealed an incredible, seemingly unsurmountable divide between Americans. We got a taste of this divide in the UK with the equally shocking Brexit choice. While I can’t speak for people in the UK, I can state that people in the good old US of A have forgotten how to disagree with each other respectfully. There seems to be an insurmountable divide: Many Republicans truly believe the Democrats point the way to hell, and vice versa. There is name calling. Violence. We’re acting like fearful animals under attack.

I’ve lost a friend in this election—a woman I still believe to be thoughtful, intelligent and incisive. Initially, I tried to hold a dialogue with her: “Show me evidence that Trump’s policies are viable.” It didn’t work, and we ended up digitally yelling at each other. It doesn’t help when all of us choose the media we think has “the facts,” and state confidently that YOUR source of information is biased and unreliable.

Is there a way out of this mess? I don’t know. Below, I’ve taken some tips by consultant Judy Ringer (http://www.judyringer.com/resources/articles/being-heard-6-strategies-for-getting-your-point-across.php) that seem to make sense.

  • Stop pushing your point of view. Try and understand your conflict partner’s point of view.
  • “Don’t give in, give way,” she says. Let your conflict partner know you are willing to hear them out and to seriously consider their point of view. Show the other person empathy.
  • Offer relevant information. Don’t say things such as “Your reasoning just doesn’t make sense.” That will get the other person’s hackles up right away. Start by acknowledging their argument, summarise it, and look for the one thing you can agree upon. Try and step into that person’s shoes. Don’t try to shove your point of view up that person’s . . . nose. Try and offer information that the other person might find actually useful.
  • Once you think your conversation partner might be willing to listen to you without blowing a fuse (and vice versa), start the conversation NOT INSISTING ON WINNING, but instead TRYING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Maybe that person won’t be persuaded to come around to your point of view tomorrow. But maybe, out of the conversation, will come increased respect on both sides. One can only HOPE.

So. How do you communicate YOUR point of view, once you’ve heard the other person’s perspective?

  • a. Be aware that that person’s reality could be much, much different from yours. Research has shown that individuals are increasingly living in areas next to people who feel the way they do; watch the same programs that they do; and have absolutely nothing in common with people who think differently.
    b. Think of the interchange as one of mutual education, not one of blame or recrimination, and try to communicate this in a hopeful way to your conversation partner.
    c. Stay interested in the conversation. Try and understand the reasons for disagreement.
    d. Try, try to extend positive energy. I don’t know if I’d be capable of this; but it IS worth striving for!
    e. There are no guarantees. You two may end up staring at a brick wall that cannot be broken down. At least, try to end the conversation on a note of mutual respect.

What times we live in. More than ever, mutual understanding is needed to keep us sane!

I’m located in the Melbourne region. For a free session on communications and public speaking, feel free to email me for an appointment: arashap@eloquentenglish.com.

My website: www.eloquentenglish.com

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Humour: Careful how you use it when giving presentations in other countries

I was attending a training session in Singapore. The audience was primarily Singaporean, with some people from the U.K. and the USA. The trainer was a friendly, blustery gentleman from the USA. He genially beamed at his audience and thought he’d start off the session with a bang.

He told a joke.

Let’s just say—his session started with a whimper. The Singaporeans stared at him, stony faced. As an American, I kind of liked the quip and snickered. The Brits smiled politely.

The lesson here: BE CAREFUL WHEN USING HUMOUR. While scholars have noted that almost every culture worldwide does recognise, appreciate and produce humour, the kind of humour that different people like varies greatly from culture to culture.

What IS humour? Charles Darwin suggested that it is a form of communication that binds people (and others) together—indeed, many of the apes engage in laughter. Freud—being Freud—thought of humour as the release of sexual or aggressive tension. Contemporary scholars note that humour happens when we are given surprising information which is resolved in a bizarre manner.1 That is true. Think of a typical sit-com or movie and how people react to a situation. It’s their strange reactions that are so funny (Mr. Bean!).

Many of us will travel to different countries and work with people from different countries. Please note: what you think is funny—others might find un-funny. Here are some quick thoughts about the use of humour cross-culturally.

  1. Share common ground. It’s easy to crack a joke or tell a humorous narrative when you and your audience share the same culture or experiences. You and they will have “insider” knowledge that will allow you to tell jokes everyone will appreciate.
  2. Clear language. Make sure you do not use ambiguous language when being humorous. Keep the language simple. And if you are giving a joke in a language that is not your mother tongue—go over the material with someone who is a native speaker of that language to make sure you do not have some unintentional bits of humour.
  3. Body language. Some cultures (France and Italy) adore physical, slapstick humour. Other cultures (Malaysia) do not.2

Below is a very unscientific list of a few countries and the type humour they exhibit. (As always with this type breakdown: this list gives generalities. Different people in different countries will exhibit a wide range of humour. No generality will work for everyone.)

  1. Australia: Not only was the country “officially founded” by British convicts, it is DANGEROUS: snakes, treacherous waters, insects—if it’s hazardous, Australia has it. Ozzies have learnt to laugh at these conditions, with “no worries!” as their rallying cry. Folks from Down Under love to throw darts at people in authority. (Criticising politicians is a national sport here.) Similar to its British counterpart, Australian humour can also be dry and ironic. Australians love to joke, and don’t separate work and play—which can confuse some Asian co-workers, who often keep both realms separate. Aussies are serious about the work they do, but are also committed to having fun at the same time.3
  2. U.K.: Many people consider the Brits to have the most astonishing sense of humour in the world. Certainly, British comedies, with their blend of slapstick, irony, and verbal wizardry, are adored worldwide. People in the U.K. love to use irony—using the meaning of a word to denote its exact opposite—which can be wrongly perceived as sarcasm (see USA, below).4

  3. USA: The humour is like the Americans themselves: straightforward and un-subtle. (While many Americans love British humour, some will mistake the famous British irony for sarcasm.) Americans will often use humour to put themselves down, which can seem strange to many Asians who come from a culture that emphasises keeping one’s dignity (“saving face”). USA humour is often aggressive, and Americans love to tell sexual jokes. (However, it is not advisable to tell off-colour jokes at a business meeting!)5

  4. People’s Republic of China: Chinese jokes can be very hard for a Westerner to fathom, in large part because of its intricate written characters: they can be read left to right, right to left, or even from top to bottom. Many jokes will play with this positioning, so this specific humour will elude even the most open-minded Westerner. The Chinese may find jokes about one’s personal life as being—well—too personal. Contemporary Chinese comedians may tell sarcastic jokes about Fu’erdai,or the ‘rich second generation’: spoiled children born of newly wealthy parents.6

If and when you find yourself in a new culture and country—listen. Learn. And soon you’ll be laughing with them, and they will be laughing with—and not at—you.

 

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1https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culture-conscious/201205/whats-funny
2https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
3http://www.meldmagazine.com.au/2011/09/aussie-humour/ & http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-humour
4https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
5http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-04/06/content_321053.htm
6http://gbtimes.com/life/getting-sense-chinese-humour & http://www.expatfocus.com/c/aid=2152/articles/china/learning-to-laugh-in-china-appreciating-the-chinese-sense-of-humour/