By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Can you tolerate watching “the news” these days? If you’re much over the age of 40, you probably realize we scarcely have any real news programs left. Nearly every option revolves around opinion, bias, personal and corporate agendas, and ridiculous panel discussions with people shouting over one another.
I’m willing to listen to almost anyone who can discuss the facts of a given topic in a cogent, logical manner. Sadly, there isn’t much of that on TV or most other venues. Somehow people have gotten the idea that whoever shouts the loudest or spews the most obnoxious sarcasm wins.
This is frustrating on TV, but it can be even more problematic at work or in social settings. More and more people dread family gatherings for this very reason. Most of us are fond of work, family, and friends. So with that in mind, here are a few tips on preserving such gatherings:
- Be civil and never talk over another person. Remind yourself to disagree agreeably.
- Always look for common ground. Most people want a safe, happy, healthy life for themselves and their loved ones. Start with that assumption.
- Pick your battles. If it won’t matter five years from now, it probably doesn’t matter much now.
- Listen carefully and actively. Many people today don’t listen much at all, especially on TV. They’re too busy planning their next snide, sarcastic retort. Repeat what the other person has said and try to understand his or her perspective.
- Remain calm. In a debate, the angry person almost always loses. Very few people in our culture have ever taken a course in logic, ethics, or debate, and it shows. Be the adult in the room.
- Don’t aim to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong. Concentrate on the facts and explain them clearly. Most arguments have nothing to do with facts.
- Avoid making accusations. Insecure people become defensive very quickly. Truly knowledgeable, accomplished, mature people have no need to be defensive or even bother with accusations.
- Never use vulgar language or derogatory terms. Calling someone an idiot will not persuade him that your point is correct.
- In a tense situation, let the other person blow off steam. A patient or family member receiving bad news can become emotionally volatile and angry. Let him vent.
- Watch your physiology. Aggressive body language and irritated facial expressions are usually the mark of an undisciplined individual. Practice your best Mr. Spock imitation, especially when others are upset.
If you’re young enough and charming enough, and you master these principles, you just might get your own talk show on TV. I’ll be rooting for you.