Conversation 101: Misunderstanding VS Refusing to Understand


Sometimes when you're having a conversation with someone, you arrive at the realization that that person probably isn't listening to a word you're saying. They're nodding, and they look like they're agreeing with you, but they're responses seem a bit repetitive. In fact, they are not really responding to you at all; they're kind of just repeating their own point, and maybe if you're lucky, they're subtly changing the wording. So of course, you choose to inform them that maybe they are not actually understanding what you're saying. And of course, they insist that they, indeed, totally understand what you're talking about, it's just that they think that blah blah blah blah blah blah…

People talking to hear themselves talk basically commit cold-blooded murder of the art of conversation. Also, they're kind of hard to talk to, difficult to discuss something with, and absolutely impossible to argue against. People who refuse to acknowledge your point of view and its relation to theirs refuse to understand, which is vastly different from misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is a completely normal human action–it is an integral step in human growth as it enforces what we know works by teaching us what doesn't work. However, a downfall of misunderstanding is that it means that for a brief moment in time, you are…wrong. So our response to being wrong is a more defining characteristic than being wrong in the first place. In fact, it is the difference between misunderstanding and refusing to understand.

Of course, there will be times when you are on the other side of things. Perhaps you are the one that is too caught up in your own thinking to really engage someone else's point of view. Depending on what kind of conversation you're having, it is difficult to take other people's points of view into account, reevaluate your own point of view given the new information, and formulate a refined and articulate response that you know, will become the foundation of 21st century philosophical rhetoric as we know it. So sometimes, while we're formulating that response, we sort of just say what we've always been saying. It is, however, important to keep in mind that admitting momentary defeat/acknowledging your co-conversator that they are right doesn't make you less of a person or a conversation-artist. No matter what your high school debate coach (who watched Coach Carter one too many times says.

If you're connecting your ego to being right all the time, it's time to rethink. Being right is totally awesome. Personally, I'm pretty familiar with that feeling, but when we let 'it' get to our heads, we also let it get to our self-esteem. We connect that cozy feeling intellectual security with the actual opinion we have of ourselves. (Which might actually be called 'smugness'?) But there are moments when that smug impedes our ability to really engage in conversation with another human being. Conversation is an amazing because it is just as good an outlet as the input it receives. It is a forum for personal growth and interaction, so don't be afraid to look dumb for misunderstanding. It would be a lot worse to actually be too smug and refuse to understand.