When we are being defensive, we only listen for the exaggerations. These are the easiest misclassifications to correct. “This always happens” gets answered with, “no, here are two times it didn’t.” It’s not that it’s bad to argue injustices, but it’s usually not very productive. Don’t bring a chessboard to a knife fight. There are better ways.
If our goal is progress, and this is especially important professionally, we start by listening. Instead of building our defenses by proactively planning every counter, let the most easily correctable stuff go. Instead, listen for the common ground. Somewhere in the argument is something we agree on. Progress begins at a base.
A base can be simple. A common goal, objective, concept, past action, etc. The key is that it’s foundational and the offense/defense mode of the conversation gets short-circuited once we’re all there. Everything around the base may still be a dogfight, but on the base we say, “that’s right.”
We call them difficult conversations for a reason. We picked professions where there was a challenge we were willing to take that others were not. More important than a strong offense, more powerful than a strong defense, is collective progress.
For a ton more on this, check out Dr. Harriet Lerner and Brené Brown on the “Unlocking Us” podcast discussing apologizing and why it matters.