Meetup Discussion Tips

I generally refrain from telling people how to show up or what to do. I enjoy and respect my fellow beings, or artists as some authors and traditions would call us, in whatever capacity and expression they present.

In the Meetups I’ve led or attended, however, I’ve begun to witness something that I think is important to share. Let me start by saying that the overwhelming majority of attendees who show up for meaningful conversation already have an incredibly high level of positive communication skills. For example, they typically:

  • At an appropriate moment, ask a quiet attendee if they’d like to share something

  • Show respect, compassion and empathy for others

  • Are mindful of how much they are talking and make sure they stay silent enough to let others participate

  • Don’t go into long, rambling personal stories and tangents

  • Use brief, personal reflections and examples that are relevant to the topic of conversation

  • Ask questions to further understand another’s point of view in a way that is gentle, non-judgmental and respectful

I could go on and on. Seriously, it’s like a bunch of professional communicators show up to these events and I’m always incredibly impressed by the quality of dialog. There is just one area I see that may need greater awareness…

It’s how we say “I disagree.”

Do not get me wrong. I think it’s incredibly important to be able to disagree with other people. In fact, it’s the beauty of living in a culture where we are, in fact, free to disagree (well, mostly). This is an incredible, relevant power to be able to disagree. And yet, there is a response, even among our very open-minded community, to that statement. I can’t explain it very well, but I see something pass over the faces of those being disagreed with. I can see in the minute shifts of body posture, facial muscles and coloring and tone that there are a range of emotions flooding them, even though they stay perfectly composed. And I can sense those emotions - fear of rejection, surprise someone would disagree with what they felt certain was a larger truth or insight, emotional retreat (shutting down), self-doubt, irritation, and on and on.

I have some thoughts or suggestions - and I’m not preaching. This is absolutely for me to practice, too, since I’m no stranger to saying “I disagree.” There are two things that I’m thinking would help disagree more constructively. The first suggestion is for the one speaking who may be disagreed with and the second is for the one who is doing the disagreeing:

  1. I’ve observed that the people who are sharing and face the most “I disagree’s” are often making generalizations. In other words, they are taking a personal experience and then laying claim that “all people should/are…” which, frankly, is an open invitation to disagreement. People hate being lumped into boxes or told what to do. No matter how deep your personal insight was for you, it is best not to assume you can generalize your conclusions to all of humanity. Another possible reason for the disagreement is that they did not really understand what you said. I do see people disagree, then state their own opinion, which is just another way of saying the same thing as the one they disagreed with.

    • Remedy A) Try to tell your perspective as it pertains to you alone. Resist the impulse to generalize something that is true for you to be true for others. It is a little scarier to share this way but ultimately more real and less likely to trigger people.

    • Remedy B) Don’t take things personally. Whatever the other person is responding to is actually about them, not you. You may want to examine how you communicated, but at the end of the day, everyone is responsible for their own perceptions and communication and responses to life.

  2. When you are doing the disagreeing, keep in mind that the other person is a reflection of yourself AND they are doing the best they can. Not to mention, you may actually be disagreeing with something because it’s triggering you. We can’t always be certain that our disagreement is legit without investigating it.

    • Remedy A) If someone has made a statement that you feel in your personal experience does not resonate, I suggest you take a deep breath before proclaiming disagreement. Try asking open, curious (non-judgmental or leading) questions instead. You may have misunderstood or missed a really valuable insight - but only an open mind can discover that.

    • Remedy B) Maybe share a little bit about your personal experience so they can see it’s not as “black and white” as they might currently think. Also, see if there are some commonalities. And it’s more honest (and yes, vulnerable) to say “Your words are like a punch in the gut to me… here’s why I think I’m reacting to what you said” as opposed to “You’re completely wrong about that because my experience is different than yours.”

As you can see, this is a rather complex topic to bring up. I’m no expert on this, so I’d love to see some other insights and opinions on the matter. I also plan to open with a brief summary of my observations at the start of my next Meetup. Maybe I’ll have some follow up comments after that. Thanks for hearing me out!