Not too long ago, I experienced a frustrating debate. It happened online and we only had the option to write one another to communicate.
Just as in face to face situations, there are times in which we find ourselves in a debate without any perspective to come to a conclusion. The reason such debates persist is that at least one person is stuck in a fight or flight dilemma.
It happens, when the amygdala reacted to a stressor. It seeks to help us cope with the situation, that is with the perceived stress. The amygdala is quick, faster than most of our thoughts. Stepping out of its responses requires the ability to take a step back and recognize the presence of stress.
In the debate I experienced, my role was to help the other person, which meant that I was the one responsible to review my behavior. My task was to determine if the other person was interested in my help and if yes, where I had missed him.
Meeting the other where he is, requires to adapt to that person, to provide the help he seeks at that moment. That help definitely isn’t provided through debates.
The purpose of a debate is to present different positions with the possibility to come to a conclusion by persuading the other. It asks the other person to give up her position. Instead of meeting the person where she is it is asking the person we are seeking to help to make a leap and believe in what we shared. It’s believing that we are right.
Continuing on this path means to deny the stress the other is experiencing where we should instead be attentive to them. The error we often make here is to listen to the content instead of the process. Once we realize the presence of stress, it is time to look at its causes. How does the stress present itself? What is it that the other person fears? What is the person not receiving?
Once we are able to look at stress and think of it as a need or fear, we can see where to move to, to connect with the other.
This is valid for most debates. There might be an exception when the debate serves the goal to persuade the audience. The goal of the debate then is to be seen by others as the winner. Even so, when they start to resemble cockfights the question is if the audience has the same goal as the ones debating.