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Getting Beyond Tantrums and Tirades to Real Conversations

By Cultures Of Dignity | October 20, 2020

As always we asked our teen editorial advisors to review this Communiquette. This time we included some of their direct quotes.

Getting Beyond Tantrums and Tirades to Real Conversations


Who didn’t cringe watching our recent political debates? Can you imagine if students running for student council behaved that way? The hypocrisy would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly damaging to our democracy. The young people we work with are genuinely baffled and disgusted. Madelyn Wallace, 16, shared, “This is what we are growing up watching. It gives us a “what has the world come to” mindset.” Taylor Pittman, 17, said, “I was in the debate club, and I know the difference between debate and fussing like children.”

It’s not just our political leaders. Our social media feeds are filled with people who are similarly incapable of disagreeing without their interaction disintegrating into screaming matches or physical altercations. In our own lives, we dodge hard conversations because we fear each other’s reaction or think it’s useless to even try.

How are we supposed to solve the big problems we face if we run away or can’t disagree without resorting to tantrums and tirades?

Conflict is inevitable; we have to get better skilled at handling it.

When you are faced with the hard conversations to come, here are some suggestions:

Prepare and organize your thoughts
Even if you only have a few moments, taking two breaths and focusing on your environment will help you manage your emotions. As Gus Kraft, 16, says, “Preparing for a hard conversation is like preparing for a presentation at school. It’s important to keep it organized because the last thing you want is to get off topic, messy, or forget what you want to say.”

Choose one or two ideas to communicate.
You don’t need 20 ideas, facts or reasons to prove your point.

Ask curious questions.
Curious questions show in their tone and content that the person wants further understanding. Non-curious questions want to put the other person down. Here’s a prompt to keep you on track, Help me understand….(and then repeat back what the person said that you think is wrong, confusing, makes no sense…) Remember, listening is being prepared to be changed by what you hear.

Everyone’s dignity is not negotiable: that goes for you and the other person.
While you are not responsible for other peoples’ reactions, the more you show the other person dignity the less likely they will get defensive and angry.

How do you know when the discussion is running off the rails? 

No matter how well you follow the above suggestions, things can still go sideways. Let’s break down what that specifically looks like:

  • The conversation is going in circles

  • People are repeating themselves

  • Either one of you feels judged or mocked

  • People are only listening to catch “mistakes”

  • You feel you have “won” the argument

That’s right. Feeling like you have “won” the argument means all you have accomplished is tearing the other person down. And they probably still disagree with you. You actually haven’t won anything except a momentary boost to your ego.

How do you know when a hard conversation is on the right track?

  • Both sides feel like they’re getting to know each other

  • Both sides share their feelings and beliefs

  • Both sides ask curious questions and listen to each other’s answers

  • Both sides feel as though they have learned something

  • Both people can disagree, even intensely, but still feel that the other person acknowledges their dignity

We know things are looking pretty bleak right now. We are on the eve of an election; packed with political leaders who are truly terrible role models. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change things for the better. It starts when we lean into the hard conversations that are all around us. We have to do this; our families, neighborhoods, communities and our country’s foundation of civility are depending on us.

This originally appeared in our newsletter Communiquette. 

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Getting Beyond Tantrums and Tirades to Real Conversations