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Coaching Leadership

Appeal to Rationality

In a difficult conversation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of appealing to rationality. When emotions are running high, especially on one side of the conversation., then you may try for a “let’s just be rational about this”.

It’s a very similar position to asking someone to “calm down”, and likely to have about the same effect. That’s ranging from nothing, to a full and final breakdown in communication.

We fall into this trap when we are less immediately impacted by the conversation. Maybe it’s one where you’ve had time to digest the contents, whereas the other party is hearing tough news for the first time.

Quite often it’ll be when the topic is incredibly important to the other party, but is less impactful to you. It’s extremely common when you confuse a lighthearted topic with one that’s truly important to the other person. That’s a difficult conversation which you didn’t realise would be difficult, which is just about the hardest kind.

Appealing to rationality, or attempting to be logical, will not work in an emotional situation (and all situations are somewhat emotional). There’s no independent arbiter doling out correct answers. No impartial judges validating your feelings over another’s. When you move to “rationality”, this external justification is exactly what you are seeking, to the detriment of the overall conversation.

When you are reaching for this conversational gambit, you may really be attempting to slow down the conversation, bringing it back to a shared pool of understanding.

If that’s the case, just go for it. Recognise the emotion, and ask to take a moment. “Can I take a second to gather my thoughts?”, “I can see that this is a really important topic for you, what else would you like to share right now?”. “I’m keen to understand more, I’m sorry I’m not there yet”.

All these are approaches to bring you towards a productive exchange of meaning, which you won’t get with a suddenly appeal to faceless authority.

Don’t waste time being rational, when you can build a lasting an powerful human connection instead.

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