Contentious discussions can be stressful for the best of us. Some people are formally schooled in the art of debate, and I am not one of them, so often I blamed my discomfort in confrontation or extended debate on the fact that I really wasn’t sure how to do it properly.
Even watching debates online between other people makes me cringe. (At some point I realized that it was more because those ended up being mud-slinging, juvenile name calling fests more often than actual discussions or intelligent debates about valuable topics. But I digress.)
I thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t want to dive into the fray and start some kind of argument or throw myself straight into the middle of a heated debate or discussion. It also crept into my personal life, because discussions that were…uncomfortable often led me to be much more upset than the topic itself actually warranted. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.
Then it hit me one day.
I can’t remember what prompted the introspection, but it struck me hard and has stuck with me ever since. And as a result, it’s actually made me much more effective in my writing, my work, and it’s making me much less panicky when I find myself in a discussion that’s uncomfortable or difficult. I’m not perfect at it yet, but the awareness of it helps. My breakthrough?
I need time to process things. Sometimes a lot of time. And I need to ask for that time or take it for myself.
Sometimes, what bothers me is that something bothers me, but I can’t figure out what it is. That gnawing, back-of-your-mind feeling that comes with feeling something askew but not being able to put your finger on it. And in the midst of a discussion with someone, you can feel a bit like an ass when you say “you know, something about this isn’t sitting well with me, and I need some time to think about what that is or why.”
Especially when tweets are flying or the Facebook or blog comments are piling up, and I promise you text is your (read: my) worst enemy because it lacks every bit of the body language and facial expression that comes with talking with someone in person. It’s also the time when real-time works against you, because it implies a certain pressure to think and respond now, not later once you’ve taken some time to think.
The internet especially is fraught with quips and witty retorts and know-it-alls that have the answer to everything in a given moment. It can make you feel a bit like if you don’t have an instant answer, you’re slow on the uptake somehow.
The truth is, though, when I practice slow thinking, it makes all the difference.
The issue at hand can be the answer to a business problem, or figuring out my stance on a political or social issue, or understanding the reason why something someone said or did hurt my feelings personally.
Reflection itself has a few benefits, from cool-off time to the ability to let thing sit and process for a while, like steeping tea leaves. Sometimes I notice something I didn’t before. I notice that I didn’t say something or make myself clear enough, something that might have made the conversation easier, and I know to be more articulate and specific next time.
Other times I can spend slow thinking time gathering more information to help guide my thinking (and therefore realize where the gaps are in my knowledge or facts), which in turn helps me ask better questions. Once in a while, I realize that I was bothered by something or confused by it or sidetracked simply because I was short on sleep, or distracted by something else, or not in the right frame of mind to think through everything in that moment.
In short, my epiphany was that I need to think more slowly sometimes, not more quickly. And that I’m often better off, better educated, and more open to information, input, and alternative knowledge when I step back, think slowly, and breathe.
Small thing, but big impact for me. Maybe it’ll help you, too.