15 April 2002

Paper by Laurie Cox:

1. Why Discussions Go Astray
2. Handling Criticism More Effectively
3. Being Understanding - and Being Understood

Why Discussions go Astray

These three topics were included in a letter I circulated in February 2002 regarding a seminar I was then promoting which was scheduled for March. Unfortunately, that seminar was cancelled for several reasons. However, I received valuable feedback regarding the proposed topics from some recipients, to whom I convey my sincere thanks.

One objective of this present circular is to summarise and comment on some of this feedback in terms of the three topics listed above. Later circulars will deal with other topics.

Another objective is to advise of a special series of seminars to be conducted later this year by Mr Milton Dawes of Montreal, Canada. Milton's ability as a facilitator of courses, seminars and discussion groups has earned him a high reputation in the United States and Canada. Enclosed is a profile on him.

Proceeding, now, to summarise the feedback received from the February circular, one person wrote that the topics listed were very timely and need to be faced in the workplace, the family, and other places.

Two persons specifically addressed why discussions go astray in the workplace.

1. Talking too much.
2. Listening too little.
3. Digressing, or straying from the subject.
4. Giving insufficient attention to whether people understand or feel involved.

1. Lack of a workable agenda.
2. Lack of clear objectives or desired outcomes.
3. Lack of commitment to change.
4. Hidden agendas by some people attending.
5. Inability by the group to reach decisions.

Another person addressed the topic Handling Criticism More Effectively, and suggested that when criticised, it helps to know oneself and avoid being negatively affected by it. She commented that people tend to be insecure and to see discussion as a way of finding out who to blame.

This concludes my summary of feedback received from my February circular, to which I will add three propositions of my own:

1. Underlying, or behind our feelings of frustration, indignation, annoyance, anger and the like are to be found our thoughts and self-talk. In fact, we cannot separate our thinking from our feeling, nor from our resulting self-talk or inner dialogue.

This might be a proposition well worth considering.

2. My second proposition is that before rushing in with an indignant or angry response to someone's remark or action, we might do well to pause and consider what 'thinking' or 'self-talk' on our part 'triggered' our feeling of indignation or anger.

A moment's reflection might enable us to form a more reasoned response. A more carefully worded reply, on our part, might result. This could be in the form of either a statement or question. On the other hand, we might choose to make no verbal response at all, after having dealt with the matter internally.

3. My third proposition concerns feedback from the person who commented on handling criticism levelled at us. I agree, of course, that it is very desirable for us to know ourselves and avoid being negatively affected by the criticism but this requires much personal insight. Insight into both our perception of events and how we talk about them-to ourselves and others.


The main principle I am suggesting in these three propositions is that of delaying our reaction to some emotionally charged remark or event. By pausing momentarily to reflect on what we are thinking and saying to ourselves about the happening, we can make a more carefully considered response. This may be in the form of a statement, a question, or even a silent response with non-threatening body language.

Development of this Principle

Milton Dawes, who is to be our guest facilitator (see page 1), has written extensively on these and related topics. From one of his papers entitled Taking Responsibility for the Meanings We Give, I have extracted some points that seem relevant to the above:

1. It is important to consider how we interpret or give meaning to some statements or events, and we might take more personal responsibility for the ways in which we do this.

2. When we see a person, situation or problem, we need to remember that we do not see ALL that is going on. Reminding ourselves that there is more to be discovered, we need to OBSERVE or ENQUIRE further.

3. Many of our actions or responses are based on UNSTATED THEORIES. It helps if we can work on revealing these unstated theories to ourselves.

4. To a large extent our relationships, personal environments and even our societies are based on the ways we interpret and give meanings to situations and events.

Admittedly, these points require further explanation which I will endeavour to do in subsequent papers.


(the third topic in our subject matter in this circular)

Points made herein so far seem very relevant to close personal relationships between men and women. In this regard, I have summarised some points made in What Do Women Want? by psychiatrists Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach:

Women are looking for a closer emotional connection with their male partners.

It is as though women are saying to their male partners: 'You just don't understand.'

Men and women may share the same vocabulary but often assign different meanings, different messages to the words and phrases used.

It often seems that women live in one 'emotional world' and men in another.

Men, while giving the appearance of being strong, decisive and active, are often vulnerable, dependent and capable of being deeply hurt.

These things cry out for attention and change.

There is enormous pleasure to be had from those moments when relationships work.

I conclude this paper by inviting you to ask questions or give me brief feedback by making a personal comment on any part(s) of this paper. For this purpose I enclose an envelope addressed to me with a small card which you may care to use. I will certainly respond.

Thank you for reading thus far. My next paper will deal with two or more of the following topics:

Yours sincerely,
Laurie Cox, MA
Communication and Stress Consultant


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