Political & Personal Arguments Don't Have to Ruin Relationships (w/Communications Prof. Lena Antoon)
People are desperate to be seen and heard more than ever before. Lately, we have witnessed conversations turn into arguments that don’t always show us or others in the best light. What if we could take the time to intentionally communicate more effectively? Instead of allowing arguments to escalate into inflammatory and hurtful altercations, we have the power and the choice to dial it back and still share our opinions.
Especially during this tumultuous year, arguments and disagreements have strained and even broken relationships. If this has been an issue for you or someone you care about, you should know that the way you communicate can potentially diffuse the situation, and it doesn’t mean just giving in.
The tactics we can use to keep things civil vary between personal, work and social media disagreements, but they all involve knowing your true motive and knowing and respectfully listening to “your audience” whether they are across the breakfast table or commenting on your Facebook thread.
One thing we talked about is the USB method: Use humor, Stay calm, and watch your Body language. (Try plugging that into your next argument!) The humor aspect may not be appropriate in all situations but can especially be effective in more personal conflicts to diffuse a tense dispute. Of course, there are many other things to help smooth things over and that is where our expert comes in.
Imagine Yourself decided to invite expert guest, Lena Antoon, Communications Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, to explore the dynamics of how we can learn to deal with disputes within the family, the workplace, social media and the world in general. Whether it’s politics, the effects of coronavirus, racial justice, or a multitude of issues, our country is obviously very divided right now. We believe there are ways to stay true to ourselves as we converse with those who have vastly different viewpoints, and this episode shows us how to accomplish that task. Listening is the first step to learning! We hope you’ll listen in for effective ways to handle disagreements in the personal and political arenas.
Lanée Blaise [00:00:00]:
Thanks for joining us at Imagine Yourself, a podcast for people who want to reimagine their lives in new and better ways. And sometimes that starts off with reimagining what is coming out of your very own mouth.
Sandy Kovach [00:00:15]:
That can be dangerous sometimes.
Lanée Blaise [00:00:17]:
Very dangerous. I am guilty of saying things
Lanée Blaise [00:00:20]:
that I wish I could retract, redact, and take back. Sandy,
Lanée Blaise [00:00:25]:
Do you also wish that you could say the right thing at the right time that we get your point across without causing a fight?
Sandy Kovach [00:00:32]:
Man, as often as I have been opening my mouth and for as long as I've been opening my mouth, I still put my foot in there more often than I would like to admit.
Lanée Blaise [00:00:42]:
Well, that is why we have to bring in the big guns today. We have a communications department professor from Wayne State University, Lena Antoon, she teaches oral communication, and she's a traffic reporter for several radio stations so she can help people get to and from safely.
Sandy Kovach [00:01:01]:
And don't forget, she's an associate producer for the globally syndicated health and lifestyle show, Ask Doctor Nandy. So she brings a lot of expertise, although mostly we're gonna be tapping into the communications professor. So, Lynae, What would you like to see us accomplish by the end of this episode?
Lanée Blaise [00:01:20]:
By the end of this episode, you will have a better grasp on how to finesse your communication skills in relationships, in the workplace, in those political hot button talks, and even on social media. Let's welcome professor Lena Antoon.
Lena Antoon [00:01:38]:
Thank you, ladies, so much. That it was a beautiful introduction. I am honored. How are the both of you?.
Sandy Kovach [00:01:44]:
We're doing great. And like Lanee said, so happy to have the big guns in here because communication has always been tricky. But it seems like in 2020, it's gone to a new level with all of the politics and the controversies or things that people think are controversies, Along with the usual family and friend dynamics. So, Lena, how do we discuss things civilly while still getting our point across? It just seems like it's more difficult than ever.
Lena Antoon [00:02:12]:
I feel the same exact way. This is by far the most dynamic time that we've been in. Because I find myself, whether it's in person with my brother-in-law, who I disagree on a daily basis with, or when I instruct in class or when I'm on a social media platform, what is it that I actually wanna accomplish when I speak to them? So, really, what's the motivation to engage and just possibly disagree with the other? Whether it's political, whether it's the pandemic, whether it's even social justice, You have to ask yourself first before you engage with them. And then from there, you do end up having to identify what is your behavioral pattern towards that person. So like I said, if it's relational, my sister is one way that I communicate with her versus my mother versus my brother-in-law, versus a cousin or a close friend. And then the functional part is who's that person on the social media platform Or even your work person. So you have to really identify what it is you wanna accomplish, and then not just the goal that you wanna accomplish, Who is that person in relationship to you?
Sandy Kovach [00:03:18]:
So, yeah, different people and then the different goals. Like, sometimes, we might wanna persuade someone. Sometimes we're just looking for a discussion. It's not always that we're trying to change people's minds. Right?
Lena Antoon [00:03:31]:
No. It's not always. But at least I understand how you wanna get going across. But then after that, you have to ask yourself, what is the particular issue that you feel that you need to validate? Do you just wanna listen to what they have to say, Or is there an actual goal that you have in mind? Did you actually wanna change their views? And is it strictly to inform or is it to educate or is it to even remotely persuade? Because if it's an attempt to validate your own stance, either way, it's best that you just find the kernel of the truth and that you And that person on the other side, so that way you can sort of come to an agreement. Because what you don't wanna do is walk away with all that discourse, With all that language that has just filtered through your mouth or the typing or whatever the case is, if you can agree to disagree, that's fantastic. The conflict, especially now, whether it's the pandemic, whether it's the political sphere, whether it's anything, our conflict is related to our identity, and it's something that you have to be very mindful of. And so if you're disagreeing on something, you're literally challenging their identity. And so do you really wanna do that? Is that Something that's very hard to recognize in the midst of this disagreement.
Lena Antoon [00:04:38]:
You're challenging their beliefs and their identities. They're gonna be in fight or mode. So is that what you wanna accomplish?
Sandy Kovach [00:04:45]:
Because people take things so personally?
Lena Antoon [00:04:47]:
Absolutely. I mean, I have confidence on the daily with my brother-in-law At the kitchen table, while we're eating dinner, and it's always, I hate to bring it up, an abortion issue. So I have To be mindful, why do you feel this strongly about the situation? What is it that I hope to accomplish with And not just that, but what can we agree on? And in the midst of all that, what type of language am I going to use with him? All that comes into play. And then even after that, I would ask that anyone that wants to actually provoke a debate, whether it's you or whether it's The person on the other side of the keyboard or sees or hears something they just find on dust, ask yourselves those questions first before you then begin to proceed with caution. And then when you do proceed with caution, and I told this to my students all the time, you really need to begin to listen attentively. Receive the message, take your time, and marinate on it. Give that other person the respect that they deserve with sincere effort. If you're debating on something that both of you are passionate about, you're going to be listening actively.
Lena Antoon [00:05:56]:
So then if that's the case, Try and find and try to understand their perspective. And language is actually really, really vital. You need to just modulate In person and especially on social media, what doesn't need to happen is to say something that you will regret, and then you'll end up mincing your words. So you've got all this coming into play, whether it's the pandemic, whether it's just the political sphere that, thankfully, we're done within a few weeks, But maybe not because this is all going to last past that election day. And from that point forward, you have to ask, okay. So That's gonna pass, but my relationship isn't. How do you move forward and make sure that It stays as best as intact as you possibly can. Are you gonna listen? Are you going to expect that other person or not.
Lena Antoon [00:06:52]:
And ethnocentrism also comes into play. If they're not giving you the same answers that you're trying to find, what you don't wanna away with oh, I'm better than them because I've got more education. Oh, I'm better than them because my race is better. Oh, I'm better than them because I live in a better place. Oh, I'm better than them because The political sphere. No. That's anthropocentrism, and that's something that you need to take out of your mindset.
Lanée Blaise [00:07:15]:
You've got me thinking so many thoughts at one time. I mean, I had not thought about the fact that people, when they're arguing, it's really coming from their sense of identity of who they are as a person and who they think you are as a person because of what you're saying. Also, you have me thinking about slowing down. There's such a sense of urgency to get out my feelings and make you change your mind immediately.
Lena Antoon [00:07:44]:
Lanée Blaise [00:07:44]:
And Sometimes it just seems like you can sabotage your whole point if you don't put in a powerful, well placed, well executed sentence that makes sense, that's intelligent, and maybe suited sentence that makes sense, that's intelligent, and maybe not so emotionally heated in charge?
Lena Antoon [00:08:01]:
You're absolutely right about As you go into it into that fight or flight mode, your discourse and your language is a reflection of your identity. That is where you have to and I've done this many a times, and I'm sure that both of you have done this as well. Step back. Okay. I'm gonna walk away from this just a moment. So that way, I don't go into that fight or flight mode. I don't start typing in all caps. I go first.
Lena Antoon [00:08:29]:
Yeah. I'm gonna tell them exactly how I feel. I'm not gonna yell at my brother-in-law or anybody else because there have been arguments even in restaurants right now, when I go into and have small gatherings with my relatives, do you understand? And then I step back. I'm like, do you understand? And then I go from there. Because I don't know if I'm there to validate myself. At the very least, I want to educate that person. And so I may be able to do that and walk away or at the very least, find the kernel of truth. And when you find that kernel of truth, that's Where you can at least move forward at the same exact time when you walk away like we were talking about so that way you don't Just marinate on the words that they said first before you come back because it gives you time to reset, Then you can move forward and say what you need to say in a nice manner because what you don't want to do is sabotage that relationship permanently.
Lena Antoon [00:09:31]:
I have seen so many people on social media that have said they've cut off relations with relatives. They've cut off, I don't know, how many relationships with their friends. Was all of this really worth it? And these are people in the communications field as well. Again, the political sphere, the pandemic, all these issues are identity Related at this time. And so if you're coming at someone with well, it's more political than it is medical, that's an identity issue. If you're Republican versus Democrat, that's an identity issue. So when you speak to that person, at the very least, listen to them. Or if they're coming at you and they wanna debate, fine.
Lena Antoon [00:10:17]:
Listen to them. Marinate, and then come back. Just modulate Your language. Make sure those cats are not on the entire time because I have had to, like, literally step away enough times to be like, you know what? You're not worth it. Not just that, your health comes into play. That's where the blood pressure comes in.
Sandy Kovach [00:10:38]:
Definitely. Blood pressure and all kinds of stress can have different negative effects on your health. One way to deal with it if it really negatively affects you is to avoid it, if you can, on social media. I just scroll past all the political stuff as much as I can. And I have friends from all sides of a lot of issues who have very strong feelings about it. So even if I read it and don't just scroll past it, I definitely don't comment. But it's still gonna affect me in some cases, Whether or not I agree or disagree with the person, if they're saying, hey. Anyone on the other side is not my friend anymore.
Sandy Kovach [00:11:16]:
I'm gonna block you, whatever. It might not be me they're talking about, but it could be a friend or a relative. But I don't really wanna see somebody insulting a whole group of people.
Lanée Blaise [00:11:26]:
And I feel like it's worse now than ever before, but what what
Lanée Blaise [00:11:29]:
do you think?
Lena Antoon [00:11:30]:
I have totally Agree with you. November 3rd will come and go. This pandemic will come and go. Your relationship, do you want it to come and go? Do you really want to go down that route? And you're breaking up the relationship via language. You can always say agree to disagree and then move forward. Do you wanna do that, or do you wanna damage the situation? So language just plays A huge role right now in everything that we say and everything that we do, and it's related to our identity. What you also don't wanna do is just cut Ties just because you're sticking up for someone.
Sandy Kovach [00:12:08]:
And maybe you're missing out too on the opportunity to educate someone Or just have a conversation and say, you know what? I hear you. But here's why I think that you can look at it in a different way. And, Lena, you touched on this a little bit. You said, it's like finding some common ground with somebody, and maybe you can't find the common ground on the politics. But maybe you find common ground on something else and, like, work that into the conversation. Does that kinda help open doors at all?
Lena Antoon [00:12:35]:
Oh, absolutely. I I actually had this conversation yesterday with a doctoral candidate, and he said there are layers upon layers, and there's a kernel of truth that all of you can possibly agree on. Can we agree on that? And then that opens up the conversation of, okay. So this is where we start to split, and then that's where language is vital as well and audience analysis. I hear you. Give me a little bit more, but I also want you to understand that This was the reason behind my points of 1, 2, and 3. It's like, listen. I come with you With all of my educated guesses, if you will, so I don't come off as if I'm just hammering you with my identity.
Lena Antoon [00:13:17]:
So, Yeah. You've got all of these going on. Find that kernel of truth because there are more and more layers to that that I'm sure that you'll start Peeling that onion as soon as you open up that conversation.
Lanée Blaise [00:13:28]:
I feel like too another thing to keep in mind is Sometimes, it takes a minute for you to digest what the other person has said, and you might either change your mind or They might change their mind. I'm keep thinking about this analogy of a flower. You don't put the seed in the ground, and the next day, you're like, where's the flower? It should be here by now. You know? You don't necessarily put that kernel in, like you're saying, and expect the person to totally switch their opinion overnight. And then the other thing I kept thinking of when you were talking was when you're having that discussion with that 1 person, I don't wanna treat it as if that's the 1 person that's gonna make the difference. If I can convince this 1 person that they should vote for Candidate a or b, then that's who's gonna be elected president tomorrow. That's not even gonna happen. It's a situation where even if that 1 person changes their vote, There's still millions of other people that will vote other ways, and it just seems so pressing that you make this 1 person understand.
Lanée Blaise [00:14:32]:
And I feel like you're just exhausting yourself and, like you said, lifting your blood pressure and everything for something that is maybe not even necessary.
Sandy Kovach [00:14:42]:
Yeah. Getting everybody all upset for no good reason even though in the moment, we think there's a good reason.
Lena Antoon [00:14:47]:
To simplify it, pick your battles. And when you end up picking those battles, It's really taking all of that in, really looking that person and under trying to understand their perspective And then their point system and their value system. And understand that if you look at their social media or if It's a personal person. Like, for me, it's my brother-in-law or my sister. When you speak to them, understand their fight or flight mode, and what is it that triggers them, And come to that with a very understanding heart and emphasize on that, and then marinate on what they have to say. Again, just modulate that language because you don't know where they're at in their perspective, what their past experiences are. And then from that point forward, you can start to probably articulate a little bit better and not just that. If you can't engage with them in a civil manner, and we're finding that that's a lot more difficult to do now, especially when you said, Sandy, I'll just start scrolling past.
Lena Antoon [00:15:49]:
I just don't wanna see anything. That's when you have to disengage, and I am right there with you. I just scroll past because maybe some of them Want to debate, want to provoke you. Is it worth it? So it's a matter of how do you proceed with that 1 person. And sometimes, Lanee, if you post something or if you post something on someone else's, like, you do a reply on someone else's status, You probably don't even realize this. You're not necessarily there to provoke them or to have that back and forth dialogue, but maybe someone else on the other side With your understanding, with your meticulous and your strategic language, we'll actually be open to something a little bit more than what they had Or it's not just about who that person is back and forth because there are several 100 people behind that keyboard I will probably see what you have to say and then may end up thinking twice. Now that may not end up changing whatever electoral votes, but at the very least, It opens up a good conversation, and you don't have that discourse that we've all been experiencing in some shape or form, whether it's face to face or whether it's along social media.
Sandy Kovach [00:17:02]:
Now coming back from social media a little bit, because, like you said, that takes on a life of its own with All these different people chiming in, and you can't read tone and text and people taking things the wrong way. But focusing on face to face and mostly in the 1 on one Kinda relationships. I ran across this, and I want to get your opinion on it as far as having an argument. And they said 3 important components, Use humor, stay calm, and watch your body language. So I made that into something I could remember. U s b. You, use humor. Stay calm.
Sandy Kovach [00:17:38]:
B, watch your body language. I use the b for body language and not the w because USW doesn't sound Good. Because, like, USB. But so yeah. I mean, can we use little tactics like that? Humor I mean, when I'm talking about fighting with my husband, Humor is always something that we found that works well.
Lena Antoon [00:17:58]:
It's a universal language, so I would Instantly say go with that one. I've done it myself where I think when you get into that argument, like you say, or when you're at a disagreement, I'm already in a fight or flight mode. I really have to count. And then just like you said, use the humor to bring it back down to 1, And then have that dialogue that you were meant to have. And understand again in that process what your husband's Perspective wasn't all of this. It may be different than what you thought, or it may be just what it was. But at the very least, you get that humor in, and body language It's absolutely crucial just like you said, Sandy. This is a slight side note.
Lena Antoon [00:18:41]:
I'm so disappointed that I'm only teaching Online. Because my biggest thing as you know, I'm a hands person. I'm a whole full body person head to toe. And so I speak not only with my voice and with my words, but also with my body language. You understand me more as my message is enhanced with my body language. So if you are face to face with that person, just make it as warming as you possibly can. Because when I have the Students in front of me, and they are just looking down. I'm like, look in front of me so that way I can see your eyes.
Lena Antoon [00:19:17]:
Start using your gestures so that way they enhance your message. And that's exactly what you want is that person or yourself to enhance the message. What you don't wanna do is just Cross your arms because guess what? You are shoving them away, and you want them to listen to everything that you have to say because all of this, your voice, Your tonality, the words, and your body language all work together and as one. And if you're having that, quote, unquote argument. At the very least, they can not only hear you, but they can see you. And if you're about to argue, then the hands start and that's when you bring them back down, count to 10, modulate them, hang with a 10, and then move forward.
Lanée Blaise [00:19:58]:
This is all good because Where I struggle more so, like Sandy, with my personal relationships, family, spouse, different things like that. And I tend to either shut down completely or get really spastic.
Lena Antoon [00:20:16]:
Lanée Blaise [00:20:17]:
Give up. Oh, yes. So I will either go and tell everyone in my whole household, Everyone is against me. You all are against me, or I'll get really sarcastic and shut down and just do one of those, I ought to just go off and run into the sunset and just never come back. And that is so ineffective, and it doesn't help anything. And my husband is always like, go take a nap and Take a shower and eat a apple or go to sleep. Something. Get away.
Lanée Blaise [00:20:45]:
What do I do so that I don't shut down? I hate Shutting down. I hate that about myself. How do you affix me?
Lena Antoon [00:20:53]:
She said she said fix me. You know what? You can have that moment And then recognize that moment and then come back and be a better version of you. Because I think we all need those moments, especially when you're in the midst of that argue, Whatever midst of argument that you are in. I mean, I have that all the time with a certain someone, and he recognizes that and then just steps away. And then I recognize it, and then I just Count to 10, and then I go at it all over again in a better way. So take that moment, take a step back, Count to 10 and then go at it at such a better way, and you will accomplish what you need to do or at least walk away happier.
Sandy Kovach [00:20:16]:
What Lanee was doing was the drama queen stuff, which I am amazing at as well. It They're kindred spirits.
Lanée Blaise [00:21:36]:
Yeah. But only certain times. And remember too, so we're all, like, mainly at home now and can't really get away very much. We live with the person. They get to see all of the bad things about you. Also, just to give a heads up too to be fair. Like, some people, when they're hungry, they're like that, and that's not me. Mine is when I'm tired, when I'm sleep deprived.
Lanée Blaise [00:21:57]:
These things come out because, Sandy, I really am a nice person.
Sandy Kovach [00:22:00]:
I know you are.
Lanée Blaise [00:22:01]:
Yeah. But these do come out at those vulnerable times. And I think it's more physically vulnerable and tired. That's my Kryptonite. So I just wanted to figure out yeah. I I guess I gotta just step back and reset.
Lena Antoon [00:22:16]:
Well, not just that, but you know what? At this point, since you and your husband are just Together 24/7, he's already analyzed you. You know? You're already part of that audience analysis. So when he knows there's a certain time of the night and when there are certain things going on, He should know how to just step back. And if he doesn't, then that's when you are just let me just disengage because what you don't wanna do is wake up Next day and then still be in that little head stuff that you're in at that time. So yeah. You guys are analyzing one another 247. It should kinda be easy for him to figure out when to engage and when to not engage with you. And and that goes for every of every notion of the people that you come into contact with.
Lena Antoon [00:22:56]:
Lanée Blaise [00:22:57]:
Because I can see this with a boss or a coworker as well. You kinda know when to take on certain conversations and certain projects, and when to kinda let them have their space. It's
Lena Antoon [00:23:09]:
Yeah. That dynamic is yeah. The dynamics between each relationship, it is crazy, and it is an art form as you are saying.
Sandy Kovach [00:23:17]:
Yeah. Communication with coworkers and clients, and I guess especially bosses. I have a friend who was telling me that, You know, since the pandemic and she's at home all the time, it's been harder to read her boss, but how important that can be.
Lena Antoon [00:23:34]:
I've learned to assess my bosses. Well, I can't technically speaking, I've got at least 3 bosses, but there are 1 boss. I'm like, Oh, you're calling me so I know what to expect, and I literally have to modulate my language And then just move forward. 1, because I don't need to get fired, and 2, it's not worth it.
Sandy Kovach [00:23:57]:
Nope. It's not. So from work relationships to personal relationships to people we maybe barely even know on social media, From arguing about cleaning the kitchen to arguing about the presidential election. We are dealing with these communications issues, Lena, every single day, And we have the potential to make really just normal situations horrible, or we have the potential to make horrible and bring them back down all with the power of words, it sounds like, and our demeanor.
Lena Antoon [00:24:30]:
That's a 100%, Sandy. Absolutely. I think, you know, you Literally just hit it there. You just said you have the incredible power. You have the incredible power to speak. So you also have the power, and you have to think about this. Do you want to enchant them, or do you want to inflame them? How you do it, you have to decide that. This is more about you than them.
Lena Antoon [00:24:54]:
So do you want to go into something inflaming someone and potentially ruining a relationship? How does that make you quote, unquote as a version of yourself? Yeah. Use the language. Use the audience analysis. Taken to what they have into consideration, there's no point of implaining anybody. But if that's something that you wanna go into on an oratory basis, Then that's your decision, or did you wanna enchant them? You just said it yourself, Sandy. You have that power.
Sandy Kovach [00:25:22]:
Alright. So, Lanee, are we ready for takeaway time? Is there anything else?
Lanée Blaise [00:25:27]:
Yes. So every time, we have an episode, we like to kinda have a takeaway time where we think about all the things that we learned. And in this case, I want us to think about this back. Like Sandy said earlier, it's like Sandy and I talk great all the time. Everybody would imagine yourself out there. I never have disagreements with you all because you all never speak back in in real time at least. But But I do want everybody out there to just kinda sit and think for a minute. Out of all the things that we discussed today, I want you to concentrate where you struggle.
Lanée Blaise [00:26:04]:
Is it the coworkers that you work with? Is it your family members, friends? Is it Politics, does that inflame you? Is it social media? I want you to think about which area or areas you are struggling with, and really sit and think about this whole conversation that we've had. If it's worth it, if it's not, I think everybody knows that little Saying, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Or, I know on on one little move is if you can't say anything nice, come sit by me and gossip about people together. But either way, I want you to think about who you wanna be. And because we have you here, Lena, is there anything that you want our audience to take away as one lasting impression before we send them out into the world and social media.
Lena Antoon [00:26:55]:
You know what? Really, just be the better version of yourself. Be the heart that's already in you, and that goes with everything that you say and that you do and to who you say it to. Also, that whatever it is that's in your heart or whatever's going on in your life right now, know that it's not permanent and to not Make that your end all be all because how you approach someone else and how you come away with someone else can speak volumes later on. And what you don't wanna do is deal with those consequences. Be that person that you're meant to be with your words and with your deeds, And then you can move forward in a better place.
Sandy Kovach [00:27:35]:
Lanée Blaise [00:27:36]:
I love that. In another episode, we talked about the little think acronym, which I did not make Yep. And I don't know where I got it from, but make sure that what you're saying is true, is helpful, intelligent, Necessary and kind, think, t h I n k, before you open your mouth.
Sandy Kovach [00:27:56]:
Lanée Blaise [00:27:57]:
So we wanna thank you, Lena, for kinda reminding us to be you know, we always talk about imagine yourselves imagine yourself as your best self and Saying things that reflect that. Thank you for teaching us. Thank you for helping us. Our my husband, I know, probably Sandy too, would thank you as well.
Lena Antoon [00:28:16]:
A good one. I love it.
Lanée Blaise [00:28:17]:
Overall, imagine yourself communicating with everyone in your life calmly, effectively, intelligently, and so smoothly that your disagreements don't lead to your down Take care. Be kind.
Sandy Kovach [00:28:33]:
Thanks for listening, and we hope that you will communicate with us whatever your feelings might be to Wason, whether that's via email or social media, and you can get all the links on our websites. Imagineyourselfpodcastdot com, and we hope you'll subscribe on Itunes or Google Play or wherever you're listening. And on our website, you can subscribe to our blogs as well, and you'll automatically get an alert when the new blog and episodes are posted. So talk to you again next time when we'll have something new to imagine.