Action and interaction

Well, if language is ‘action’, as I explained in my last post, we might just as well say it is ‘interaction’ – but what’s the difference?Many people believe they interact when they are talking to each other. That they are good negotiators when they get the terms they wanted. That they are good communicators when they manage to express their points effectively – by ACTING successfully on their interlocutors. Many people, and particularly Tom below, would swear that this dialogue is an example of interaction:Tom: ‘I think the war in Afghanistan needs to be supported and carried on. It’s a just war for a good cause – protecting human rights, for example. Have you heard what they do to women out there?, it ‘s simply outrageous! And the whole society needs a democratic government that can ensure a decent life to the people.’
Jerry: ‘It may be a good cause, you’re right, but like any war, it’s civilians that get to suffer a lot and fall victim to the violence. I don’t think we have the right to go out and kill people in the name of their welfare.’
Tom: ‘Nonsense! The Western forces are also there to build an infrastructure, like schools, roads, hospitals and ultimately to ensure security in the country and in the whole world by fighting the terrorist groups. The past years have seen a considerable improvement in the country and there are now quite a few places that used to be controlled by the terrorist troops and that are now reasonably safe. All this thanks to the concerted effort of the Western world.’
Jerry: ‘I’m sure it is so, but maybe it’s not for us to solve their problems in our way, and maybe ‘terrorists’ are just another scarecrow used by governments to…
Tom: ‘Terrorist attacks in the whole world have caused enough destruction and loss of human lives, something needs to be done about it. And after all, it’s also a matter of image, if we stopped now we’d lose credibility and so any extremist group might think that…..’etc etc

Yet, what is wrong with the interaction here?

Well, for one thing, Tom speaks too much compared to Jerry, he sounds like he’s making speeches, and he even interrupts his smaller partner abruptly. Interaction rule 1: remember that a (fair) interaction means that both speakers take the floor (more or less) equally.

Then, Tom doesn’t care if Jerry agrees, disagrees, or has something to say at all. He’s only focused on what he wants to say himself. He seems to want to involve Jerry by asking a question (‘have you heard what they do to women?’), but it’s just a rhetorical question which he answers himself right away (‘it’s outrageous’). Interaction rule 2: invite your partner to contribute, ask for their opinion or confirmation, check that they are following and that they are interested.

Next, Tom doesn’t respond to the points Jerry raises. He mentions his own arguments for continuing the war, without dealing, for example, with Jerry’s point on having the right to fight a war there in the first place. Interaction rule 3: listen to what you are told and respond to that. Jerry, for example, says ‘It may be a good cause, you’re right’, or ‘I’m sure it is so’.

Finally, the way Tom develops the discussion¬† is fully disconnected from Jerry’s contributions. What at first seems to be a discussion of the question ‘should the war in Afghanistan be continued?’, or ‘is the war in Afghanistan justified?’, turns into a presentation of the positive effects of the Western involvement. Tom clearly digresses from the initial topic, which was agreed between himself and Jerry. The dialogue, instead of interaction, develops more like two interlocutors that speak in parallel. Interaction rule 4: develop the discussion on the common ground established with your partner.

A better-interacting Tom can be seen below; notice that Tom still stands by his point of view – interacting better doesn’t mean necessarily you need to agree with your partner.

Tom:
‘I think the war in Afghanistan needs to be supported and carried on.
It’s a just war for a good cause – protecting human rights, for example.
Have you heard what they do to women out there?, it ‘s simply
outrageous! And the whole society needs a democratic government that can
ensure a decent life to the people, don’t you think?’


Jerry:
‘It may be a good cause, you’re right, but like any war, it’s civilians
that get to suffer a lot and fall victim to the violence. I don’t think
we have the right to go out and kill people in the name of their
welfare.’


Tom:
Well, I find this issue of right or no right a bit overstated. Civilians have to suffer, indeed, but let’s not forget that the Western forces are also there to build an
infrastructure, like schools, roads, hospitals and ultimately to ensure
security in the country and in the whole world by fighting the terrorist
groups. ‘


Jerry:
‘I’m sure it is so, but maybe it’s not for us to solve their problems
in our way, and maybe ‘terrorists’ are just another scarecrow used by
governments to get more funds, or stimulate the defense industry, or god knows what else.’


Tom: You think so? I’m not really a supporter of such conspiration theories. But I do know that the terrorist
attacks in the whole world have caused enough destruction and loss of
human lives, something needs to be done about it. What would you do about it, then?’
etc etc

Are there recent discussions you’ve had that look more like the first model above? Did you play Tom, or Jerry in that dialogue? What did it feel like?

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