Conversation stoppers kill your good ideas. We’ve all had discussions that were going along quite nicely, then suddenly everything stops dead. Like cutting the power while watching a movie. What happened?
Perhaps somebody threw in a verbal grenade: a conversation stopper.
This is a useful weapon when debates go off-topic or emotions are overheating and you want to re-focus everyone’s attention.
But used indiscriminately and often unknowingly it can interrupt the free flow of ideas or information, often permanently.
Here are 10 of the top conversation stoppers you need to avoid
Mind-numbing clichés in their own right, they all demonstrate lazy thinking at best and, at worst, an attempt to stifle new ideas.
They’re used to divert healthy debate – an essential part of decision making – or to justify faulty logic. Either way, they’re a sign of conceptual weakness, poor analytical skills or fear of the unknown and untried.
Rather than allow discussions to enter and explore new territory, conversation stoppers are lobbed in to close down the dialogue or at least send it in a new direction.
Fortunately, through trial and error, you can develop a neutralizing response to save the conversation or hold it to a topic you feel is worthwhile.
Here they are, the notorious ten. At any time, someone wishing to stop you in mid-flow can hit you with one of these:
• “It’s all relative.”
• “It is what it is.”
• “Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.”
• “It may work in theory, but not in practice.”
• “We’ve already had this conversation.”
• “It makes sense to me and that’s all that counts.”
• “Can we drop this and move on?”
• “Win some, lose some.”
• “We tried it once and it didn’t work.”
• If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.”
How to respond
Imagine you’re in a discussion about an important matter at work and someone throws one of these into the debate.
Assuming you have a good relationship with the offender and the point you wish to make is a strong one, consider these options. Remember, your objective is to keep a discussion or a debate going, so you’ll need to be confident you have sufficient facts to back you up.
“It’s all relative.”
RESPONSE: “Relativity is based on context and is affected by time and place. I believe that by adjusting our policy slightly, we can get a better solution. Let me explain how I think we can do it.”
“It is what it is.”
RESPONSE: Or let’s just imagine for a moment it was what it was. Perhaps times have changed, maybe there’s a fresh way of looking at this. Let’s find some new insights and see if we can change our outcomes. It’s too soon to give up.”
“Everyone is entitled to an opinion.”
RESPONSE: “I’m glad you said that. Because my opinion is that we haven’t taken this discussion far enough. I strongly recommend we give my proposal a proper, rational analysis rather than saying it’s just my personal point of view.”
“It may work in theory, but not in practice.”
RESPONSE: “Engineers used to think that a bumble-bee shouldn’t fly – small wings on a heavy body. Turns out if they’d looked closer at the theory of flight they’d have seen how it was done. That’s what I’m suggesting: we can develop the theory a little so it’ll work in practice.”
“We’ve already had this conversation.”
RESPONSE:“We have and I believe we came to the wrong conclusion. I’d like to introduce a couple of variables that I believe will lead us to a better decision.”
“It makes sense to me and that’s all that counts.”
RESPONSE: “Sir Karl Popper, one of the leading philosophers of the 20th Century, said ‘I may be wrong and you may be right and, by effort, we may get nearer the truth.’ I’m suggesting we make that effort. This issue is important enough that we need to get consensus.”
“Can we drop this and move on?”
RESPONSE: “I’ll happily drop it for now, as long as you agree to arrange a date and place for us to pick it up again. Our time maybe short right now but that doesn’t mean we should abandon this line of thought.”
“Win some, lose some.”
RESPONSE: “Well that phrase that was invented to make losers feel better. I’m not comfortable being a loser, so if you’ll allow me to introduce some new thinking, perhaps I can persuade you to let me win this one.”
“We tried it once and it didn’t work.”
RESPONSE: “Edison found 10,000 ways not to build a working light bulb and we’ve given up on our challenge after one shot? Let’s review what we did last time and make some tweaks. It’s too important to abandon without a fight.”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.”
RESPONSE: “We live in the innovation age which means we should be engaged in continuous improvement. The markets won’t give us five years to come up with a game changer. We have to be a little better this month than we were last month and a lot better next year than we are this year.”
Conversation stoppers are a form of verbal bullying and many people find them so disturbing that they avoid joining robust debate.
The biggest challenge facing businesses today is to stay relevant in a changing world.
This requires a dedication to innovation in every part of the organization, for which a free flow of information between all levels is vital.