Johnnie Moore

It’s not about the fish

An argument about not liking fish reveals the complexity of even a simple conversation
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

There's a lot more going in working with conversations than appears on the surface

Transcript of this video:

I was talking to someone the other day about an argument he’d had with his younger brother when he’d been 18 and the brother had been 10 and they’d been out hiking and he’d made his younger brother a lovely meal out of fish.

But it turned out his brother didn’t really like fish and had sat there eating it a bit sort of reluctantly. And then halfway through the fish spat it out and said to his older brother: I’d sooner die than eat any more of this.

And they’d got into an argument and we’d been talking about, well how else might he have responded to his younger brother? And I’m quite curious about what we can do when confronted by people saying things that really push our buttons like this.

And we’d experimented with a whole variety of responses about the health benefits of fish or the joys of camping together changing the subject, et cetera, et cetera. And none of them had really worked until he tried saying this as a response: oh I didn’t like fish either.

And that made me laugh because it felt like it had a kind of cut-through and it probably wasn’t the perfect response cuz it wasn’t actually true. But it made me realize and I said this out loud, oh, oh, it’s not about the fish.

I’ve been thinking about that observation ever since because I think we underestimate the complexity of human conversation processes and we often trick ourselves into thinking that what we’re arguing about or discussing or talking about is just the subject at hand the apparent to topic of conversation.

But of course, in reality there’s a whole lot more going on. You know, in this case, the whole sort of nature of the relationship between the two brothers who is sort of in control here, stuff like that. Very fundamental human stuff that we’re kind of negotiating in our conversations all the time, whether we whether we acknowledge it or not.

So it’s not about the fish, is probably another example of that because of course it’s partly about the fish. It’s a bit of a simplification of something.

But as a slogan I think it’s quite a useful reminder to realise that when we say we work conversationally which is something I like to say, I can see how that might sound like a very trivial thing to do. Oh, surely you’ve got a deep and complex process and an elaborate theory of change behind what you are doing. But actually to really work conversationally I think is potentially to be really open to the complexity of what being human is like.

Photo by Gábor Szűts on Unsplash

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