How to have hard conversations

How to have hard conversations
5. General

How to have hard conversations

Welcome to the fifty-third edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let’s dive in.


𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

Interesting framing – also connects with Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.

Of course, once a big firm decides to back a product, it can leverage its biggest advantage over startups: distribution.


Such a cool way of showing different weather patterns within the same country!


The Great Bong is not only a thought-provoking writer, but also a poet!


📄 2 Articles of the week

a. ‘To see India’s future, go south’ by The Economist

The Economist has an article about the relative dominance of the Southern states in India’s economy (and the northern states in its polity).

I liked the connections made to geographical differences in other countries – notably the US and China (I was not aware of this aspect about the latter):

Geographical divides often influence how countries develop. America’s politics and economy still reflect the legacy of the civil war. When Deng Xiaoping sought to open up China’s economy in 1992, he took a “southern tour” to Guangdong province. His endorsement of its entrepreneurial culture and history of openness thwarted Communist Party conservatives and led to the boom that fuelled China’s rise as an economic superpower.

You can trust the Economist to back its arguments with clear data points:

The southern five of India’s 28 states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana) contain 20% of the population, but account for 30% of its loans and for 35% of the flow of foreign investment in the past three years.

46% of India’s electronics exports are from the south. In India’s famous startup scene, 46% of tech “unicorns” are southerners, coming especially from Bangalore. The five southern states provide 66% of the IT services industry’s exports. The latest craze is for “global capability centres”, where multinationals assemble their global auditors, lawyers, designers, architects and other professionals: 79% of these hubs are in the south.

While recognising some steps taken by southern state governments, the piece credits the union government for its efforts to create an integrated national market:

A thriving national single market is crucial to India’s growth because it allows firms to achieve economies of scale for the first time and permits a more efficient allocation of national resources, from energy to labour. Inter-state trade rose from 23% of GDP in 2017 to 35% in 2021, underpinning growth. Mr Modi has done an impressive job of creating nationwide infrastructure, from a unitary tax system to transport and digital-payments schemes.

It then expresses some of the concerns about the majoritarian impulses that may negatively impact the southern states:

Pessimists fear a re-elected Mr Modi will upset the constitutional balance. Southern leaders already accuse him of targeting them with bogus corruption probes, withholding central-government funds and extracting an unfair level of tax to subsidise the north. The south could also lose out after 2026 when parliamentary-constituency boundaries are due to be redrawn. Against the south’s wishes, the BJP could impose Hindi as the national language.

It ends on a cautiously optimistic note:

Fortunately, India and Mr Modi have a far better alternative. Another way for the BJP to be competitive in the south is for it to moderate its Hindutva message, restrain its promotion of Hindi, put more weight on economic development and advance more moderate successors to Mr Modi than his coterie of headbangers. It is early days, but our reporting from alongside the BJP’s southern leadership this week suggests that some of these shifts may be taking place. South India already offers a vision of the future for India’s economy. If Mr Modi and his party choose wisely, the south may be an augury for its politics, too.

The article paints perhaps too rosy a picture of the southern states (who have their own issues) and is maybe too patronizing towards the north (which has had significant historical challenges compared to the south).

For a different, more nuanced, and detailed perspective, I would highly recommend listening to this podcast conversation between Shruti Rajagopalan and Amit Varma.

b. ‘Evolution, Faith, Politics, and the Ram Temple. Whither Goest India?’ by Shashi Sastry

I rarely share political pieces, but this one is a thoughtful perspective on the need to maintain a scientific temper, even as we celebrate our rich history, culture and traditions.

Shashi talks about the importance of science and its compatibility challenges with religion:

And however much conservatives and traditionalists may wish it, there is no going back to living without science, is there? Imagine how much the mobilisation of the Ram Temple and its political and economic outcomes depend on TV, mobiles, trains and planes — all outcomes of science.

So, the reduction of religiosity and increase in scientific education have improved lives materially, expanded the human population, and most likely increased happiness substantially.

Religion is serving us less now, as we have so much power over nature and many types of communities to belong to — states, countries, languages, sports teams, professions, creative art forms, etc.

Many will argue that religion and science can co-exist. Yes, they can, but they are fundamentally incompatible. Science innately questions and challenges everything, including itself and its effects, whereas religion insists it’s perfect and unchangeable.

He then goes on to (dispassionately) analyse the pros and cons of a government taking on such a strong position on (any particular) religion. You may disagree with some of his points, but they make for thought-provoking reading.

He concludes by imporing his readers to be intellectually curious, and find out more:

I implore you to see the big picture. Learn about evolution and history. See the facts. Ignorance is temporary bliss. Ignoring facts is a betrayal of your independence, freedom, and intelligence.

Think for yourself deeply. Don’t be intellectually lazy. Don’t take the easy way out and go with the flow. Choose the better and bigger thing to enjoy. This is what your brain is for. Guide your emotions with thought. Be brave. Don’t get caught up in the hype. Don’t conform.

Not calling out the wrong for too long starts making it seem right. Call it out to yourself, then anyone who’ll listen.

It’s your choice. Make it count.

If you have a contrary point of view, I would highly encourage you to write about it. I would be one of your first readers!


🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. ‘How to Have the Hardest Conversations—in Marriage, Politics, and Life’ Derek Thompson on Plain English with Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg (NYT bestselling author of books like ‘The Power of Habit‘, ‘Smarter, Faster, Better‘) has released a new book, ‘Supercommunicators‘ (which I am going through with great interest).

In this conversation with the super-articulate and smart Derek Thompson, Charles shares some of the findings from his book, which are relevant to everyone who wants to have deeper, more meaningful conversations.

They talk about ‘looping for understanding’, a listening technique taught at Harvard and Stanford:

Derek: What is this idea looping for understanding and how does it help produce more productive conversations?

Charles: It’s a really important technique and, and it’s taught at Harvard and Stanford and basically every sort of school. And, it’s particularly important when we are having a conversation where we’re in conflict with each other, where we disagree with each other. Because what happens is, if I’m disagreeing with you, if we’re debating or arguing in the back of my mind, almost subconsciously, I suspect that you are not listening to me. I suspect you are waiting your turn to speak. And if you’re not gonna listen to me, then like, gosh darn it, I’m not gonna listen to you either. I’m gonna wait my turn to talk and then give you a piece of my mind. And, and this means that we never become aligned. We never really start hearing each other.

So looping for understanding draws from this insight that what’s really important is not just listening, it’s proving that you’re listening, particularly if someone is skeptical that you’re listening ’cause you’re in a conflict. And it just, there’s three steps to looping for understanding.

The first is just ask a question. And there’s these questions called deep questions that are special. But, but really any question will work. Then listen to what a person says.

And step two is repeat back in your own words what you just heard them say. Like, show that you heard them and show that you processed it.

And then the third step, and this is the one people usually forget, is ask if you got it right. Now, the reason why this is so powerful is because first of all, if I prove to you that I’ve heard what you’ve said, it is hardwired into our brains this thing called social reciprocity that the other person will want to listen back to you. But equally oftentimes I want to listen and I and I trip over my own feet, right?

Like you say something I disagree with and I start coming up with arguments in my own head about why you’re wrong. And suddenly I’m not listening anymore. But if my assignment to myself is I have to listen to Derek so closely that I can repeat back what he told me in my own words to show that I kind of understand it, then I don’t have any room to start debating you in my head. I have to listen. So it’s as much a technique to prove to you that I’m listening as a self hack to make me actually listen to you.

This is a useful distinction between ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ questions:

Derek: What you see as like the main difference between a shallow and a deep question.
Charles: So a deep question is something that asks about your values, your beliefs, or your experiences. And that can sound kind of intimidating, right? Because, those seem like big questions, but they’re actually usually not. So like for instance, let’s say I bump into someone and I say, what do you do for a living? And they say, oh, I’m a lawyer. A deep question would be to say, oh, you know, what made you decide to go to law school? Or Oh, what do you love about practicing the law? Would you tell one of your kids to become a lawyer? Those are all deep questions, even though they don’t appear that deep, because what they do is they invite the other person to tell me about their experiences that led them to law school, about their beliefs. So that about what their, what their kids need about their values, they’re able to, to make, make for meaningful work.

And finally, I loved the analogy of not opening new browser tabs when having an argument!

Derek: My wife and I have developed a kind of catchphrase in our marriage, which is ‘don’t open new tabs’. And so for example, let’s say, you know, a married couple is fighting over something really commonplace. Like, you know, I’d like you to show more interest in my life. I want you to ask more questions about my work and friends. You never ask me about myself. And the other partner in response says, well, I don’t think you pay enough attention to me. And by the way, it’s because you’re always going out with your friends and you don’t have enough time for me. And that’s because you’ve actually never respected me. So like on the surface, this looks like a really straightforward, kind of normal marital dispute. Like one person raises a problem, another person gets defensive and comes up with a bunch of excuses, ‘No, the problem isn’t with me, it’s actually with you’. It seems like an extremely typical sort of chaotic fight. But just under the surface what’s happening is that one person opened like a tab on a browser and the subject of that tab was, ‘I want you to ask more questions’. And the second person responded by pressing ‘Apple-T’ (the keyboard shortcut for a new browser tab) over and over and over again and opening a bunch of other tabs in the conversation. It’s like, about respect and the time you would spend with your friends is just tab after tab after tab. And the same way that having too many tabs on a browser can disorient you and maybe even, you know, crash the browser itself, in relationships, having too many tabs of contention crashes the productive possibility of the conversation.

And so we both say now is don’t open new tabs if I come to you and say, take out the trash, don’t come back to me about the nine different things that I haven’t done in the last few weeks. Right? Open that tab later, the trash tab is open and it has to be closed, otherwise the room is gonna stink, you know, one tab at a time… And if we get it down to one tab, we can actually focus on solving that one problem rather than not solving 17 problems.


That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

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