Ali’s Anecdotes: How to Course Correct

Have you ever noticed that, when people have conversation challenges, they tend to hammer through them with the same method that got them stuck in the first place?

Yeah, me too. I think it happens because many of us use logic like, “He must not have understood what I meant. I’ll give another example that supports my first explanation and that’ll make it more clear.”

So we restate our case using the same language but with a different angle or example, hoping to fix the miscommunication.

When we do this however, instead of providing clarity, we often create more frustration, and the conversation stalls, or worse, devolves into angry yelling.

Many years ago, when I started classes for my PhD, I was also a full-time professional. Every day I went directly from my job to school, and it didn’t occur to me until a few weeks into my classes that the communication style I used so effectively at work was completely ineffective at school.

There was one conversation in particular that has stayed with me all these years later. Another student in my class was clearly struggling with my contributions to our discussion. She accused me of being “anecdotal,” which, in academia, implies that I don’t have any “real” evidence or data to support my ideas.

Her accusation stopped me in my tracks. In my day job, anecdotes were the best and most effective means through which to prove my points and share my ideas. I was stunned into silence, and to be honest, angered by her attitude and tone.

AsI crafted a response to her in my head, my first instinct was to use more anecdotes to prove to her why these were actually “data” in story form, and as a result, were legitimate and meaningful to our discussion.

However, before I said this out loud, I stopped for a minute and realized something: my desire to tell more stories to get her to see things my way was completely flawed. If the stories were the core part of the problem, then more stories would only exacerbate the tension.

I needed to course correct.

So, what did I do? I switched gears. Instead of giving another anecdote, I tied my idea to one of the theories we had just read and referenced an academic study to prove my point. I knew that she could still disagree with me, but she couldn’t use the way I framed my point to dismiss it.

Turns out, that was the best thing I could’ve done! By engaging with my classmate in her language – in what she considered to be a “legitimate” form of communication – I was able to get our discussion moving again in interesting and important ways.

On that day, I learned that course correcting isn’t easy, but it’s always worth the effort. And, it’s never too late to try.

Want to learn more about how to course correct? Read all about it here.

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