The points of breakdown in group discussions are many and varied. Much of the time they coincide with the failure of participants to understand each other. Sometimes they occur when the participants understand each other too well.
To work out solutions in such gatherings or meetings, it is important to get ideas clarified through expression of differences of opinion. But when a controversy or a conflict in such meetings signalises loss of rapport it means that the participants are talking at or past rather than with each other and the differences lead to disintegration rather than productive results.
The problem often arises when the argument moves from the issue to the personalities. The moment someone says, "you are absolutely wrong" or "I have had years of experience on this," it is over. The discussion is no more a discussion but a tussle of egos, when a speaker identifies himself so thoroughly with an issue that criticism of it is construed as an attack on him.
Before proceeding further, I would now like to revisit Nandyal bypoll which, according to the president of the YSRCP, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, was a cakewalk. Jagan turned this into a mud walk and he should have eaten crow at the end. Instead, he made his excuses and allowed his leaders to follow suit.
The problem with Jaganmohan Reddy is that he takes people for granted. He has taken people for granted not only in Nandyal bypoll but also in the Kakinada Municipal Polls. For that matter, he seems to have taken the people of Andhra Pradesh for granted, and hence, expects them to elect his candidates in the elections. He does not seem to reflect upon their choices. It is so, because he does not pay heed to counselling.
What he thinks is his strength is no more than his ego and this is one issue that is going to prevent his party from coming back to power in 2019. There is not a single leader around him who is willing to risk an argument with him. "Jagan does not take a no, how could we say something else?” the confused leaders often ask. “But have you ever tried?” I keep asking and I encounter a silence. "You know what happens if we do. We are branded naysayers and dismissed. It is difficult to give our perception amid the other cheerleaders who keep hailing his every utterance or move as invaluable,” a couple of senior party leaders bemoan.
The problem with such a leader is that any communication between him and those around him stops when the conversation begins because of the leader's private conjuring up of images. He should understand that he is far removed from the outside phenomena. Thus, in the case of Nandyal, Jagan's evaluation was based more on the private elaboration of verbal formulae which was not the same as that of Chandrababu Naidu's which was based more on the evaluations based on verifiable descriptions or observations.
Simply put, Naidu started his planning meticulously considering the opinions of not only his party men and other inputs but also taking into consideration Jagan's plans. Surprising though it may sound, but he did do it seeking the inputs of those who deserted Jagan and joined his camp recently.
Given the importance alluded to the bypoll, Jagan should have approached it with cold calculations rather than an emotional pitch that he sought to raise halfway through, using some displeasing language. Yet another mistake that Jagan did was in allowing "all and sundry" in his party to interact with the voters directly – i.e., allowing 'outsiders' to reach out to the voters.
Chandrababu Naidu, a past master in the game, drew clear lines for his Ministers and MLAs who had been assigned the job of poll management. He did not allow all of them to go to the people. These 'outsiders' were told not to interact with the locals directly. They were asked to limit themselves to the job on hand – that of interacting with the assigned personalities alone. It was for the local leaders to take the message to the people. This erased all confusion and each had a clear task on hand.
Jagan generalised the campaign, taking a dig at all the failures of Naidu whereas the latter confined it to the present and the immediate – Nandyal.
Jagan should have been wary of the development plank that the TDP was harping upon. He knew that his rival was bound to caution the voters of Nandyal that the developmental work could come to a halt if the TDP man loses.
Was there any plan to counter the same? Secondly, why would the voter opt for Jagan's candidate when it would not alter the power equations in any way except halting the developmental works?
Let me recall the failure of George Westinghouse who designed a train brake operated by compressed air and which he wanted to present to the investors. After it was presented, he struggled to convince railroad men of his invention's value. Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central is said to have replied: "Do you mean to tell me with a straight face that a moving train can be stopped with wind?”
Here the issue was presented by reference to something non-verbal and observable. The reply was oriented by a verbal definition.
Jagan's attack on Naidu was only perceived as a projection of the former's own value into variable. Jagan did not respond factually but inferentially to the situation and identified definition with fact-thinking and, hence, could not resolve the bypoll in his favour. Again, because of this, his leaders had to spend a lot of time defending him rather than in explaining the failures of the governance. The YSRCP leaders might argue that Jagan did do that precisely throughout and his personal attack on Naidu only came in the end. It does not matter to the people because Jagan capped his rhetoric with that attack and, hence, the relevance was lost.
Late Dr Irving J Lee, an eminent Professor of Northwestern University, once remarked: "Where the basic orientation of a culture makes few semantically critical demands, it will not be surprising if men are isolated from each other by their very modes of communication. This is but a way of implying that progress in understanding does not require either the correction or simplification of the language in use, or the creation of special abridgments, but rather that progress depends instead on a reorientation of attitudes towards the verbalising process itself.”
Because his verbalising process is wrong and his evaluations are based on personalities and not issues, Jagan continues to suffer politically.
For semanticists, there are two schools of thought on how communication is possible between two persons.
One school assumes that communication between the two fails because one does not accept what the other has to say as being fact, true or valid. Here the goal should be to get such a person accept the opinions, ideas, facts or information of the first (who has asked him to do something).
The position of the other school of thought is that communication fails when one of the two does not feel free to express his feelings to the other because of a fear that he may not be accepted at all. Communication is facilitated when there is a willingness to express and accept differences.