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Disagree Without Starting a Riot

How can we suggest that someone’s favorite theory is… not supported by the literature (or, so far as we know, just plain wrong).

07-29 Fence Repairs 2
Do we have to build fences between people who disagree?

Not helpful: “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Much better: “Have you considered…”

Disagree gently. We can be pretty sure about some things.

“The best researchers I know have been looking at this issue for decades, and so far, they can’t find support for the idea that X really works.”

Allow for further developments. Whatever seems totally true today will quite possibly be modified tomorrow. So it’s a good idea not to get too “stuck” on a particular point of view.

“So far, the evidence suggests…”

Yes—No—Oh, but what about this? Often, when there are diametrically opposed viewpoints in research, academics and others line up on one side or the other of an issue and argue their points. Eventually, someone comes along who makes a compelling point that both sides are right to some degree. This forms a new viewpoint, and a new argument begins.
“The folks who propose that idea have a great point about X, but I can’t find good support for the rest of their argument.”

Learn something. Approaching disagreements from a position of inquiry can help.
“Here is what I know about X, what have you found?”

Respect the unknown. Recognizing that our mental models of the universe (and about all the issues) are necessarily incomplete (we don’t know everything there is to know) helps to keep us from getting too “stuck” on being right.

“Here’s what I think, what am I missing?”

Take a broader perspective. Practicing, at least internally, arguing all sides of an issue can help us to see another’s point of view. Once we can do that, it becomes easier to show your own way of seeing things.

“So, if I had your point of view, I might say…”

Check for understanding. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and suddenly he starts arguing about some point that was not remotely on your mind?
Sometimes a key word or phrase will remind us of something that has nothing to do with whatever someone is saying.
“Oh, did it seem like I was talking about X? I meant to be talking about Y.”

There’s a strength in learning from others. From being open to new information. And it’s entirely possible to disagree about ideas without building fences around our points of view.


Post | Seriously, Why Do You Think That’s True?
Book | The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

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