Today, it seems like everybody is arguing about everything — and with perhaps somewhat more energy than years ago. It turns out that most of us are going about our arguments incorrectly.
Most of the arguments happening now involve two individuals articulating their points in an effort to convince another individual — while hardly listening to the arguments being made by the other individual. Both sides believe their facts are “superior” and assume the other person is ignorant of these facts. Since both people believe they have better facts, it isn’t too surprising that neither will be convinced by the other person’s arguments.
Daniel Pink points to studies by two Yale professors that show most men and women believe they have a lot more facts, and know a lot more, than they actually do. A lot of the “facts” are really beliefs or assumptions. The theory goes there is no good reason for people to self-evaluate these “facts” they already know to be true.
Using these types of mental shortcuts is actually helpful in many areas of our lives. I just want to use the car – I do not really need to know the specific details of how it works. However, as the world gets more complicated, an increasing number of assumptions are made based on fewer and fewer bits of concrete knowledge.
According to Pink, the cost of taking these mental shortcuts makes it harder to discern the difference between what we believe and what we actually know.
In your next argument, instead of attempting to convince someone else of your superior beliefs, and talking over each other without listening, invite them to explore the facts behind their positions. What are the numbers and where did they all come from? How could that proposal actually work in the real world, and where’s it been tried before, what was the result?
The purpose, isn’t to convince, but to soften the stance of the other person. Be ready to soften your own stance — when it turns out you are not as confident of the facts as you originally imagined. Arguing then becomes more a matter of mutual understanding and nuanced positions.