Critical thinking can be easy when you are sitting in a boardroom, using one of the handy decision making/problem solving worksheets from the Critical Thinking Boot Camp, and actively reminding yourself to follow the RED Model of critical thinking.
When is it less easy? When someone pushes your buttons, attacks your personal beliefs, challenges your values, and refuses to stick to the issue at hand. This is conflict, folks. There is nothing comfortable about conflict, but it doesn’t always have to end with someone storming out of the room.
Conflict can be approached positively when cooler heads prevail. In life, people will disagree with you. They will be equally passionate and persuasive. Emotions will run high. Personal attacks might be made, and opinions may be misconstrued as fact.
If you remain calm, take a few deep breaths and try to stick with the RED Model of Critical Thinking, you will have a more positive outcome than the ladies of The View experiences with Bill O’Reilly recently. First, let’s look at how NOT to handle conflict:
Let me be clear, I have no intention of taking sides on the debate about the mosque, however I will openly state that I believe Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar lost this debate and looked foolish by refusing to respond logically to Bill O’Reilly’s attempt to push their buttons. When you walk out on a discussion, you admit defeat. I’m not saying I’m a fan of Bill O’Reilly, or that I agree with his emotionally aggressive tactics, but he set out to incite a big reaction- and he got it.
The discussion could have been much more calm, logical, and productive had they all focused on the RED Model:
- Whoopi and Joy, you KNOW Bill O’Reilly loves to get under your skin. He takes pride in making you angry. That is how he gets great ratings and is the most watched cable news program on TV in the United States (like him or not). Before you enter into a conversation with him, remember that his objective will be to get a rise out of you. Don’t let that happen.
- Bill O’Reilly and the ladies of The View have a long history together. Therefore, each party had a preconceived notion of how the interview would go. They likely each entered the discussion with weapons drawn and ready for a fight. That assumption and resulting emotional state creates a climate of anger and defensiveness- neither of which is productive.
- The key in the exchange between Whoopi, Joy, and Bill was heightened by emotions. Bill clearly intended to frustrate his interviewers to get a reaction and appear as the only calm, reasonable one in the conversation. He started by making a condescending remark to Joy- “Listen to me because you’ll learn.” Statements like this are derailers, and should be pointed out (and difused) by a mediating party (Barbara Walters, in this case).
- Joy Behar then stooped to Bill’s level by giving him bunny ears and calling Bill a pinhead. Again, the discussion at hand has now been put aside as the two engage in childish displays of dominance and insults. Stick to the evidence, and remove all personal feelings about your opponent and you will find a much more productive result.
- Next, Whoopi Goldberg asked a very pointed and reasonable question, but did so by adding in an emotional instigator (she started the question by saying “So, what you’re saying is that Americans are not smart enough to recognize….”). If you remove that negative part of her question, she legitimately asks if Bill O’Reilly believes that Barack Obama’s dip in approval is related to the fact that he doesn’t address the morality of the mosque issue, but rather sticks to the constitutional fairness of the decision.
- Before Bill O’Reilly has a chance to respond, Joy Behar pipes in with statements like “That’s so un-American.” This appeal to political/cultural values, again, is a derailer from a discussion of facts. Referring to cultural values is non-tangible, and opinion-based.
- Bill O’Reilly attempts to return to the facts by stating a poll that 70% of Americans do not want a mosque built near the site of 9/11. I do not know the source of Bill’s statistics or the polling methodology used, so I will not attempt to validate the number itself, but this is Bill’s attempt to use facts (though the fact he presented is actually based on opinion). Again, Joy’s response is that the results of that poll are “un-American.” Can someone define “un-American” for me?
- Then the discussion takes a nasty turn when Bill states that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” Yes, a Muslim belief was consistent among the attackers on 9/11, but they were all also men. Should we protest men getting together? This is where Bill leaps past the evaluation
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of the argument and makes a sweeping generalization about all Muslims. Once this statement was made, he lost any respect he could have maintained with his interviewers and the conversation never returns to a logical exchange of facts.
- The remainder of the conversation consists of cursing, yelling, talking over one another, and ultimately Joy and Whoopi leave the stage.
Draw a Conclusion:
- Because this conversation became so heated, personal, emotional, and opinion-based, there is no way the result could be positive. If Joy, Whoopi, and Bill could have remained calm, addressed the facts, and found points of agreement, they might have been able to remain in the same room and agree to respectfully disagree.
Not every conflict will result in total agreement, but in a situation like this, the goal is to maintain positive, open communications. That cannot be achieved when one party removes themselves from the discussion. As Barbara Walters pointed out “this is what should not happen.” We cannot move toward a culture of mutual respect for differing opinions and logical discussions of disagreement when the conversation turns to personal attacks, emotional responses, condescension, and shutting down.
Interestingly, Barbara Walters calls out Bill O’Reilly’s generalization of all Muslims as being extremist, and he calmly responds that he agrees that 9/11 was the result of extremism. This was a step toward critical thinking that could have happened minutes earlier had the emotions not gone into overdrive. This point of clarification was a huge moment in the conversation and would have been a productive moment in the “Evaluating Arguments” step of the RED Model.
It is also important to remember that speaking volume, tone, and nonverbal behaviors play an equally important role in critical thinking during conflict. When Elisabeth Hasselbeck chimes in with her opinion, her voice is high pitched and she speaks aggressively(almost implying exasperation), and could have easily resulted in additional conflict had Joy and Whoopi been present to respond. The tone itself was noticeably emotional, opinion-based, and the statement was an attempt to point fingers and take away from the original argument at hand. Again, this was an unproductive step in critically thinking through conflict.
The last part of this segment is extremely interesting. Joy and Whoopi return to the stage after Bill concedes that all muslims are not responsible for 9/11, the small segment of extremist, radical individuals were responsible.
What is the lesson here? When we calmly seek clarification and challenge blanket statements and opinion-based assertions of fact, we often find common ground. This common ground could have been discovered earlier had Joy and Whoopi not walked away from the conversation.
What is your take? What other moments during this video show a lack of critical thinking during the conflict?Note: This post is not about the appropriateness of building a mosque near the site of 9/11. Please only comment on the conversation shown in this video itself. Any inflammatory/inappropriate comments will be deleted. Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.