Think back to the last argument you had with someone. Did it end poorly? Did you change the other person’s perspective? Did you change your own beliefs?
Chances are you both stated the reasons why you believe you are right, and neither person budged to the other side. And chances are you were incredibly frustrated that the other person wasn’t open to the ideas/arguments you presented. It’s infuriating when someone can be so closed-minded that they don’t consider other points of view. No critical thinking, right?
But let’s dig deeper.
How did that argument with your friend start? Whether you used these words or not, I’ll bet that the bulk of your argument started with “Let me tell you why you’re wrong…” Now do you see the problem? The critical thinking error, then, is being made on both sides.
In order to change minds/opinions, we have to be willing to listen. At times, just listening will help you frame your argument more clearly and present more relevant evidence. By telling someone they’re wrong, all you do is put that person on the defensive. They stop listening to the worthy points you’re making and start thinking of their own responses.
Additionally, when we’re focused on telling someone else why they’re wrong, we’ve completely bypassed the possibility that we, in fact, could be wrong. This week, Mind Hacks posted an article on this same topic. The article references research on people’s confidence in their arguments before and after being asked to describe the issue in detail. For example, we all understand how a speedometer works, right? Great, now tell me how a speedometer works in detail. Not so simple. Before you tell someone else they are wrong, ask yourself if you can truly explain the inner workings of your argument. You may surprise yourself and soften how strongly you feel about the topic.
This is why in the 5 Steps to New Thinking, the very first step is “STOP and Think.“ Instead of rolling right into a response, STOP and process what you’ve heard. Did you hear what was said? Do you understand the argument? Is the argument valid? What questions can you ask to better understand the issue?
When you STOP and Think, you open yourself up to the opportunity for better thinking and better listening.
Do you have any techniques for listening more actively during an argument?
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. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.