How to Engage in Thoughtful Disagreement

Hello hello and welcome to another Memento Mori post. I was reflecting on some of the most interesting conversations that I’ve had in my life, and realized that many of them required some kind of disagreement. We live in a polarized world, where everyone we’re surrounded by and the algorithms on all our social media feeds keep us in the same bubble. Us vs them.

We have a misconception around what meaningful conversations are meant to be like. Yes, it’s easier and more comfortable to speak to people who think like you and have similar views. However, it’s even more rewarding and insightful when you get to speak to people who don’t necessarily agree with everything you have to say.

Zig Ziglar Quote: “You can disagree without being ...

In today’s post, I’d like to dive into how we can engage in thoughtful disagreement. I’ll essentially breakdown the aspects required to ‘debate’ and convince people to hear you out. Let’s look at what active listening is all about, finding common ground, being willing to be wrong and factually expressing yourself. It’s not about being right, it’s about learning.

Before I get going, I’d just like to highlight 2 key books where I’ve derived most of this wisdom from; ‘Think Again’ by Adam Grant and ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling.

Active listening

When it comes to arguing with people in general, the biggest mistake we make is listening to respond. We tend to get heated up and focus on how to convince them to adopt our way of thinking, instead of listening to hear them out.

Active listening is probably one of the most important aspects of engaging with someone who disagrees with you. It involves listening to understand and make sense of where that person is coming from, not to think of a response. We’ve all been programmed to do the exact opposite of that.

peanuts-cartoon-about-listening – KristianStill

So how can we listen more actively?

Just focus more on their point of view. If you feel yourself starting to think of the ‘perfect reply’ to them while they’re still speaking, push it aside and be mindful. It requires patience, practice and conscious effort. Keep probing them by asking clarifying questions. The objective is to gain a clear understanding of where they’re coming from and what they’re really saying.

Try and paraphrase what they’ve said back to them to ensure that you actually interpreted it correctly. This also shows the other person that you’re receptive to their train of thought, which will in turn allow them to hear you out.

Common ground

Another great way to get people to hear your side of the story is to first establish common ground. Sure, there will be differences in opinion and ideology. But more often than not, there will also be a lot in common.

When you identify those common beliefs, you should try and express them in a way that draws the other person in. Make them feel like you’re not the enemy. Make yourself feel like that too. We have a lot more in common with other people than we think. This will help build some trust and may allow the other individual to hear out your conflicting thoughts after that.

Independence, compromise and collaboration - Julie Leoni

Willing to be wrong

A willingness to be wrong is absolutely crucial when it comes to thoughtful disagreement. We simply cannot enter the conversation with our cups full and our minds blocked. We need to put our ego aside and accept the fact that we may very well be wrong.

The incredible thing about this is that YOU are the one who gets to learn. If you’re right all the time, it means you’re not challenging your thoughts enough and are maybe surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals.

Paul Tournier Quote: “The worst thing is not being wrong ...

This isn’t to say that we should just back down whenever our opinions are challenged. But rather that should be open-minded enough to re-frame our thinking in the face of factual evidence.

Expressing yourself factually

This point ties in well with a willingness to be wrong. In order to have a strong foundation in your discussion, you need to be equipped with proof or certain facts. Your opinion can be solidified by bringing in certain aspects of research. This is to ensure that you’re not just thumb-sucking information and to keep your argument valid.

What does that mean for you then? Do some research! Stop arguing based on something your uncle told you 10 years ago. Find out for yourself how true or false your current beliefs are. This will not only help you debate more concretely, but it will also enable you to learn more about yourself.

What is opinion? What is fact? - BBC Teach

At the end of the day, that’s the point. You want to continuously update your understanding of yourself and the world around you. There’s certainly no shortage of information out there. It’s about exposing yourself to enough differing views and forming an understanding for yourself.

That’s the last thing I want to tell you. Don’t just accept the first article you read as being your source of truth. Find different sources, different authors, different perspectives. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis, but just cover your bases.

There will always be things we agree on and things we disagree on. The point is to make the most of the different perspectives that are available to you and learn as much as you can. Don’t let your ego get in the way of having an incredibly meaningful conversation. You don’t always have to agree, but you should always try to learn.