Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Deep Thoughts on Thoughtful Disagreement

 (and I Dare You to Disagree)

I confess that I hate when people disagree with me. For me, the stress of thinking that I might be incorrect gives me the willies. Admitting I might be wrong?  


I also confess that I have shut people down here and there. Being a big cheese at my place affords me the opportunity to do just that.

But is this the right culture to promote if we want to learn and grow?

It sure doesn’t seem like the pundits or the politicians are interested in intellectual debate.

We have all seen it … The conservative commentator strongly suggests a point of view. The liberal commentator suggests the conservative is incorrect.

Actually, strike that. It’s not quite precise. One commentator directs a finger in the other’s face, indignantly pointing out that his opponent just crawled out from a rock. The other replies that his accuser became a Ph.D. by fraudulently submitting plagiarized papers.

Pretty soon the discussion dissolves into a shouting match. Intelligent discussion is lost as two seemingly intelligent people resort to ad hominem attacks! Nothing new is revealed but the limits people will go to discredit another, even if one's initial assertions are worthy of closer examination.

Yet the act of thoughtful consideration does not make someone a wimp. It makes them either different or more resolute. A now stronger position can be framed if you can support your position and take into account more perspectives than your own.

Consider Warren Buffett. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that at the last annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, Buffett invited an unusual guest to sit on a panel of experts who could ask Buffett and other board members questions about the company: Doug Kass, who holds a short position in Berkshire stock. In other words, Kass is betting against success of Berkshire Hathaway.

Inviting a dissident was unconventional, to say the least, but in doing so, Buffett was able to better understand Kass’s reservations and, as a result, use this understanding to strengthen the messaging, address objections from other shareholders (and potential shareholders) and reduce skepticism of the company.

We can all take a lesson from Buffett, but some of us (clears throat), solidify our stubbornness as we grow older rather than use our wisdom to create richer degrees of understanding.

 Here is what I am trying to make a habit of doing: If someone brings up an opposing view, I take a breath. (They say deep breathing reduces stress. In fact, I am taking a long series of breaths as I write this.) With as confident of a voice I can muster, I mutter with as much enthusiasm as I can feign: “That's interesting. Tell me why you think that way?”

Then I shut up, or at least I attempt to shut up. Listening with open ears is powerful in promoting discussion and thoughtful disagreement. I listen carefully to any seeds of truth uttered from the speaker. Then I ask myself: If I viewed the issue from their perspective, is there anything that can be learned to change and strengthen my position? Might my attitudes change and bring me closer to the results that I wanted to promote in the first place?

If not, at least I let someone have his or her day by being heard.
Try participating in some thoughtful disagreement this week. I guarantee you it won't be as painful as you imagine. You might also gain some new allies.  

Washington: You listening?
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