Everybody wants to be right. Sometimes this goal takes precedence over the necessary components of rational discourse; facts and etiquette are thrown out the window as opponents cling desperately to their viewpoints, regardless of how accurate they are. Yet, in the heat of an intense argument, rarely does one ponder what is actually being accomplished by their unwillingness to give their opponent’s opinion a second thought.
Listening to others increases the chances that one’s own opinions will be heard. Expecting someone to listen without reciprocating the courtesy is hypocritical and will lead to little, if any, progress. If there is any hope of breaking out of a stalemate and encouraging reconsideration or reaching a compromise, both parties must be respectful and avoid discounting the other’s opinion entirely.
There is nothing to be gained from a shouting match – not only does it make it physically impossible to hear anything, but it escalates the situation. The raised voices and stress can transform a disagreement into a conflict, and the resulting negative experience can create the opposite of the intended effect. Attempts to forcefully impose opinions on others often ensure that they will never agree, as they are driven into defense by the lack of calm and become only more certain of their beliefs.
Though considering another’s opinions helps to promote the reception of one’s own, listening to others is not simply another strategy for persuasion. It also stimulates critical thinking by introducing new facts and perspectives, which encourage one to make more informed decisions.
When conducting an experiment, scientists do not ignore the columns of recorded data that do not reflect their hypothesis – if they did, their conclusion would be considered unreliable. Yet, overlooking unfavorable facts is a habit that many engage in without even realizing it. In 1960, Peter Wason published his landmark experimental findings that illuminated the tendency of people to actively search for information that proves their perspective rather than challenges it. The concept, known as “confirmation bias,” illustrates how a desire to be correct (especially on the first try) breeds selective attention. Focusing on using certain facts to build an argument while completely disregarding contradictory evidence leads to underdeveloped reasoning, formed on the basis of an incomplete understanding of the issue.
It can be tempting to act in the best interest of the ego – or at least, what seems best at the time. But those who truly care about being correct are willing to review as much information as possible – even if it doesn’t quite support their ideas. For true progress to occur, the environment must be one through which information can flow freely, and contributors respect the thoughts of one another.
It is all too easy to tune someone out as they speak, choosing not to listen but instead to mentally formulate a rebuttal and wait for an opportune moment to interject. Dialogues have devolved into monologues, but a willingness to entertain the ideas of others, even briefly and with skepticism, is crucial to productivity.
Photo by Lariat Photography