Adam Grant write an article for the Guardian titled ‘You can’t say that!’: how to argue, better (July 30, 2022).

« In our polarized world, a productive disagreement is a rare occurrence. Research shows that the average person would rather talk to a stranger who shares their political views than a friend who doesn’t. That’s a travesty. As an organizational psychologist and recovering conflict avoider, I’ve spent years studying how to build our argument literacy. Arguing well is a skillset, but it’s heavily influenced by your mindset. A good debate isn’t about one person declaring victory, it’s about both people making a discovery. »

« In disagreements, too many of us think like preachers, prosecutors and politicians. In preacher mode, you’re trying to proselytize your views. In prosecutor mode, you’re attacking someone else’s. And in politician mode, you don’t even listen to people unless they already share your views… Whether you’re preaching, prosecuting or politicking, you’ve already concluded that you’re right and they are wrong. You’ve flipped a switch that shuts down your capacity for critical thinking. »

« Learn to recognize your own lazy thinkingWe hold our own opinions to lower standards than other people’s. When someone doesn’t buy the case you’re making, it’s worth remembering that you might not either if you weren’t the one selling it. »

« Stay critical, even when you’re emotional… We’re often too close to our own arguments to evaluate them critically. To recognize our blind spots, we need other people to hold up a mirror. Friction isn’t inherently bad; it can be productive. If two people always agree, at least one of them is failing to think critically or speak candidly. A difference of opinion doesn’t have to threaten a relationship, it can be an opportunity to learn. The people who teach you the most are the ones who question your thought process, not the ones who validate your conclusions. »

« The more charged the issue, the harder it is to stay in control of your critical thinking skills. When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, many liberals were understandably outraged. As they slipped into prosecutor mode, though, I watched their reasoning falter. Many argued that it was wrong to walk away from precedent, forgetting that they stood against precedent when it came to overturning the 1972 ruling that outlawed gay marriage. Many conservatives fell into the same trap. They insisted there was no constitutional right to bodily autonomy, overlooking that they had insisted regulations to inject a vaccine into their body were a violation of their constitutional freedom. »

« Embrace the shades of grey… I had fallen victim to what psychologists call binary bias. It’s when we take a complex spectrum and oversimplify it into two categories. If we want to have better arguments, we need to look for the shades of grey… The goal isn’t to challenge a narrative – it’s to find the truth. »

« Agree on your approach to arguing…A balanced argument doesn’t weigh two sides equally – it gives more weight to the strongest evidence. »

« Keep agreeing to disagree… The clearest sign of intellectual chemistry isn’t agreeing with someone. It’s enjoying your disagreements with them. Harmony is a pleasing arrangement of different sounds, not the same ones. Creative tension can make beautiful music. »

« The highest compliment from someone who disagrees with you is not, “You were right.” It’s “You made me think.” Good arguments help us recognize complexity where we once saw simplicity. The ultimate purpose of debate is not to produce consensus. It’s to promote critical thinking. »


Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.

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