“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” -Mahatma Ghandi
If you want to make improved decisions and elevate your critical thinking skills, do not avoid confrontational conversations. In fact, you should embrace the challenge and seek out debate. Your mind will grow stronger. From ideate.org:
“The process of debate offers profound and lasting benefits for individuals, for societies and for the global community as a whole. With its emphasis on critical thinking, effective communication, independent research and teamwork, debate teaches skills that serve individuals well in school, in the workplace, in political life and in fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens of democratic societies.”
Often, we avoid the toughest conversations in life. We fear the discomfort that inevitably ensues when we engage intellectually in an adversarial talk with other human beings. It’s far easier to enter a chat with a friend or colleague when we’re confident that we’re aligned philosophically.
Today’s technology has made this easier than ever. We can narrowly tailor the information we consume and surround ourselves only with like-minded individuals if we so choose. We previously discussed the consequences that come with seeing only what you want to see. The only way to truly overcome this psychological bias is through regularly engaging in debate. The more quality conversations we have, the sharper we become. Such is the concept of deliberate practice.
To learn any new skill or gain expertise you need to practice, practice, practice. There isn’t much debate about that.
But here’s what you might not know: scientific research shows that the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity.
And, more interestingly, these scientists also believe that expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice NOT due to innate talent.
This concept is known as deliberate practice, and it’s incredibly powerful.
We rarely emerge from harmonious discussions learning a new vantage point or even furthering our understanding of our own. By forcing ourselves to reason appropriately within the context of a back and forth, we further flesh out our own beliefs and articulate them more efficiently and effectively.
Any solid business organization desperately needs these interactions. Imagine a company without opposing viewpoints. The chances that a company assesses a market accurately drastically decrease as the number of emphatic voices diminishes. More passionate paradigms equal a more in depth representation of the giant sample size which is the world. Richard Branson to entrepreneur.com:
Over almost 50 years in business, I have learned that having a healthy debate about strategy and direction is vital if a business is to succeed, so I always encourage my colleagues to challenge me and speak up if they disagree with any of our group’s plans. The old saying that “a family that eats together, stays together” also applies to disagreements in business — a team that challenges each other will be successful together. This may seem like bad advice to leaders who believe that senior management teams should always be harmonious, but I disagree. Of course, you cannot be at permanent loggerheads with your senior colleagues or fellow founders, but the occasional debate is good for everyone and will help to sharpen your team’s focus.
Of course, this isn’t disagreement for the sake of arguing. Our opinions should always be backed by coherent, logical thought. Try half stepping your way into a room of smart people with an opinion with no backing, scientifically or anecdotally. You will (and should) get eaten alive. Often, however, people remain silent not out of agreement or lack of supported opinions, but out of fear. From a study (pdf link) published by Dominic Packer, professor at Lehigh University:
Long-standing psychological explanations refer to ‘‘groupthink’’ (Janis, 1972) and a ‘‘spiral of silence’’ (Noelle-Neumann, 1974), positing that group members are reluctant to publicly express private concerns about collective problems if they believe that other members are likely to disagree with them.
The consequences can be severe. In the above mentioned Janis reference, he cites major political disasters like the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs as stemming from groupthink. Packer continues:
Collective decision-making failures are often attributed to group members’ unwillingness to express unpopular opinions, and incident investigations frequently name lack of dissent as a causal factor (Sunstein, 2006). The investigation following the Columbia space-shuttle explosion, for instance, cited a culture at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in which ‘‘it is difficult for minority and dissenting opinions to percolate up through the agency’s hierarchy’’ (Columbia Accident Investigation Board, 2003, p. 183).
You may not be in charge of a country, but your mind and your job both benefit from actively discussing many different opinions. Next time you’re in a meeting at work or looking for a stimulating conversation with friends, engage in uncomfortable debate. Do so often and with enthusiasm. You’ll be sharper, and your business will excel.