Debating for fun

Adam Grant from The Guardian wrote about how engaging in a spirited debate can bring people closer. He has some great points about how to go about it that I wanted to share.

Three modes:

Adam Grand describes three modes of debating.

“In preacher mode, you’re trying to proselytise 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.”

He goes on the describe how preacher and politician mode assume that the right answer is obvious. It is up to that preacher of politician to express it well, and any rational person will agree.

When Grant hears a preacher or politician style in an argument, he goes into prosecutor mode. He wants to attack. I agree with him; I do, too, when I hear a “therefore, a rational person will agree that…”

Then he says:

“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.”

How do you maintain critical thinking while debating in a friendly manner?

Adam Grant found a social science experiment that shows that it is human nature to hang onto your current opinions and talk to people who don’t challenge them. People prefer agreeable strangers to their disagreeing families.

Eww, but true. When given an opinion which is labeled as from the other political side, people are more likely to disagree with it — even if they showed earlier that they do agree with it.

So, for a productive argument, one must work against their tendency to reject an opinion because of its source. My opinion: easier said than done.

Mr. Grant describes how easy it is to find logic flaws in popularly held opinions. He suggests looking at those flaws, objectively, with someone who holds another opinion. The question that starts the conversation is not “Who is right?” It is, “Where is my logic failing me?”

Next, he describes another study that shows how effective it is to begin a discussion with the notion, “This is a complex problem.” The goal is to identify which parts of this you agree on and disagree on. The example was the gun control vs right-to-bear-arms debate. Even with a problem like gun control, there are people from the bear-arms side of the argument who agree on the need for background checks; there are gun control advocates who agree on the basic right to bear arms.

For this kind of argument to work, both parties must agree to forego their prerogative to fight for what they think is right. They agree to look for information together that supports either side, and seek a fuller view of the problem being debated. They must agree to look at the details of the situation, not the end goal. Chances are, there is some agreement in the middle. This kind of conversation may end without a conclusion. It will end with deeper knowledge of the topic and of the person you are debating with.

Caution before you begin debating: 

If the goal of one arguer is to “win,” the whole thing goes down the drain. More about that next week.

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