How to Agree
TO HAVE A beautiful mind you must genuinely seek to find points of agreement with the person to whom you are talking. Surprisingly this is the most difficult aspect of all.
It is so difficult because the agreement must be genuine and not just sycophantic pretence. It is difficult because the motivation to do this is contrary to most people’s natural inclinations.
We can look at two extremes of agreement and disagreement:
You are so right …
I agree with everything you say …
I completely agree with you …
Absolutely right …
I agree one hundred per cent …
If you agree with everything, there is not much of a discussion, not much of a conversation and not much of an exchange of views. The other person might as well be giving a lecture. Nice as it may sound, your contribution is not very significant.
Then there is the other extreme:
Yes, but …
I totally disagree …
You are wrong there …
That is not so …
This is the person who makes a point of disagreeing with everything that is said. This highly argumentative person seeks to demonstrate superiority through disagreement. Too often, academics or highly educated people behave in this manner because they have been encouraged to do so. This type of mind is intensely irritating and is far from being a beautiful mind.
You need to be somewhere between these two extremes. You do not have to agree with everything. You should not disagree with everything.
- Genuinely seek to find points of agreement in what the other person is saying.
- There is no contribution if you simply agree with everything.
- To disagree at every point is irritating and boring.
- Being argumentative is not at all beautiful. There are better methods of exploring a subject.
- There is no need to be ‘right’ all the time. Remove your ego from the discussion and focus instead on the subject matter.
- Make a real effort to see where the other person is coming from. Explore that person’s ‘logic bubble’.
- See if there are any circumstances in which the other person’s views might be right. Spell out such circumstances and show your agreement under those circumstances.
- See if there are any special values which might make the other person’s view valid. Show that under those values you would agree. But also have your own opinion.
- Acknowledge the value of someone’s special experience and treat this as a strong possibility but not necessarily complete.
- Reject a sweeping generalisation but see whether you agree with any of the implications or any aspect of the generalisation.
- Take a genuine delight in discovering points of agreement – even when there is overall disagreement.
- Changing your perceptions to look at things in a different way is an important step in reaching possible agreement.
How to Disagree
IF YOU DO not know how to disagree you will never have a beautiful mind. This is the critical operation. If you get this wrong then your mind will be ugly even if it is effective.
There are those who disagree in a rude and aggressive way.
There are those who disagree in order to do battle and to show they are winning.
There are those who disagree in order to vaunt their egos.
There are those who disagree in a bullying way.
There are those who disagree in order to demonstrate their superiority.
A court of law is actually a rather primitive way of exploring a subject. If the prosecutor thinks of some point which would help the case for the defence, is the prosecutor going to bring that point forward? Of course not! If the defence attorney thinks of some point to strengthen the prosecution case, is he or she going to put that point forward? Of course not! Each side makes its own case, defends that case and attacks the case of the other side. This ‘battle’ does not mean that the matter is thoroughly examined. A much more effective way of exploring a subject is given by the use of ‘parallel thinking’
Even though disagreement can be unpleasant, it is often necessary both for the sake of the truth and in order to investigate any issue objectively and fully.
- Do not disagree for the sake of disagreeing.
- Do not disagree just to show how clever you are or to boost your ego.
- When you disagree, do so politely and gently rather than rudely and aggressively.
- You may need to disagree to point out that a fact or statement is simply wrong.
- You may need to point out errors of logic or to show that a conclusion does not necessarily follow from what went before.
- You may need to point out selective perception and particular interpretations of statistics or events.
- Where emotions, prejudices and stereotypes appear to be used, you may want to indicate this.
- You may want to disagree to show a different personal experience.
- Almost always you will want to challenge sweeping generalisations.
- You will want to challenge conclusions based on extreme extrapolations into the future.
- It is very important to challenge ‘certainty’ and to suggest ‘possibility’ instead.
- Distinguish between having a different opinion and disagreeing with an opinion.
How to Differ
ACTORS AUDITION TO get parts in a play. Quite often the actor gets turned down. Being turned down a number of times is very discouraging and the actor tends to lose self-confidence. So their agents tell them: ‘You are an apple. They are looking for oranges. This does not mean you are a bad actor or a bad apple. They simply want something different.’
Some people like spaghetti with a puttanesca sauce. Some people prefer an arrabiata sauce and some like a traditional Neapolitan. These are all different but there is no suggestion that one is better than the other.
Children in a family can be different from each other but may all be equally loved by their parents.
- There are times when only one of a different set of opinions can be right. This is where ‘truth’ can be checked out.
- More often different opinions can all have their own validity.
- Difference may arise from a different definition of the basis for judgement (the ‘best’ road).
- Difference may arise from personal preference, taste or choice.
- Difference may arise from a different set of values.
- Difference may arise from a different point of view or perspective.
- Difference may arise from a different perception even if from the same point of view.
- Difference may arise from differing personal experience or differing knowledge.
- Difference may arise from a different view of possible futures.
- Seek to lay out as clearly as possible the nature of the difference. Lay one opinion alongside the different one.
- Seek to explore and explain the reasons for the difference.
- Seek to reconcile the differences and then agree to differ on what cannot be reconciled.
How to be Interesting
BEING INTERESTING IS much more important than winning an argument.
Being interesting is much more important than showing how clever you are.
If you are interesting people will want to be with you. People will seek your company. People will enjoy talking to you.
You may be interesting because you have taken part in an expedition to a remote part of the Amazon to meet up with a tribe that had never seen a white man before.
You may be interesting because you have sailed single-handedly around the world.
You may be interesting because you are carrying out fascinating DNA research on the population migrations in the history of humanity.
But for the sake of this book we shall assume that you have not done or are doing anything so spectacular. This is a little unfair because whatever you are doing, no matter how humble, is capable of being interesting.
The first rule is to talk about what you are good at and what interests you. It may be your job or it may be your hobby. You will need to fashion your discourse to suit two different audiences. The first is made up of those who know nothing about the subject. It is up to you to present the subject in an interesting manner. The second type of audience is made up of those who know something about the matter and want to know more. In the latter case you should invite questions and seek to answer them.
- It is always important to get to the truth, but being interesting is more important than winning an argument. You owe it to yourself and to others to be interesting.
- Interest may arise from interesting things you have done, are doing or know about. Interest can also arise from how you conduct a conversation.
- Using the ‘what if?’ technique can open up new possibilities and new lines of thought.
- Looking out for possibilities and alternatives enriches the conversation. There is usually more than one way of doing things or looking at things.
- Speculation looks forward and opens up new areas of interest. Description only looks backward.
- Finding and making connections links matters together and generates interest.
- New ideas are rare and freshen any discussion. Seek to be creative and to generate new ideas. Learn and apply the formal techniques of lateral thinking.
- Provocation is a useful way to force new ideas. You put forward a statement you know to be wrong or impossible in order to provoke new thinking.
- Use as a formal tool the phrase: ‘Now that is interesting.’ Be ready to apply this to anything you hear.
- Seek to explore and elaborate and to pull interest out of any matter.
- Practise simple exercises to develop your ability to create interest.
- When someone else opens up an interesting line of thought, go along with it and help to develop the interest further.
How to Respond
IN GENERAL, THE main objectives in any discussion, discourse or conversation could be summarised as follows:
To reach agreement. This may be because both parties are seeking truth or because they have to design a practical way forward for action.
To spell out and agree on the points of difference. This also includes spelling out the basis for the difference – values, experience or point of view, for instance.
To have as interesting a time as possible in the course of the discussion.
Those are the overall strategies or objectives. Getting there involves many other activities which happen from moment to moment.
- The overall objective in any conversation might be to agree, to disagree, to agree on the difference – and to have an enjoyable and interesting discussion.
- If you are in any doubt about what has been said, it is important to ask for clarification. Misunderstanding and arguing at cross purposes are a waste of time and energy.
- Support goes beyond agreement. You can support a point that has been made from statistics, from your own experience, from a shared set of values and so on.
- Anecdotes, examples and stories add liveliness and reality to the discussion. They may be stories from your own experience or ones you have heard and believe to be relevant.
- Stories do not ‘prove’ anything except perhaps to challenge a generalisation (by showing exceptions).
- Stories illustrate principles, processes and possibilities. A process that might be complex to explain can be illustrated by a simple story.
- You may want to go further than just agreeing with a point that has been made. You may want to build upon that point in order to take it further.
- You may wish to extend a suggestion by enlarging it and growing the suggestion.
- You can imagine an idea being put into action in the real world. You watch what might happen and describe what you see: in both a positive and negative sense.
- You may want to modify an idea to make it more acceptable to yourself, stronger or more practical.
- Once an idea has emerged it is no longer a matter of ‘your idea’ or ‘my idea’ but an idea to be improved and assessed.
- Instead of the usual ‘battle’ of argument there is a joint effort to explore the subject.
How to Listen
A GOOD LISTENER is very nearly as attractive as a good talker. You cannot have a beautiful mind if you do not know how to listen.
A good listener shows that he or she is paying attention to what is being said.
A good listener respects the speaker.
A good listener shows that he or she is genuinely interested in what he or she hears.
A good listener gets value from what is heard and shows that he or she is getting value.
All the above are to do with real attitudes and not just pretended attitudes. Unless you are going to be talking all the time, you are going to have to listen. So, do it well and get the most out of listening.
- The ability to listen and the enjoyment of listening is a key part of developing a beautiful mind.
- A good listener pays attention and seeks to get the maximum value from what is being said. There are two focuses for attention: the point the speaker is trying to make; and the separate value of what is being said (in its own right).
- Listening is not just having to wait impatiently until you can yourself speak.
- You may get new information and you can probe for further information with questions.
- You may get a new point of view which had not occurred to you before.
- There may be new insights and realisations that are triggered by the speaker.
- You might realise there are alternative perceptions that are new to you.
- You may learn the reasoning behind a point of view quite different from your own.
- You could learn how people apply values which differ from your own.
- You should take note of the words used and especially the adjectives, which indicate feelings.
- You should make a habit of repeating back to the speaker what you think you have understood. This is both useful and important.
- You should use questions to check on facts and to ask for more details around points of interest.