Before we start gathering information from another, it’s important to be as clear as possible to ourselves why we want another’s view. When we solicit another’s view, there’s an implied agreement that we’re open to influence.
And in order to learn from another, it’s often useful to keep our views to ourselves – most important is to keep open the possibility of having our own minds changed.
The art of exploring another’s view is sharply different from argument, persuasion, and interrogation. In argument, persuasion, and interrogation we are attempting to bring someone around to our view.
Since the tactic is almost identical, it takes a high degree of sophistication to use properly. Most often, we think we’re exploring when, in fact, we hope to persuade. We send mixed signals to our partner.
Further, the experience of someone honestly and without agenda seeking our view is so rare, most of us remain on the defensive nonetheless.
Last weekend, I was on a hiking trip with a couple of old friends. It’s an annual spring event we call Pre-Hiking Season, Improvisational, Drive Around, Run Up, Talk Trash or PHISIDARUTT. The Talking Trash part involves at various times discussions of religion and politics. Therefore, we don’t always agree.
At the same time, one friend, Brian, is the first person I met on my first day at college. As Brian is a year older and a very rigorous thinker, he is responsible for most of my views on religion and politics. Even when we don't agree, he makes me a better thinker.
On this trip, Scott is napping in the back seat while Brian relates a legal case which involved a client hardened into a position. Brian is a lawyer. I am not a lawyer, however, to my ear, there was an element I thought might yield to a cognitive solution.
Brian rejects it out of hand. He saw my suggestion as a violation of legal procedure. This intrigues me. My life’s work involves applying metacognition to make our lives better. Could it be possible a good solution to a human conflict would be missed because the law isn’t flexible enough?
I proposed a hypothetical in hopes of understanding the issue more completely. I was honestly curious and possessed no intention of challenging the legal view – only to understand it.
However, I have a whiff of oppositional defiant disorder – which means I gain energy from being in conflict.
While I enjoy conflict, I enjoy being in relationship more. Therefore I work hard to keep my drive for conflict in check. However, Brian is alert to my oppositional nature.
Brian is also aware of my tendency to be a know-it- all. From my view, I feel well aware that I don’t, in fact, know it all. However, I believe myself capable, under the right circumstances, of learning it all.
My friends see this as a distinction without a difference.
Under these conditions, Brian, based on long-term data and statistical probability, views my question, quite reasonably, as a challenge – and not a worthy one. He uses words to that effect.
Add to this, it’s been a long and active day with miles to go before we sleep.
Scott has now awakened in alarm.
In short, I had to hear and understand Brian’s view to a great deal of depth and detail before I could share mine. Once I established that, in this limited instance, I was capable of discussing without being a jerk, Brian listened with respect and interest from that point forward.
How to unpack your cognitive biases:
1. Keep open the possibility that you could be wrong.
2. Allow others to explain all the ways you could be wrong.
3. Acknowledge all the places where you in fact are wrong.
4. Admit when someone changes your mind.
5. Admit when you're not yet convinced.