Here’s a method to get two people who are having a disagreement (or two groups of people) to “soften their views”: Help both sides discover they may not understand what the other side is actually saying.
Let’s say two office groups are in the midst of a “friendly disagreement” about a proposed change in office policy. The disagreement begins to grow into a major argument. What do you do? Here’s a suggestion shared by Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing.
Ask someone from each side of the argument to describe, point-by-point, the policy that the other side of the debate is saying.
What does that do (scientific version)?
According to a 2013 study, when it comes to deciding what we believe on certain issues, we often take “mental shortcuts” that can lead to a misunderstanding of something that’s more about what we think it is, than what it really is. Psychologists have dubbed this the “cognitive miser” theory. Apparently, we normal people are quick to cut out all the research, testing, editing, publishing and reviewing that experts use to develop ideas and theories.
What does that do (version for the rest of us)?
Unlike scientists and other experts who may spend a few hours before deciding where they stand on an issue, the rest of us read a few sentences—or just the headline—and we instantly start pumping what we’re hearing through a filter of previously held beliefs.
Voilà, we suddenly know where we stand on the issue—without all of that busy work associated with actually studying it.
By pausing the debate and making the opposing faction see the issue from the other side’s point of view, they will learn:
1 | There are some gaps in each side’s understanding of the topic
2 | They probably don’t disagree as much as they first thought