How to disagree skilfully

With events like the 2020 election looming, we may all be wondering if it is possible any longer to have civilized disagreements.

Creating a sense of psychological safety is essential to productive conversation. Peter Boghossian, assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and writer and researcher James Lindsay, authors of How to Have Impossible Conversations, offer three tips for disagreeing skillfully:

  • Introduce scaling: ​Avoid yes/no stalemates by asking “How strongly do you feel about that position on a scale of 1 to 10?”
  • Use “the disconfirmation question”: Restate their position clearly, then ask: “Under what conditions might you change your mind? What evidence might sway you?”
  • Remember the “unread library”: People often confuse the ability to know something with actually knowing it. Start by admitting you might not know enough to hold a firm position and ask for additional details.  If your conversation partner is an expert, you will learn something; if not, you may both learn you need to learn more.

Glasers & Associates, Communication Capsule