Growth From Disagreement

There is a natural human tendency to avoid confrontation. It’s easier to communicate with people who agree with you than with those who challenge your viewpoints.

However, there is a tremendous amount of growth to be had for those who learn to handle tension in a productive way. When you engage with ideas that you do not agree with, you learn new things and challenge your own preconceived notions. This is a way to avoid succumbing to “groupthink” in favor of developing a strong mental framework of the world.

How to Disagree Productively

Not all disagreements are productive. When two people argue with each other, it is unlikely that they will learn anything. Arguments tend to make people stick their feet in the sand and tune out opposing ideas.

Rather than argumentation, aim for productive debate. Keep emotions cool and focus on the opportunity for both sides to learn from each other. In a productive conversation, there are no winners or losers.

Tactics for Healthy Disagreement

There are several tactics that can be used to promote healthy debate. Perhaps the simplest of these is when each person must restate the other party’s view before they respond to it.

When you reiterate another person’s ideas, you are forced to listen closely and understand what they are trying to say. It’s a good way to reduce the risk of strawman arguments and the phenomenon of “talking past each other.”

Another method, made famous by philosopher Sam Harris, is referred to as “steelmanning.” This is where each member of the debate tries to improve the other ideas being expressed. When using this technique, you forgo any attempt to “win” the debate. You actually try to lose the debate by finding what is wrong with your own ideas.

The steelman approach is not a natural way of thinking. It is extraordinarily beneficial for those people who can learn to wield it effectively.

The Benefits of Disagreement

When a person learns to disagree productively, they become a much stronger thinker. Viewing ideas from as many different sides as possible is a wonderful way to gain a more well-rounded view of the world.

Try as hard as you can to maintain an open mind and to seek out productive disagreements. When you find other people who are able to disagree without getting mad, spend more time with them. You may discover that wisdom awaits you just beyond the cusp of a healthy disagreement.

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