"Now Here is Why You Are Wrong"

Published on February 17th, 2021

Spend any time on the Internet attempting to discuss any controversial issue, and you'll eventually get a response similar to the title. It's usually followed by a link or two that defends the other person's position.

Now there is nothing wrong with this approach per se. The person can be legitimately wrong on a topic that needs no debate. And rather than allow the other person to absorb and an inordinate amount of time and energy, a link can contain all the facts and arguments you would have made. In short, this approach is direct, clean, and efficient.

It is also ineffective.

If you're willing, I'd like to walk you through an NLP visualization. Pick a semi-controversial topic you are passionate about (anything politically will probably suffice). Now, pick someone that you know and respect (e.g., a parent, mentor, or colleague). Imagine this person hearing everything you had to say but responding with a simple "No. You are wrong. Here is why." They then just hand you a book and walk away.

How does that feel emotionally and mentally? Did you feel heard? Respected? Considered? Does it feel like your opinion was given value, or were they just counting the seconds until you stopped talking?

Honestly, I've been in many situations where I was, in fact, completely wrong. Heck, I'm probably still wrong on 20% or more of more core beliefs, so it's fair to say this situation happens on a semi-frequent basis. But here's the thing about my own experience. I genuinely want to seek the truth, at least consciously (we will save our unconscious biases for another day). However, my default reaction to this sledgehammer approach is to resist or push back.

This sucks. It sucks because the opportunity for me to shift my opinion was being hijacked. Bruised egos can reject truth simply to prove a point. I imagine if you were to review your own experience, you have felt this way from time to time. Only when another person takes a different approach do they get past your defenses.

There are several alternatives to the sledgehammer approach. Stephen Covey talks about seeking first to understand before being understood. Marshall Rosenberg places emphasis on deep listening and working hard to clarify exactly what is being said. These approaches are not always efficient. It can take a considerable amount of time to slow down and really get into the weeds with another person. But in my experience, they are way more effective at influencing opinion than blunting telling people of their wrongness (and shoving them off with a link, which they will never read).

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CXO of Atomic Form. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.