When you’re in an argument, it’s only natural to want to explain your position as fast and as often as possible. However, if you want to argue more effectively, ask your opponent to explain their perspective in detail first.
This method is something of a variation of the steel man tactic. Most people have a tendency to believe that they’re more knowledgeable about a topic simply because they’re more familiar with it. They may have years of experience in a field, but still lack the detailed information required to accurately explain it.
Teachers often discover this flaw when they attempt to explain a topic they thought they knew. To counteract someone’s claims that they “know” a field or subject they might not actually be that knowledgeable on, ask them to explain their position in detail first. As business blog Entrepreneur explains, this is a quick way to find the holes you need to poke at, and it may even make them more likely to accept an alternate viewpoint:
Research published last year on this illusion of understanding shows how the effect might be used to convince others they are wrong. The research team, led by Philip Fernbach, of the University of Colorado, reasoned that the phenomenon might hold as much for political understanding as for things like how toilets work. Perhaps, they figured, people who have strong political opinions would be more open to other viewpoints, if asked to explain exactly how they thought the policy they were advocating would bring about the effects they claimed it would.
…The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues. People who had previously been strongly for or against carbon emissions trading, for example, tended to became more moderate — ranking themselves as less certain in their support or opposition to the policy.
This strategy has two advantages: for starters, by allowing the other person to speak first, you open them up emotionally. Rather than starting off on a confrontational tone, allowing them to voice their perspective makes them feel more validated and, thus, more willing to listen to outside input.
Secondly, it gives you a better look into how well they understand a subject, and where you can offer specific information that conflicts with their understanding. The more detailed and specific information you can offer contrary to their viewpoint, the easier it may be to persuade them to your side.
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