Most people want one thing above all in a discussion: to be right. We perceive information that does not fit into our system of beliefs as disruptive factors.
Scientists speak of “cognitive dissonance” in such cases. When we feel this, we have one impulse above all: to refute the arguments of the other person. It’s not as irrational as it sounds. In a democracy, after all, all citizens decide what happens.
The more people we convince of our opinion, the more likely it is that political decisions will appeal to us. But how do you convince someone of your opinion at all?
Many people criticize their political counterparts directly or immediately confront them with their own opinion. From a psychological point of view, this is not a good strategy. Studies show that people very rarely change their point of view when bombarded with counter-arguments – even if the arguments are good. In the worse case, the other person’s belief system hardens.
WE CAN LEARN TO UNDERSTAND
We know for sure that it is not that easy to dissuade another person from their point of view. For many people it seems like a huge effort to change one’s mind. Sometimes a change of opinion seems to shake not only a political point of view but also one’s own self-esteem. So if you want to convince, you should avoid giving the other the feeling of being devalued as a person.
ONE MEANS OF MAKING DISCUSSIONS BETTER: OPEN QUESTIONS
They are particularly suitable for finding out something about our interlocutor. Every question that can not only be answered with yes or no gives the other person the opportunity to gain insight into their thoughts. So, good questions in a debate are: “Why do you think that?” Or “How do you think this problem should be dealt with?”
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Incidentally, open questions are also an effective strategy for uncovering weaknesses in the other person’s position. In a discussion it can therefore be advisable to ask: “How do you explain this?” Or: “How is this connected in your eyes?” Skillful questions can make it clear to the other person that his understanding of the topic is limited.
But there is a third reason to discuss with politically dissenters: the gain in knowledge. A discussion, which we often forget, is an extremely good means of checking your own convictions and getting a little closer to the truth. This is also crucial because we humans are prone to thinking errors.
DISPUTES DON’T HAVE TO BE A FIGHT
Studies consistently show that we are much better at recognizing other people’s mistakes than our own. Under certain conditions, the exchange of arguments is much more efficient and effective than the individual weighing of reasons. This is why discussions are so useful for gaining knowledge.
So how should you get into an argument if you want to get out of it as smartly as possible? It’s essentially about finding the right posture. The combat metaphor with which we describe disputes suggests that we have to win a debate or at least defend our position successfully. If we can’t do that, we will feel bad. The opposite becomes an opponent in a duel that can be dangerous for us and that we have to defeat.