Boghossian on Disagreeing Better

Peter Boghossian (Portland State) has posted three short videos in the New York Times on disagreeing better. He is co-author of How to Have Impossible Conversations, which I am going to check out now. I liked these videos because they provide examples the kinds of micro-moves that are so important for navigating difficult conversations today. They don’t necessarily resolve the dispute, but they help people keep talking, which is so important in our current fearful disputing landscape.

4 thoughts on “Boghossian on Disagreeing Better”

  1. These three short videos — about a minute each — have very good suggestions for dealing with disputes generally, not just disputes over politics. They’re worth a look and suggesting to students.

  2. One of the most dangerous features of our age is the belief that not speaking to someone with whom you disagree makes you a better person. It does not. Over time, it makes you a person incapable of understanding nuance.

  3. With Thanksgiving approaching, this seemed like an appropriate set of videos to be watching and it did not disappoint. I realized that these are many tactics that can be used with friends, and mostly family while having conversations.
    I liked the idea of asking what evidence would change someone’s mind- I recently had a conversation with family member where it was only a “please state your evidence” conversation. I feel as though it could have progressed further had I been able to phrase the conversation in this manner instead.
    The introducing scales concept to a discussion seems to be similar to the concept of anchoring in negotiation. Rather than fixing a price point for negotiation however, you avoid setting limits for conversation and allow adaptation in perspective.
    I also liked the discussion of the unread library effect as well. The concept of the knowledge being like a library was a powerful one; a library is accessible and full of knowledge, but unless we go in and check out the book- it doesn’t mean much. I think this is an idea that should somehow be further promoted to people.

  4. These short videos provide tips that I believe would be more useful in the context of personal discussions/arguments, rather than in the professional context. In my opinion, “all or nothing” thinking, as Boghossian referred to it, arises more often in conversations between people that have a more personal relationship or no prior relationship at all, but outside of the professional world. In these situations, you can afford to have a more adversarial approach to the discussion, as the negative ramifications of such a tone or position will likely be minimal (of course, relationship dependent).

    So when such a conversation/situation arises, will Boghossian’s tips actually be useful? I think it depends on who you are in a disagreement with. If you are able to have a respectable/intellectual disagreement, I think Boghossian’s tips are valid. However, if not, I do not think they will be very useful. Accordingly, while Boghossian offers some useful tools to add to the quiver, I think we need to be mindful to use them in appropriate situations.

    For example, one of Boghossian’s tools for using in a disagreement is to introduce a sliding scale to see how entrenched a person is regarding their position. I may have a more cynical outlook, but I think people, more often than not, have a competitive nature and will gravitate to the extremes of the sliding scale and anchor their positions, especially when there is no negative impact for them by setting and maintaining their position at the extreme.

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