Sunday, March 6, 2016
Do we ever ponder over the virtue of even attempting to try to understand another persons point of view? We all have views and when we do we ought to say, yes I see your point of view too but I think it in this way. I was taught this at an early age and I grew up in an environment where accepting another persons view had no social stigma and where expressing ones own view (even in public) was commended. Good times were had by all. However, it turns out that some people, highly intelligent and intellectual people, seem to be completely unable to admit and accept this. Even when it concerns a trivial matter, such as getting a factoid wrong, the best response I can hope for is a grunt of acknowledgement. I'm not talking about uneducated or intellectually insecure people here. Okay, so a lot of adults don't appreciate being given a differnt point of view. Duly noted. I could move on, but the virtues of scholarship and curiosity compel me to find out why. Predictably Irrational (Ariely) and Influence (Cialdini) don't have the answers. My non-scientific experiments indicate that prefacing a statement with "That idea may be flawed, wrong because..." doesn't work. It seems to make people extra defensive. Standard strategies of persuasion do work, of course. Rephrasing the statement as a question? Works. Saying "Hmm" and pausing before you make your say? Works. Making a suggestion that indirectly points out the point? Yep, works. These are all standard strategies of expression and they can be used to work around the issue but they don't explain why it is that some people have such an aversion to being confronted in the first place. So where does the aversion come from? In a group context signalling could explain it: when you provide a differing view to somebody you draw attention to a possible erring and this could lead to (perceived) loss of status. I don't think this is the real cause because people seem equally annoyed when confronted in a private conversation where there is nobody to signal towards. In cases where signalling takes a dominant role (e.g. when a bunch of guys are talking and a woman joins in) you clearly see a change in behavior because the guys wish to be perceived in a specific way. So in some groups signalling effects can make it more difficult to admit error but signalling is not the underlying cause that makes people averse to acknowledging different views in the first place. Maybe it is an issue of ego. Is another point of view seen as the role of a teacher thereby forcing the other in the student role? That would explain the aversion, but if that's the explicit thought process otherwise rational people would see it doesn't make sense and change their behaviour accordingly. So there can't be an explicit (tactical) thought process underlying the behaviour at all! Maybe people don't wish to admit what they even see as a valid point of view because they prefer to keep it all ambiguous. By admitting, they know that, "I know that they know that they could be wrong". This feels like the most plausible explanation, even though the explicit admission of the issue does not change the state of the shared knowledge: the situation wasn't really ambiguous to start with. So then I'm forced to conclude it's some knee-jerk, gut level aversion to being corrected that has no underlying logic or motivation. I cannot even begin to comprehend this. Given the effort required to find and express ideas openly, honestly and objectively, how can we feel anything but gratitude when somebody points out where we may have been wrong?