You Don’t Know As Much As You Think You Do

Sometimes we have a tendency to assume we are more informed than the next person.  We attribute this confidence to such things as what school we went to, how much we have read, how much we have traveled, and/or the strength of our faith/beliefs.  We use these as an indicator of our knowledge and experience over others.  Its a trap that we all too often fall into. Unfortunately, following this tendency leads us down a path that stifles continuous learning and growth or, at its worst, can result in prejudices that cause other points of view to be completely shut out.

photo by ( kurtz ) via PhotoRee

Never noticed this before?  Just take a second and look around.  You see it in our political process, at work, with our friends and family.  Ideological debates tend to be the breeding ground for this type of interaction.  Maybe it’s politicians arguing over whose approach is “better” on something such as gun control, health care reform, welfare, etc.  Or maybe it’s coworkers disagreeing over the best approach to implementing a new process or entering a new market.  Maybe it’s getting strong push back from friends or family on how kids should be raised.  If you have been involved in any of these types of disagreements, you have probably experienced the frustration, hurt feelings and further divisiveness they can cause.  To be clear, I am not talking about healthy debate, I am talking about those “my way is the only way” conversations.

So how do we “fix” this?  In reality there is little we can do about the other party.  The first step is to be self reflective and realize we don’t always know as much as we think we do.  This doesn’t mean you are uneducated, or inexperienced and that your views don’t count.  What this reflection does is gives us a moment to realize that closing out other points of view doesn’t help us grow or even develop the best possible solution.  All too often it feels like society is afraid that truly listening to a different point of view means we are giving it our stamp of approval.  So we fight back and throw up walls.  Which usually just leads to who can shout louder and rarely leads to good solutions.  As soon as you assume you know everything there is to know on a subject, you are really telling yourself that you have nothing new to learn.  It doesn’t mean that listening to the other party’s concerns, ideas, points, etc means “they win” it just means you are showing a high level of maturity and growth that allows you to make more thoughtful decisions.

When these situations arise some things to ask yourself:

  • Am I actively listening?
  • Am I trying to learn and understand the varying points of view?
  • Am I keeping unproductive emotions in check?
  • Will I walk away with a better understanding, even if I still don’t agree?

If you can answer yes to all or most of these questions you can be more confident that you at least opened yourself up enough to try to understand.  You may still walk away with the same stance on the topic, but you will at the very least come out with some solid benefits:

  • Greater understanding of the key sticking points
  • Stronger reputation as a thoughtful decision maker and leader
  • A greater sense of calm by not getting drawn into a emotional shouting match
  • An expanded knowledge base through both information presentation and absorption

In any situation it’s good to keep in the back of our minds that there is always something we can learn as long as we stay open.  The best way to change the other party’s response to the disagreement is to lead through example.  Who knows? Maybe your approach may even persuade them on some of your key points.  But it definitely won’t if you come off like a closed off gas bag.

Do you have other techniques for staying grounded in these debates?  What other benefits have you observed from following this approach?

About the author: Heath

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