Realization: Why people always argue…

People argue because no statement ever accurately describes reality.   I am going with the following assumptions:

  • the goal of a conversation is to arrive at an accurate description of reality
  • it is easier to observe deviation from reality than to articulate it

Clarification: For example, you and I observe a color and discuss its shade.  Assume that the shade is a 5 out of 10 where 0 is black and 10 is white.  Neither you, nor I have the ability to recognize a 5. At the same time, whatever the other party says, we are able to see that the other party is incorrect and we can respond in an effort to bring us closer to reality.  So how how does the debate progress?

Successful Resolution: Our goal is 5.  Then let’s say you observe and claim that the color is a 3.  There are multiple responses here, but I think quite often people respond with a 7 in an effort to get to a compromise/average of 5.  Then you might say 4, and I would respond with 6…  and so on we oscillate until resolution.  A “successful” resolution is when we both recognize that we arrived “close enough” to reality, which we may be unable to articulate, but are able to recognize.

Communication: this is where communication becomes important.

Scenario 1: Diminishing oscillation/finding an agreement:

You: 3
Me: 7
You: 4
Me: 6
Agree

Scenario 2 – growing oscillation/argument

You: 3
Me: 7
You: 2
Me: 8
Conflict!

Scenario 3 – Strawman through exaggeration

You: 3
Me: 1
You: 5
Agreed!

Scenario 4 – Strawman through escalation

You: 3
Me: 7
You: 2
Me: 8
You: 1
Me: 9
Now we are just being spiteful.  Get some sleep, resume conversation in the morning.

My dynamic: people often observe me and tell me that “I like to argue” or that “I constantly counter”.  Both positions  ignore what is actually going on in my head – if I see deviation from reality, my human nature drives me to attempt to find something closer to reality.  So perhaps my dymanic is:

You: 3
Me: 6
You: still 3
Me: still 6
I come across as argumentative.  Although who knows – perhaps the goal is, in fact, a 4, in which case I am the party that precludes resolution.

Observations: To me all this means several interesting things:

  • As a group, we can do some complicated thinking and analysis while being unaware of it
  • As a group, the average of our positions may be closer to reality than the expression of any one member of the group (Wisdom of Crowds model)
  • People argue when they are actually in agreement.

Past Application: when we did the brainstorming session at the Moby Dick Project, Ben Huh said that one of the rules of communication is “Yes, and…”  The rule was to never criticize anyone’s position, but to always either build on it or move off on a tangent (explicitly stating so).  At the time this seemed a mechanism, the goal of which was only to keep us focused and ensure that people do not get emotional.  But now it seems to be a method to alter communication in an effort to ensure that the outcome of group thinking is diminishing oscillations to arrive at what is reality.

Possible solutions: be mindful of oscillations in debates.

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