Expert Q&A: With the Political Divide in Our Country, How Can I Have a Healthy Debate With Friends & Family? by Jeff Krasno
Q. "With the political divide in our country, any tips on how to have healthy debate with friends and family?"
A. Recently, I have discovered a debate technique called “steelmanning” which is the opposite of strawmanning an argument. Here is how it works:
- Identify an opinion you have on a particular issue.
- Find someone who disagrees with your position.
- Humbly listen to her opinion, while discarding your own pre-existing bias (to the degree that it is possible).
- Fully ingest and process her argument.
- Attempt to re-express her position clearly, vividly and fairly out loud to her.
- Enumerate any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
Some additional texture. Before jumping into this exercise, gather facts and data from reliable, ethical sources to support your opinion. Ideally, find a partner who is thoughtful and shares the spirit of this joint exercise. When listening, do so without facially expressing dismay or disgust. Note what information triggers you and note where you are most intrigued. In the re-expression of her position, focus on the best and most compelling parts of her argument.
If winning an argument is really what drives you, steelmanning is perhaps the sharpest of weapons, since you hone your own argument by thoroughly understanding the most convincing elements of the opposing view.
This drill yields myriad results. It produces more fortified opinions. It creates the possibility for common ground by humanizing your rival. Through the free exchange of ideas, novel and more evolved positions may cream to the top. Steelmanning is also a potent personal development tool as it helps you cultivate humility and the ability to listen.
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